The future of audio media has never been brighter—or more threatened. There has never been more quality audio content, with endless podcasts and radio programming in every niche, appealing to every passion. At the same time, competing technology is giving consumers more video options, from streaming to virtual reality, pushing them to put down their headphones and turn on their screens.
Nico Leone began his tenure as president and CEO at KERA—North Texas’ National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Station affiliates—during this shifting market landscape. He arrived in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic upended the station’s operations and refocused the news it covered. Although conditions were less than ideal, Leone made the most of starting a new post in a new city.
“It’s not something the management team here, or anywhere else, had a playbook for,” he says. “That gave us an opportunity to do a lot of listening and have a lot of conversations with staff to hear their concerns and priorities.”
Despite metrics suggesting consumer trust in media is nearing all-time lows, Leone embraces his role in this top-five media market, seeing the station as a way to serve the community, provide fact-based journalism, and collaborate with other outlets. The company’s nonprofit model and public media’s civility allow KERA to avoid sensationalism and responsibly report across ideological differences.
“We’ve carved out a space that is conversational, civil, and respectful,” Leone says. “Even as we cover really difficult issues from a variety of perspectives.”
He studied communications at Baylor, ran a music radio station in St. Louis, and was the general manager of KCUR—the public radio affiliate in Kansas City—before moving to Dallas. During his time at KCUR, the size of its newsroom and community financial support for the station more than doubled, its digital audience tripled, and its broadcast audience grew by 35 percent. Leone has similar hopes for KERA; he aims to continue growing its audience and revenue during the lean times brought on by the pandemic. He also wants to concentrate on stories that reach deeply into communities and issues.
“We’ve tried to put a big focus on that—the ability to meet people where they are—and to push ourselves to reflect the community we serve,” he says.
Leone is moved and encouraged by the feedback he has received thus far.
“You get a sense of how we’ve been able to provide connectedness at a time when a lot of people have felt a very real sense of isolation.” One listener told him, “KERA was my lifeline. It’s how I stayed connected to the world while I was in the hospital.”
The media exec looks forward to the day when things can inch toward normalcy, allowing him to get to know his new home. In a world of opportunities and threats, he sees an expanding future for KERA in whatever the new normal becomes.
“The thing about audio, in particular, is that it just wraps around the rest of your life,” he says. “What makes it distinct is your ability to listen while you do almost anything else.”