Rhode Island public broadcasters to merge

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The Rhode Island state flag.

The boards of Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio in Providence, R.I., have agreed to merge the two organizations. 

The organizations had previously considered a merger but got more serious after a discussion between board chairs more than a year ago, said Elizabeth Delude-Dix, board chair of The Public’s Radio. 

“This is really the opportune moment to bring these two legacy media organizations together,” Delude-Dix said. “… There’s this strong feeling that we would be stronger together, that together we could create programming and be more relevant, more trusted, more dynamic and more responsive to the community that we seek to serve.”

Announced Thursday, the deal is pending FCC and state approval, which aren’t expected until next year. In the interim, the organizations will operate “pretty much business as usual,” Delude-Dix said, and audiences will not notice changes in the near term. The organizations will be able to collaborate as the regulatory process plays out, she said. 

When the deal is finalized, the boards will merge and conduct a nationwide search for a CEO to lead the new organization. Once that CEO is in place, the new organization will embark on a strategic planning process to guide its direction. David Piccerelli, CEO of RIPBS, and Torey Malatia, CEO of The Public’s Radio, would need to apply if they want to be considered for the job. 

Piccerelli said he’s interested in the position. Malatia said he hasn’t decided whether he will apply but added, “I want to help see this through. This is exciting. This is really important.”

The two organizations both serve a broad geographic area, and “a lot of the local news sources that used to be really strong here have been weakened, and people are continuing to turn to us to do more,” he said. “And that’s fine. We love it. It’s just that it makes a lot of sense to team up and be better together.” 

“There’s no question that as media organizations, we are much stronger together than we are individually,” Piccerelli said. 

“By joining our collective resources, it just allows us to better serve Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts,” he said. Piccerelli said he also sees the benefit of creating a larger member database through a merger. 

The organizations are in much different financial situations, according to their most recent tax filings. RIPBS reported more than $10 million in revenue and a surplus of more than $1.7 million after expenses in fiscal year 2022, the most recent year available. The organization also reported net assets exceeding $100 million, thanks in part to its participation in the FCC spectrum auction in 2017.

The Public’s Radio reported more than $3.5 million in revenue and a $500,000 net loss in fiscal year 2022. It had nearly $3 million in net assets.

But finances weren’t a central reason for the deal, according to Delude-Dix, who said both organizations are “financially sound.” 

She said she doesn’t anticipate layoffs due to the merger. “We’re expecting growth,” she said. “We’re expecting to grow impact, grow audience, grow programming.”

The boards hired a professional facilitator, MJ Kaplan, to help guide the discussion and advance the process, Delude-Dix said. 

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