February 1996 - Bill Kobin Retires; Al Jerome Succeeds as KCET's 3rd President/CEO
On February 1, 1996, KCET witnessed its second major transition of leadership as outgoing station president and CEO William H. Kobin retired after 14 years in charge, and his successor, veteran network television executive Albert D. "Al" Jerome, took over.
Kobin, who had led KCET since January 1983, announced his retirement in September of 1995. His leadership began with the herculean task of paying off the station's $3.6 million debt that he inherited. The poor financial climate of the station in his early years led KCET to seek creative, entrepreneurial methods of revenue generation, such as the VideoFinders ordering service and the KCET Store of Knowledge.
Over the course of his tenure, Kobin dealt with keeping a major-market public TV station relevant and competitive in a changing television market, which had eventually grown to five broadcast TV networks, the proliferation of cable television, and the growth of home video.
Kobin was able to achieve that by serving the diverse needs of the Southern California community. He helped give a wild-eyed, enthusiastic Tennessee native named Huell Howser free reign to explore the city and state and become one of the public faces of the station.
His leadership also helped to create the award-winning "Life & Times" public affairs program which not only covered local people, issues, and events, but helped guide viewers through elections, special events, and some of the most difficult disasters to strike the region, both natural and man-made.
Under Kobin's leadership, KCET was able to secure commitments for production grants by major funders, resulting in some of the station's most notable programs in its history, such as "The Astronomers" (provided by The W.M. Keck Foundation), "Life & Times" (The James Irvine Foundation), "Storytime" (The Helen and Peter Bing Foundation), and "The Puzzle Place" (Southern California Edison).
Kobin left KCET as the third-largest public television station in the US, with a doubled weekly audience of nearly 3 million households, a 60 percent increase in subscribers resulting in over 320,000 contributors, and an annual budget of $43 million - three times larger than it was upon his arrival.
Kobin later re-joined KCET in June of 2011, this time as a member of the station's Board of Directors, a role that he still holds today.
Taking up the baton was Al Jerome, an outsider candidate for the position with over 26 years of experience in broadcasting as an executive for the NBC, CBS, and ABC networks, but new to the world of non-profit public television and the Southern California environs.
A native of New York and the son of a big band jazz saxophonist, Jerome studied at Cornell and NYU before embarking on his long career in television, most notably as president of NBC's network-owned and operated station group from 1982 to 1991, which included KNBC in Los Angeles, WNBC in New York, and NBC stations in Chicago, Washington D.C., Miami, Denver, and Cleveland.
Jerome was in the process of relocating his family to Los Angeles from Dallas, where he was President and CEO of Spectravision, the leading provider of interactive and entertainment services in the hotel industry. A member of KCET's search committee who had known Jerome and knew of his plans to relocate suggested he apply for the CEO position.
"When I arrived in Los Angeles, I watched a lot of KCET," said Jerome. "I thought it was an outstanding TV station. I thought, 'This Is a station I really would like to watch. It might be fun to do this.'"
After what he described as a "cumbersome process" consisting of some half-dozen interviews, Jerome was offered the position and became the third president and chief executive officer in KCET's history.