Staci Hoste has been named director and general manager of Northern Public Radio, the five-station network owned and operated by NIU.
Hoste served as interim director after the February 2012 death of her predecessor, the late Tim Emmons. When it became clear that Emmons would not survive his cancer, he worked closely with Hoste to craft a succession plan that would keep NPR among the top public radio outlets in the country.
Hoste came to NPR in 2008 as director of development, and quickly impressed station staff and university administrators alike with her energy, creativity and ability to make important connections for the stations in the communities they serve.
Since Hoste’s arrival NPR has increased the percentage of budget raised locally from 46 to nearly 60 percent. Listenership is also on the rise, with about 100,000 listeners each week.
“I have watched Staci in this role, both during Tim’s illness and after his death, and I have been enormously impressed by her performance,” said Anne Kaplan, vice president for the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Information Technologies, where NPR administratively resides.
“She has proven herself to be an excellent fundraiser and a very good manager of people,” Kaplan said. “She has performed admirably under very trying circumstances and has gained the respect of colleagues here and around the country, as well as with the NPR listening audience.”
Hoste is a Sycamore native and NIU alumnae who grew up listening to NPR and sees her many community connections as a strength she brings to her new role.
“My focus is 100 percent on meeting the expectations of our community and our listeners,” Hoste said. “I don’t want to only rely on Arbitron ratings to gauge how well we’re doing – I want to actively engage listeners in a dialogue about how we can continue to make public radio an important part of their lives and the life our community.”
“It’s important for us to build a robust digital presence so that we’re delivering content when and where people want it. Right now we’re building a mobile application that will deliver programming to cell phones and tablets. Many people are using their phones as alarm clocks, and we’d like them to wake up to NPR,” she said.
Under Hoste’s leadership NPR continues to establish a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Hoste says her goal is to use those outlets to encourage more interaction with listeners, and to continue building a loyal following among younger listeners.
“What we’re seeing across the country is that young people who are becoming interested in politics for the first time are seeking information sources that provide unbiased, in-depth content, and of course that’s something that public radio does very well,” she explained.
“We’ve improved our website and are offering a lot more content online, but there’s much more that we can and should be doing,” she added. “When I look at examples such as Michigan Public Radio and St. Louis Public Media, I see the great potential of social media and our whole online presence in terms of identifying what people are talking about and how we can help facilitate those conversations.”
Beyond the digital horizon is a more basic challenge that Hoste readily embraces: how to enlarge NPR’s connection with communities.
“We have some great partnerships with community groups, and I’d like to use those relationships to spur conversation on how to incorporate more local content on our stations,” she said.
“Here’s a good example of what I mean: Our recent fall pledge drive featured three area non-profit groups on our classical station, WNIU. The Rockford Music Academy, the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the DeKalb Festival Chorus all appeared on our broadcasts to talk about how WNIU supports the work they do in the community. One Kish professor talked about assigning his students to listen to the station as part of their music appreciation unit. We also partner with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra to broadcast their Classic Series, and I’d welcome an opportunity to broadcast highlights of NIU performances as well.
“The current Presidential Lecture Series (co-sponsored by NIU and NPR) is another example: (NIU political scientist) Matt Streb is a regular contributor and he was very enthusiastic about pulling together this project. We’ve done some work with the STEM Outreach group as well, and we’re working with the School of Theatre and Dance to help promote their performances. I love connecting the dots when we find community groups and NIU departments with a shared mission and shared audiences.”
Hoste has no shortage of community connections to draw on for future partnerships.
She serves on the boards of Rockford’s Riverfront Museum Park, the Illinois Public Broadcasting Council, and DeKalb County Hospice, just to name a few. She also represents NPR’s interests to the Illinois Arts Council, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and American Public Media.
“This is something I learned from Tim Emmons,” she said. “He always encouraged me to sit on boards and participate in community organizations as a way of staying very connected to the people we serve.”
Audience connections are increasingly important to cash-strapped public media. Hoste says state and federal grants are eroding, and the future of the stations for which she is now responsible will depend on raising more dollars locally.
“We’re in a better position to raise more money from end-users than ever before,” Hoste said. “People are craving reasonable, reliable information. We offer a very different sound in an increasingly partisan world, and listeners are willing to support that work.
“During our most recent membership campaign, we had a one-hour promotion with a goal was 30 calls. That goal was set based on historical performance, and I thought it was reasonable. Well, we ended that hour with 65 calls. So we know that our listeners are there and that they’re willing to respond to our call to action.”
Hoste hopes to reward loyal listeners with more locally produced programming in the near future. With the recent addition of a new producer/reporter, she’s hoping to expand community reporting and to convert more stories from broadcast to the web.
Helping Hoste meet her ambitious goals is a loyal staff of NPR professionals who have pulled together in very challenging times.
“I really can’t say enough about our staff,” Hoste said. “They’ve been tremendously supportive throughout Tim’s illness and have really stepped up during this transition. There’s a reason that the average person’s tenure here is so long: They know they’ve built something extraordinary, and they’re determined to preserve it.”
For more information on Northern Public Radio, or to hear an interview with NPR’s new general manager, visit http://northernpublicradio.org.