Telephone Exec Is Called to NPR

ON the third floor of National Public Radio's headquarters in Washington, NPR's new president, Delano Lewis, settles into a couch in the office where he will begin charting the network's future, probably after Jan. 1.

But until he takes the helm, Mr. Lewis is playing corporate hopscotch as he makes the transition from president and CEO of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, a subsidiary of Bell Atlantic.

The appointment of a telephone company president to head NPR might seem an odd pairing, but Lewis says it's a good match.

``I'm not a broadcaster, I'm not a journalist, but I do know something about communications, management, and working with organizations to make them more productive,'' he says. ``Radio needs to be part of the 21st century in the world of telecommunications, and if not, we're going to be left behind.... I'd like for us to be a player.''

Lewis, a friendly, unpretentious man, says he doesn't have enough information yet to provide specifics on the role NPR will play in the changing face of technology. But he has some ideas:

``I'd like for us to be a leading public radio company in the US and around the world,'' he says. ``There will be a lot of partnerships, a lot of alliances [between telecommunications companies]; we see them happen every day. I just feel that there's a lot in terms for radio. I want to ... begin to look at that.'' NPR has already started sending programs live to Europe via satellite.

Lewis, who has spent 20 years with Chesapeake and Potomac in various positions, comes to NPR with a background that includes a stint on the Peace Corps, attorney for the United States Justice Department, and legislative assistant to Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke.

Lewis ``looked real good on a lot of counts,'' says Carl Matthusen, NPR board chairman. ``He has a strong history as a consensus builder; he knows his way around Capitol Hill ... and he sits on corporate boards, which gives us another level of expertise and fund-raising possibilities.''

NPR, which hit the airwaves in 1970, produces and distributes programming to more than 475 member stations around the US that reach some 14.5 million listeners. The stations contribute nearly 60 percent of NPR's budget, which totaled about $47 million in 1993. The federal government provides just under 3 percent; grants from corporations and foundations make up the rest.

Lewis succeeds Douglas Bennet, who led NPR for 10 years and was responsible for nearly doubling NPR's listenership. Mr. Bennet also eliminated NPR's large deficit by borrowing from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, then repaying the loan through increased dues from member stations.

To accomplish his goal of taking NPR into a new technological age, Lewis plans to make fund-raising a priority. ``So much depends on our resources - our people resources, our capital resources,'' he says. An NPR Foundation, set up last year and comprised of outside individuals who are interested in generating money for the public radio network, will help accomplish that goal.

Lewis says he is a hands-on manager, but doesn't plan to immediately change or interfere with NPR's content.

``I think that we have very talented people who can do that, but I'll be involved in the content to the extent that we as a team develop our own vision of what we are about.''

NPR, says this longtime listener, stimulates people to think and act. ``Sometimes it makes you angry, but if you heard something that makes you angry, you'll act... so I think it has that kind of role in society.... I would say we would continue to build on this product that I think stimulates in ways you don't get from other media.''

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