Miles pulls plug on media Career, Retires September 2010

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After 43 years in business, 31 in various media positions, WQED President and CEO George Miles has announced he will retire in September. He said it’s time for new blood.

“It’s time to give it over to the next generation,” he said. “It’s an appropriate time for me because we just completed a new five-year strategic plan, and I don’t have another five years in me—but I have one, so I’ll be  helping to smooth the transition.”

After graduating from college in 1963, he served in the Army and as an auditor for the U.S. Department of Defense. He then worked as a CPA in New York City until he was offered a job as comptroller of KDKA-TV and KDKA-Radio.

“I didn’t know a thing about Pittsburgh,” he said. “But I grew up reading the Courier. So, I thought I’d come and see—and I just fell in love with the broadcasting business.”

Westinghouse, which owned KDKA at the time then moved Miles to Charlotte, N.C., and then to Boston. In 1983 he was hired to help with the finances at National Public Radio and from there was recruited as COO for WNET in New York. Ten years later he was hired to be WQED’s CEO.

“When I came here in 1994, the place had pretty much imploded and was basically bankrupt,” he said. “While all these jobs were financially challenging, this was different because in addition to fixing the finances, I had to be out in front as the face of the company. It’s been fun, a good run.”

Miles reorganized the company into what is now WQED Multimedia, the parent company of WQED TV13 (PBS), WQEX TV16, WQED  FM 89.3, WQEJ FM 89.7/Johnstown, a publishing division that includes Pittsburgh magazine, local and national television and radio productions, www. wqed.org and the WQED Education and Community Resource Center.

For several years, the disposition of WQEX was a thorny issue, with various community activists working to prevent its sale. Miles’ solution was unique. He petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to allow WQED to lease WQEX for profit to funnel income to “public” WQED.

“People were saying it was lunacy to give up a public broadcasting channel that was a community asset,” he said. “But I saw digital coming, we can split one signal into three. Did we need six—in what was then the number 20 market in the country? No.”

Today the company is on a solid financial footing. Miles said he will continue to serve on the five corporate boards that pay him about $800,000 annually in addition to his WQED salary.

“I’ve had some successes and some failures,” he said. “But I’m probably proudest of the Emmy Awards we received for excellence in community broadcasting. But I’ve been blessed, I’ve met people like Milton Berle, U.S. presidents, Fred Rodgers, just so many great people. That’s what I love about this business.”

(Send comments to cmorrow @newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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