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La Camera to Step Down from WBUR

Media veteran restored station’s financial, editorial health


WBUR general manager Paul La Camera will step down from the helm of Boston University’s NPR affiliate after a five-year tenure. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

After five years at the helm of BU’s National Public Radio station WBUR, the dominant of Boston’s two NPR affiliates, general manager Paul La Camera told his staff on Friday that he was retiring at the end of the year, although he will stay on in an advisory capacity for two years.

“It’s been a privilege to be at the University and WBUR over this past five years, and we’ve made a lot of important progress in reestablishing the station. It’s at a particularly good point right now,” says La Camera (COM’66, MET’74). “On a personal level, I’ll be 68 years old next month and that’s certainly an expiration date for someone to be leading a dynamic media institution that has to get even deeper into the digital arena.”

The University will announce details of the leadership transition at the station in the next several weeks. For the next two years, however, La Camera will serve as the University’s newly created administrator of public radio, assisting with the transition and acting as a civic ambassador for the station and BU. He is a trustee of the Boston Public Library, among other institutions. During that time, La Camera will maintain an office at the station at 890 Commonwealth Avenue.

La Camera, who worked for more than 33 years at WCVB-TV, Boston’s ABC affiliate, including 12 years as president and general manager, was appointed WBUR general manager in October 2005. He took over a station that was $13 million in debt to the University and a staff demoralized in the wake of the resignation of longtime general manager Jane Christo (CAS’65) and subsequent cost-cutting measures, including layoffs. Christo had been accused of mismanagement, but a BU investigation later found many of the allegations not credible.

Over the past five years, La Camera has nursed the station back to financial health and strengthened its editorial content. WBUR, which turned 60 years oldthis year, not only added the 2010 Edward R. Murrow Award for general excellence to its collection of recent national honors, but posted a record-breaking fundraising campaign that saw $1.27 million pledged from 13,650 listeners. During the past two years, La Camera has cut back on-air pledge drive days by 25 percent and increased donation dollars by 10 percent. He has hired new reporters and created an endowment.

“As a result of these financial successes,” says Peter Fiedler, BU vice president for administrative services, “Paul has been able to develop new local programming, has enhanced the creative staff of the station’s nationally syndicated programs, added strength to the station’s news operation, and also dramatically improved the station’s web presence, WBUR.org, which has often been referred to as one of the best public radio websites in the nation.”

After Christo’s departure in 2004, Fiedler (COM’77) served as interim general manager for a year until La Camera came out of retirement to take the job. While Christo had established WBUR as a powerhouse in national and international programming, local news coverage had not seen similar growth, and, in the eyes of some, grown stagnant.

“I said from the beginning that I wanted to bring that same level of expectation and excellence to the station’s local work,” La Camera says. “I think we’ve really grown the news department into a robust, important voice in the city, and I couldn’t be more proud of the launch and current work of Radio Boston.” A newsmagazine focused on local issues, Radio Boston recently expanded from a weekly to daily program.

WBUR remains a player on the national scene, producing four programs syndicated by NPR: On Point, with Tom Ashbrook, Here and Now, with Robin Young, Only a Game, with Bill Littlefield, and Car Talk, with brothers Ray and Tom Magliozzi (GSM’89), or Click and Clack as they’re commonly known.

“Paul cleared the decks of problems and let us do exactly what we needed to do editorially,” says Ashbrook. “He put a strong foundation under us. He expanded our reach and said, ‘Be the best.’ He is just a great leader, with rare insight and humanity. He’s been perfect for his time with us. We’ll miss him, but we know he won’t be far.”

La Camera hails from a media family. His late father was the distinguished American television critic Anthony La Camera. Before joining WCVB, Paul La Camera served as communications director for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and worked as a reporter for the Boston Record American and Sunday Advertiser. In 1992, BU’s College of Communication honored La Camera with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

“I’ll miss being engaged on a daily basis with the smartest, most dedicated group of individuals I’ve ever been around,” La Camera says. “My thanks and admiration also for support from people like Peter Fiedler, BU Executive Vice President Joe Mercurio, and BU President Robert Brown. They are three of our biggest cheerleaders, and that’s made all the difference in the world. They’ve always been supportive of our independence. That’s not necessarily the experience of other public radio stations whose licenses are held by universities.”

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.


One Comment on La Camera to Step Down from WBUR

  • Anonymous on 11.22.2010 at 9:23 am

    Many thanks to LaCamera for his years of expertise and committment to BU and its students. Its a great turn-around story— can we get more details of what he did to achieve this? It could potentially be a great lesson on management and fiscal approaches for both business and econ students.

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