WQED announces retirement of president, layoff of 31 employees

Originally published in Current, April 12, 1993

Confronting another major revenue shortfall from declining national production income, WQED, Pittsburgh, last week announced that its president, Lloyd Kaiser, will retire, and it will lay off 31 employees in a realignment of its operations.

Kaiser, 65, will step down from his job on June 30 [1993]. He has been c.e.o. of QED Communications, licensee of WQED-TV/FM and WQEX-TV, since 1971.

Layoffs will affect 28 permanent staffers immediately, and WQED will eliminate another three positions next fiscal year, according to Elsie Hillman, QED Board chairman.

Following a review of QED's third- and fourth-quarter finances, Kaiser directed an organization-wide effort to identify "what was losing money and where cuts could be made,'' said Hillman. "We wanted him to do it and be supportive of the effort.''

Kaiser's retirement was not "unfriendly,'' said Hillman. He had been talking to her about retirement "on and off'' for awhile, and with this round of cuts, he "felt there should be new directions, assessments and evaluations made. There's a lot of work to do at the station.''

WQED revenue was expected to be down $7.4 million from last year's $27 million, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper reported that $6.7 million of that decline is from WQED's national productions unit. QED spokespeople could not be reached to confirm those numbers.

Under the reorganization, QED is consolidating some of its internal units. A single QED Projects Unit will combine national productions, outreach and education programs and QED Enterprises, a nonprofit division for educational projects. Sister TV stations WQED and WQEX also will merge operations.

Don Korb, chairman of the QED Board's finance committee, will oversee day-to-day operations of the station and direct the executive search for Kaiser's permanent replacement.

-------------------Earlier story
WQED ‘downsizes’ as newspapers question executive salaries and station's fiscal health

Originally published in Current, Nov. 18, 1991
By Steve Behrens

Further layoffs were expected last week in a "corporate reorganization" at WQED-TV/FM/WQEX-TV, Pittsburgh. Nine staff members were laid off this spring and 14 officers took pay cuts of 5 or 10 percent Oct. 21 [1991].

"We grew and grew and grew for many years," says station spokesman Russ Martz, "and it is time that we downsize a little bit."

Hit by the recession and the loss of key underwriters, the station also had a spurt of intense critical attention from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. WQED announced a new community ascertainment survey and the round of executive salary cuts on the day before the newspaper began a series of articles examining station priorities and finances.

A week later, Oct. 31, the newspaper ran an editorial suggesting that the station's board bring in outside experts to review WQED operations to assure supporters "that their dollars are being used soundly."

WQED has not replied to the Post-Gazette stories, but discussed the newspaper's "unsubstantiated attacks" and "negative spin" in a written statement provided to Current: "Despite zealous determination, reporters of the three oversized Post-Gazette articles unearthed no wrongdoing, but, with numerous factual errors and dissonant staff opinions of a limited few, they describe an operation few of us recognize."

The newspaper's series comes as an annoyance if not an embarrassment for President Lloyd Kaiser in the year when he was honored as Public Television Manager of the Year by his PBS colleagues and when he is being touted as a candidate for president of CPB.

Kaiser was not available to comment on the Post-Gazette series.

Deep into production

The series questioned whether the station's "formula for success"--its heavy involvement in national program production--"is turning sour." Last year, according to Martz, WQED relied on national production and special projects for more than two-thirds of its budget--$26 million of the $38 million revenues. These projects subsidize local operations by $2 million a year, the station says.

Though WQED serves the 17th largest market, it produces as many national programs as stations with several times as many local viewers.

Like many other producers, the station has lost some major national production work. This is its last season as co-producer of the highly successful National Geographic Specials. Digital Equipment Corp. has withdrawn as underwriter of The Infinite Voyage after this season. And the WonderWorks Family Movies will end after next year.

But 'QED is already shooting a Space Age series of six to eight hours for broadcast next fall; co-producing the new series Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, and doing contract work for the Seville world's fair and other clients.

Three days on page 1

The Post-Gazette series, which included front-page articles three days in a row, gave scant attention to QED Communications' FM outlet and its Pittsburgh magazine and much more to aspects of its TV operations:

  • Local programming: Less than 2 percent of the station's broadcast hours are local programming, compared to PTV stations' average of 7 percent, the paper said.
  • The station replies that it has given up producing local programs "by the pound," and now concentrates on making higher-quality, better-watched local programs, including a series on Pittsburgh history. The station won six regional Emmy awards, more than any other station in three states, according to a station executive.

  • Extent of pledging: WQED-TV devoted 63 days to on-air pledging last year, more than any other major PTV station, according to the newspaper.
  • The station says comparisons may be unfair because larger PTV stations reach many more viewers in less time and may have populations more attuned to supporting PTV. Indeed, in the Pittsburgh market, the level of heads-of-household with four or more years of college education is 17 percent below the national average, according to Nielsen figures.

  • Finances: The station has borrowed half of its reserves, reducing its net worth to $4 million at the end of the fiscal year, lower than other top-seven producing stations.
  • Martz contends the newspaper misstated the station's fiscal problem. "Our problem is cash flow and not net worth," he says. Instead of having underwriting money advanced by Chevron for National Geographic Specials, the station has to have a line of credit with a bank.

    "Four million isn't bad for us," Martz says, especially for a station without real estate. He predicts the station's net worth will be millions higher a year from now when it has completed its scheduled capital campaign.

  • Staff morale: Reporters found a "serious morale problem," quoting staffers and former staffers who insisted on anonymity.
  • A station executive replies: "If eight or nine people are laid off, you feel threatened yourself and you feel sorry for the people who were laid off. Talk to President Bush. In this economy, people are worried about their jobs. We're doing everything we can to keep people informed and keep morale up."

  • Executive salaries: The Post-Gazette reiterated findings of an August story in the competing Pittsburgh Press. The Press reported that Kaiser earned $235,262, according to 1989-90 tax returns, including $60,000 that had been allocated to Q Productions Corp., a for-profit subsidiary.
  • Three other top vice presidents earned $122,000 to $175,000, the paper reported. The Press surveyed six other top PTV producing stations and reported that Kaiser is the highest-paid station chief.

    Martz suggests the newspaper did not get figures reflecting the full salaries of executives at other stations, and that WQED's own confidential survey of the same salaries is more accurate. "We maintain there is evidence that we are fourth among the seven with Lloyd Kaiser's salary."

    "Our board has always said we want our executive salaries at the mid-point [of the seven stations], and that's where they've been," says Martz.

"Nothing much wrong"

"The Post-Gazette articles, if you read them straightforwardly--I've don't know where they come down," responds a WQED executive who asked not to be quoted by name. "They found nothing much wrong except that we're having some tough budget times."

The newspaper's editor, John G. Craig Jr., says the articles were "not an expose" but says the reporters did establish some things about conditions at WQED. "There is a morale problem; there is an argument over national [production by the station]; there are economic problems as a result of a shrinking revenue base," says Craig. "The stories are accurate in reporting these realities."

Craig ironically was in the position of interviewing Kaiser Oct. 26 on WQED's own weekly program The Editors about his newspaper's series. Craig has hosted The Editors for three years.

Martz says his public relations staff cooperated fully with the Post-Gazette reporters. "They knew the story they wanted to write, and despite evidence to the contrary, that was the story they did write." For months, he said, the newspapers have been following up "half-truths and allegations" from "disgruntled former employees."

External forces

Underlying WQED's troubles are pressures that all of public TV is facing, in the view of a Pittsburgh TV executive outside of the station. Cable networks and other video competitors are pushing public TV to redefine itself. "That's always a really hard task for any organization, and particularly one as diffuse and disparate as public television. It's easy to say these people are not as quick to deal with changes as you'd hope, but none of us are."

In WQED's case, it has lost income from its National Geographic work. After co-producing with the station for years, the National Geographic Society will go it alone next season. Encouraged by the opportunity to produce programs for other video outlets such as Ted Turner's WTBS superstation, the society built up its own production unit.


To Current's home page
Later news: Fiscal and board reforms attempt to put Pittsburgh station back in order, 1994.
Outside link: WQED's website.

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