BY ADAM KENT-ISAAC
“I view what we do as a public trust,” says Perry Metz, executive director of WTIU Public Television and WFIU Public Radio. “Our job is to try to help our communities be better, whether that’s through information, arts, culture, or education. And I think that’s a great mission—one I really enjoy.”
Metz, 57, grew up in the broadcasting business. “My father was a television weatherman for eighteen years and did one of the first radio talk shows in the country,” says Metz, a native of Louisville, Kentucky. “I spent a lot of time in the studio—met all the people in the local media.”
Metz studied journalism and political science at Indiana University; worked in Washington, D.C., under then-senator Joe Biden; and earned a fellowship at the Poynter Institute for media studies in St. Petersburg, Florida. After returning to Bloomington for his master’s degree in communication management, he worked for IU in various administrative capacities and in 2003 took his current post, where, he says, it’s “a great privilege to be surrounded by creative people.”
Metz oversees the radio and television stations, which broadcast NPR, PBS, BBC, and original content, along with “a production arm that does audio and video work for the university and, occasionally, private clients,” he says.
Such outside projects, Metz says, are necessary for the stations’ existence, as are tenacious fundraising efforts. “About fifteen percent of our funding comes from the federal government. The rest is raised from local sources.” The government funds are only seed money, he notes.
“Anybody who suggests balancing the budget by cutting public broadcasting is dissembling,” says Metz. “It’s less than one one-hundredth of one percent. If you wipe it out tomorrow, it wouldn’t move the needle on deficit reduction.” It would, however, leave consumers at the mercy of money-driven programming, he says.
“The market will bring you stories of hoarders and reality television. But public broadcasting was set aside to help educate.” To that end, Metz is particularly proud of the stations’ exclusive educational programs. The Friday Zone, for instance, is a children’s television program that has “fun and laughs, but still an educational base to it,” he says. A Moment of Science presents informative two-minute radio segments. And the Muslim Voices podcast educates listeners about the Islamic world.
And, of course, there’s Big Bird and his Sesame Street pals whose mission, Metz says, is to teach kids “critical lessons in literacy and numeracy, emotional well-being, health and wellness, and respect and understanding”—all while having fun.