RIPBS, The Public’s Radio Plan to Merge
By: Michelle San Miguel
November 9, 2023
Rhode Island's two public broadcasters plan to merge and form an organization focused on producing high-quality content that sparks public discourse and contributes to lifelong learning.
Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio announced Thursday their decision to merge, creating a public media organization that serves Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.
“It’s definitely a merger of equals. I think collectively we all feel that we’re much stronger together as a team than trying to work independently with similar missions,” said David Piccerelli, president of Rhode Island PBS.
The merger needs to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office. It’s expected to be finalized in the spring of 2024.
Torey Malatia, president, chief executive officer and general manager of The Public’s Radio said he’s very confident the regulatory approval is going to go well.
“By coming together, what we’re doing is we’re not only becoming stronger, but I think we’re actually ensuring our future independence even more,” Malatia said.
Altogether, the two public media organizations have nearly 100 employees and have received Emmy and Telly Awards. They’ve also been recognized by the Edward R. Murrow Awards and the Public Media Journalists Association. Piccerelli would like to see more employees join the award-winning team once the merger is finalized.
“I think to do this properly we’re going to need more talent to make it really work,” Piccerelli said.
Malatia said joining forces doesn’t just double the impact of the two institutions. “I think it goes up enormously, well beyond doubling,” he said. “Public media’s increasingly looked at as sort of the last but best hope for trusted, important conversation, information, discussion, debate, the sorts of things that really keep civic life alive. And we’re inspired by that.”
The new organization will be located in the existing Rhode PBS building at 50 Park Lane in Providence, which is owned by the station. Piccerelli said it will take some time to consolidate the operations of both organizations and will require construction within the existing building.
Conversations about a possible merger started in 2013 when Piccerelli said he spoke with Joe O’Connor, the then-president of what was formerly known as Rhode Island Public Radio. But, Piccerelli went on to say that serious talks about engaging in a merger began in earnest around August of 2022.
“This was not a financial decision for either one of us,” Piccerelli said. “I mean we’re two both very strong organizations financially. This is purely about being stronger together and better serving the Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts community.”
Both boards will continue to exist until the merger is finalized. Then, several members of the two boards will come together to form one board. Dave Laverty, chair of the Rhode Island PBS Foundation Board, and Elizabeth Delude-Dix, chair of The Public’s Radio Board of Directors, will co-chair the new organization’s board.
In a statement, Laverty said, “By combining resources and talent, we can build on our respective traditions of trust and integrity to meet audiences where they are, across platforms, to deliver rich programming that is meaningful, accessible, and inclusive.”
Delude-Dix said merging will allow the two companies to be seen by more people in different ways. “As a unified public media organization, we anticipate building new relationships and fostering deep partnerships while opening our audience’s eyes and ears to new experiences in the arts, sciences, humanities, and politics. A vibrant public media can create a stronger civic life and, together, we can better deliver on our missions,” she said in a statement.
Malatia and Piccerelli will continue to serve as CEOs. Once the merger is finalized, a national search will be conducted for the head of the combined organization. Board members have invited Malatia and Piccerelli to apply. A name for the new media entity has not yet been selected.
A Lively Experiment
The Presidents of Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio discuss their newly planned merger.
What is happening?
The boards of The Public’s Radio and Rhode Island PBS Foundation have voted to merge, proposing the creation of a new public media organization for Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. The next step is to seek regulatory approvals from the Federal Communications Commission, the state Attorney General, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. If approved, we anticipate the new organization would launch in early 2024. In the meantime, both organizations will continue to operate independently with no disruption to programming or services.
Why is this happening?
We are stronger together.
Rhode Island PBS and The Public's Radio are both trusted and respected institutions that have long traditions of telling stories that matter.
By combining resources and bringing together some of the most talented and compelling storytellers in the region, a unified joint media venture would meet new and existing audiences where they are, across platforms, to deliver innovative and dynamic content that reflects and serves the community.
The integrated entity will serve existing and expanded audiences across Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Robust community engagement with diverse community partners will accelerate our growth together.
Together, we can better deliver on our missions. Together, we can achieve greater impact.
Is one organization taking over?
No. The Public’s Radio and Rhode Island PBS will play equal roles, as we build a dynamic and innovative new organization.
How will this affect me?
As a nonprofit public service organization, our priority is our community, and we will be building this new organization with you: the public. We anticipate that we will be able to offer our community a deeper and richer experience, while preserving the things you love most about The Public’s Radio and Rhode Island PBS. Once the regulatory portion of the process is complete, Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio will launch an inclusive community engagement process to help create a vision for a combined public media organization that engages more audiences across the region. To receive updates, sign up for our e-newsletter.
What will happen to my favorite programs?
Our programming and services will continue to grow. In the short term, you’ll continue to hear and see your favorite programs and, in the long term, we will be able to provide more of the content you love, in more ways, to suit your needs and preferences.
How did the boards make this decision?
Over the past year, organizational leadership and the respective boards of The Public's Radio and Rhode Island PBS Foundation met to discuss the value and benefits to the community of merging the organizations.
The two boards decided to take a serious look at the feasibility of combining the two organizations in late 2022. After many months of thoughtful conversation, the boards decided that we would be stronger together, and better able to serve the community needs. The boards officially voted to merge on November 9, 2023.
What happens to the existing boards?
Both boards will continue to exist until the regulatory process is complete.
In addition, there will be a strong committee structure as part of the new organization in which all new and former board members will participate.
What will the new media organization be called?
Right now, we are focused on completing the regulatory process, after which the board will sign a final agreement. Once those two steps are complete, we can move on to the exciting work of co-creating the future of public media in the region—including the selection of a name that captures our important shared missions of serving, supporting, and informing the community.