New manager solidifies agreement between WILL, WTVP

New manager solidifies agreement between WILL, WTVP

Ties between WILL public media and a partner TV station in Peoria just got a bit stronger with the hiring of a new executive to oversee both companies.

Maurice "Moss" Bresnahan, who until last year ran a large public television station in Seattle, will be president and CEO of both Illinois Public Media and Illinois Valley Public Telecommunications Corp., the governing body for WTVP television in Peoria, officials announced Friday. Bresnahan will start his new job Sept. 2.

Bresnahan, a Boston native who once worked in the Quad Cities, will succeed interim president and CEO Chet Tomczyk, who is scheduled to retire in August.

"It's exciting to return to the Midwest, to lead this collaboration between two great Central Illinois institutions. Both WILL and WTVP have such strong connections in their communities, both have loyal and dedicated supporters. I believe they have a very exciting future ahead," Bresnahan said Friday.

The announcement solidifies a joint management agreement between WILL and WTPV launched last fall, after WILL's former general manager, Mark Leonard, left to take a job in Nebraska. Leonard had been at the University of Illinois public media outlet since 2007 and was credited with establishing new funding sources for WILL, which has faced budget cuts from university, state and federal sources.

Tomczyk, who was already president and CEO at WTVP, was appointed interim general manager of WILL to oversee both units on a trial basis.

The unique cooperative leadership arrangement was designed to increase collaboration between the stations and benefit their communities, officials said.

The two companies had worked together before, collaborating on a primary debate and legislative programming, said Jan Slater, dean of the UI College of Media.

Like other media, public broadcasting is going through a "huge transition" in terms of funding and programming, she said. "We have to look at ways of doing things differently."

When Leonard left he urged Slater to pursue stronger ties. The joint operating agreement was worked out on a trial basis, and under Tomczyk the stations held joint pledge drives and collaborated on coverage of the Gifford and Washington tornadoes.

In March the two companies extended the agreement for the long term and launched a search to find a replacement for Tomczyk, Slater said.

Bresnahan will be a full-time UI employee, with his $195,000 salary split equally between WILL and WTVP. He will have a dual reporting line to Slater and to WTVP's board of trustees, she said.

Leonard earned almost $133,000 as general manager at WILL. The two stations split Tomczyk's salary this past year, with the UI paying just over $50,000, she said.

Slater and others described the partnership as "groundbreaking," involving a university broadcast licensee and a community licensee. But she emphasized that the two stations are not merging.

"We want public broadcasting to be better and stronger, but we want to keep our local identities, and we want to keep those local brands," Slater said.

The partnership helps each station maintain its community involvement and gives them broader reach and access to more and better programming, Slater said. The Peoria station was a good fit because the two media companies already share an audience in Bloomginton, which doesn't have its own public station, she added.

The key thing is that viewers and listeners "still get what they're used to," Slater said. "The stations themselves are not changing."

Bresnahan's job will be to figure out how to build more collaborations, she said.

Slater said Moss has extensive experience in public broadcasting and "really gets public media and what the mission is. He's seen it evolve and is committed to what it can be."

Bresnahan said the stations are looking for opportunities to combine their resources on infrastructure and community services.

A Boston native, Bresnahan has served in leadership roles with small and major market public stations across the country. He started out working at commercial and cable television stations in New England, and took his first job in public media in the Quad Cities in 1992. He later ran the South Carolina state public television and radio network.

Most recently he was president and CEO of KCTS-TV, which serves more than 2.7 millions viewers in Western Washington and British Columbia. He resigned after five years last August for personal reasons, according to media reports.

Bresnahan said Friday he was looking for a new challenge. He called the WILL-WTVP collaboration "one of the most interesting initiatives in public media today. Hopefully it can become a model for what public media can and should be."

Search committee member Allan Penwell, immediate past chair of WILL's Citizens Advisory Committee, said Bresnahan knows Illinois and is passionate about public broadcasting.

"He should be just a great fit at WILL," he said.

Joe Strupek, chairman of Illinois Valley' board of trustees in Peoria, said the joint agreement with WILL has evolved into a valuable partnership and Bresnahan has the experience to take "the next step."

"This isn't about WTVP or WILL, it's about central Illinois and providing educational and entertainment content and connectivity through public media and how we can take the next step to further connect with our audiences," Strupek said in the release.

Illinois Public Media is a not-for-profit public media service of the College of Media and includes WILL-AM 580, WILL-FM 90.9, WILL-TV and WILL Online.

Tale of two stations

WILL/Illinois Public Media, Urbana

University public broadcasting licensee

Includes TV station and AM and FM radio stations

$6 million budget

42 full-time and part-time employees

AM station covers large chunks of Illinois and Indiana, from Peoria to Indianapolis and the Chicago suburbs south to Wabash County

Television coverage stretches south to Mattoon-Charleston and west to Springfield and Bloomington

WTVP-TV, Peoria:

Community public broadcasting licensee

$3 million budget

15 full-time employees

Station covers parts of 20 counties in western Illinois, including DeWitt, McLean and Livingston

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