Graduate Alumni Spotlight

Transforming Public Broadcasting the Annenberg Way

Willard “Wick” Rowland, MAC '71
President and CEO of Colorado Public Television (KBDI-12)
Denver, Colorado

Wick Rowland

Named “2010 Television Person of the Year” by the Denver Post, Willard D. (“Wick”) Rowland, Jr., Ph.D., is surprisingly modest when it comes to discussing his vast and accomplished career in higher education and broadcasting. “I’m really just a fuzzy-headed academic pretending to be a public broadcaster,” said Dr. Rowland, President and CEO of Colorado Public Television (KBDI-12), a PBS station in Denver, Colorado that, despite threatened federal budget cuts, remains a reliable news and public affairs source under his savvy auspices.

Prior to beginning the master’s program at Annenberg in 1969, Dr. Rowland served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica, working in instructional broadcasting and adult literacy projects. “I wasn’t on the ground more than three weeks before I realized that I needed a much deeper education in media and development policy. The then ‘dominant paradigm’ didn’t explain much of what I was experiencing in the Jamaican bush. Coming to Annenberg gave me a chance to begin developing a whole new, more critical and culturally conscious approach to media history and policy issues, particularly with regard to public service questions.”

Dr. Rowland’s thesis focused on the history and development of WHYY, the original public broadcasting station in Philadelphia. Bob Shayon and George Gerbner were his thesis advisors and their searing influences continue to ring throughout his pensive posits on communication studies and media policy. “They and the entire Annenberg faculty drove us hard, and as a result I now know much more about the history of U.S. and foreign public broadcasting than anyone should be allowed to know,” attributing his education at Annenberg as having helped shape an acute understanding of the role of public media is society. He adds that it was in large part that legacy that he was pleased to honor when he returned to ASC in 1991 to give the fourth annual George Gerbner lecture.

Dr. Rowland’s research at Annenberg was further ignited during his later research travels, when he witnessed the respect that people abroad have for their national public broadcasting systems. “From the very beginning most other societies saw broadcasting as extensions of their arts, culture, language and national identity, and they fashioned it originally as a truly public service institution; whereas in the U.S. broadcasting began as an advertising enterprise, largely for private commercial purposes, with little real thought given to the need for a robust noncommercial, public alternative.”

Dr. Rowland also credits his Annenberg days as helping him land his first job in public broadcasting. He served as the first director of research for PBS in Washington, and then later as its Director of Long Range Planning, before returning fulltime to the academy and a career of university teaching and research.

From 1979-1987, Dr. Rowland served on the faculty of the Institute of Communications Research and as Associate Dean in the College of Communications at the University of Illinois. He then became Dean and Professor of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where over the course of twelve years he built a comprehensive range of media education and communication research programs. But he was always a scholar administrator, noting that “throughout my tenure as Dean, I taught and published on a wide variety of topics, including communications research theory, the challenges to journalism education, and the history of media policy and public broadcasting, and I have continued much of that work since.”

Upon returning to public television in 1999 Dr. Rowland has become a leader in national public broadcasting circles, serving on the boards and as chair of three of the public television station groups, working heavily on policy advocacy matters in Washington and earning several awards. He is the past chair of the Colorado Broadcasters Association and during his tenure at CPT12 the station has won many program awards.

Despite such successes, Dr. Rowland is quick to note that public broadcasting is facing serious challenges. “While we know that the public highly values our services, the new digital media and the recent economic difficulties have combined to threaten all our forms of support. Much of the way we do business will have to change.”

Despite those challenges he remains passionate about the mission of public media and their prospects. “We’ve got to keep up the good fight, finding alternatives to marketplace-based programming and the lowest common denominator of media service. Our society requires a major media system dedicated to core civic purposes. Already, even the new social media, which were supposed to be the harbinger of a new, more democratic capacity, are quickly becoming commercialized. The big question is -- will we be able to find forms of support in the broadband world to sustain well-investigated reporting and a wide range of media content that reflects the best of our great republic?”

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