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'We’re here to serve you’

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribunePhil Meyer is the new Southern Oregon PBS president/CEO.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribunePhil Meyer is the new Southern Oregon PBS president/CEO.
New SO PBS leader Phil Meyer says station will stay true to its mission of supporting its viewers

At 59 years old, Phil Meyer is able to say he discovered the classic children’s programs “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” around the time they actually debuted.

From Fred Rogers, the kid from Kentucky learned to be kind, caring and empathetic; while characters like Big Bird, Ernie and Bert taught Meyer about inclusiveness and creativity.

Meyer recalls with fondness, too, the “Sesame Street” animated shorts, and he sings the jingle “Ladybugs’ Picnic” with no shame.

So it may be no wonder that Meyer has worked for the Public Broadcasting Service for so long and was recently appointed chief executive officer and president of Southern Oregon PBS — one of 330 member stations available in all 50 states and U.S. territories that are part of the private nonprofit corporation PBS.

Selected after a months-long national search, Meyer began work here May 9, mere hours after SOPBS announced his appointment.

Meyer had a message for the Rogue Valley community in a wide-ranging interview from his Fir Street office earlier this week.

“We’re working on ways to do things that you’ll want to continue to support (SOPBS),’” he said. “Feel free to let us know your opinion, because we exist to serve you.”

The job search

Meyer became aware SOPBS was looking for a new CEO/president when he heard through broadcasting industry professionals that his predecessor, Mark Stanislawski, was retiring.

In addition, Meyer learned that the group overseeing the SOPBS leader search was Livingston Associates, a Colorado-based media personnel recruiting firm that had placed him as the executive director of Friends of Public Radio Arizona.

Meyer said he read the SOPBS president and CEO job description was compelled by the fact it included traits in a person the organization wanted rather than “a check box of degrees or experience.”

“They were looking for ‘trust, empathy, compassion, (and) knowledge,’” Meyer said. “It’s kind of part of our DNA in public broadcasting.”

When Meyer visited the Rogue Valley during the job interview process, he liked what he saw when he watched SOPBS. He noticed not only local content, but produced segments in between shows that were local -- including a spot on residents’ reaction to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“If you didn’t watch ‘PBS NewsHour’ that night, you still had a local perspective on an international event,” Meyer said.

Philosophy and priorities

Asked to describe the PBS brand, Meyer gave a simple description.

“PBS exists for the benefit of the viewer; the commercial channels exist for the benefit of advertising,” he said. “Entertainment has its place, but also information (and) being a well-informed citizen.”

SOPBS programming ranges from locally produced content (“Southern Oregon Treasures” and “Brain Bowl”) to national programming such as the acclaimed “American Experience” documentary series and “PBS NewsHour” with Judy Woodruff.

Meyer leads a staff of 14 at SOPBS’s offices on Fir Street in downtown Medford. The number of staff is similar to the team he led at ValleyPBS in Fresno, California.

After two years of a pandemic, “everybody’s looking for stability on both sides of the camera,” Meyer said. He believes viewers want information they can trust, and SOPBS staff wants to work for an organization without an aura of “uncertainty.”

Meyer believes the pandemic has allowed organizations to look at things from new perspectives — and SOPBS is no exception to that. What that will mean, Meyer is not exactly sure. But he did have a simple message for his team.

“I told the staff, ‘I’m not going to make any big changes right away, and any changes we make, we’ll make together,’” Meyer said.

When it comes to leading an organization, “a dash of humor” doesn’t hurt, according to Meyer’s LinkedIn profile.

“We know that laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration, but also analytic precision and productivity — all benefits when running an organization,” Meyer wrote in an email.

Moving to the valley

Even though he is not an Oregon native, the state had lots of appeal to Meyer and his family.

“The scenery is astounding,” he said, noting the mountainous, green landscape.

Meyer also likes being close to national parks and the ocean.

But there’s so much more to the Beaver State that Meyer appreciates besides the setting. One is that the state “does a good job in supporting people with disabilities.” That is critical for Meyer and his wife, who continue to care for their 30-year-old son with autism.

Day-to-day, Meyer is “getting there” in settling down to make Medford feel like home. He admits he could use more sweaters and coats after spending so much time in a dry state.

“Having four seasons will be a treat, because that’s what I’m used to growing up,” Meyer said.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.