Tom Karlo, the general manager of public broadcasting operation KPBS, owned and operated by San Diego State University, makes $215,262 a year, according to state salary records obtained by the Sacramento Bee under the California Public Records Act. That’s a little less than the $218,004 made by his predecessor, Doug Myrland, who retired in 2008 on a generous state pension following a 2007 tempest that arose after KPBS cancelled Full Focus, a news show popular with local political cognoscenti.
According to its most recent financial statement, KPBS received $6,894,767 in “San Diego State University transfers,” but Myrland was always adamant that the cash didn’t give the citizenry any say in how he ran the TV and FM stations. “KPBS has been in existence for 46 years, and NEVER has it been a collective, or even a participatory democracy,” he famously announced. “I make decisions in the same way every General Manager before me did. We aren’t elected officials — every budget line item and every personnel decision and every bit of information we collect is not everybody else’s business. Just because you give a contribution or pay taxes doesn’t give you the right to decide — or even influence — what goes on the air and what doesn’t.”
Unlike Myrland, who styled himself as the Dirty Harry of public broadcasting, Karlo is known for his tact, charm, and money-raising abilities. Those are crucial attributes in the post-recession world of charity news; many KPBS donors are elderly pensioners and coupon clippers who are getting tight with their money. Last week Karlo dispatched his latest email targeting them.
“I realize it’s been only a couple of weeks since I wrote to you,” the station manager began. “So let me assure you we wouldn’t be sending this second email if we didn’t really need your help at this time.
“Once again, I’d like to thank you for being a very special kind of person. What do I mean by that? Just this: only 11% of all our viewers can be counted among our supporters, and you are among those few.…
“It’s an unfortunate fact that the regular annual support of our members is not sufficient to pay for all the outstanding programs you expect from KPBS. To make matters worse, the funding we receive from the State of California has been cut by over $200,000 in the past year alone.” Karlo’s bottom line: KPBS “must raise an additional $255,000 by June 30 to meet our fundraising goal.”