The legend of ‘Jonny Mac’

McTaggart03.jpgMPR has named Jon McTaggart, the current chief operating officer of American Public Media, to be the new chief executive officer, replacing Bill Kling, the only boss MPR has ever known.

“Jon is a remarkable leader who has been responsible for a great portion of our success over the years,” said Kling in this press release. “I’m very happy with the board’s decision, and I’m confident Jon will ensure that APMG continues to lead the way in public media’s ongoing evolution.”

When MPR got into the online business in the late ’90s, it was McTaggart who was in charge. He was the company’s “technology officer,” and presided over a department that featured all of the accoutrements of the era — Nerf guns, flying blimps, and all the digital creativity you could stuff into a half-dozen cubicles far removed from the more buttoned-down world of public radio news.

Armed with a $1 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, designed to show how public radio stations can create an online service, McTaggart appointed John Pearson to oversee the project, then got out of the way and let people do the job they were hired to do, using the talent that was the reason they were hired in the first place, providing a shield when needed (and it was), and inspiration when required.

And isn’t that pretty much the entire chapter on “how to manage?”

Here’s a story I’ve told dozens of times internally:

It was early in my tenure as MPR’s managing editor of online news. I was about to leave for a weekend with my youngest son; we were about to drive to Cincinnati to watch the Reds play a few games, and take in a few sessions at the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) convention. I had written an e-mail informing colleagues that I would be out of the office.

As I pulled out of the parking ramp on St. Paul’s West Seventh Street, McTaggart, in full-suited attire, was running on the sidewalk, flagging me down. I stopped.

He thrust $20 at me and said, “buy yourself a beer and a hot dog. You do good work.”

No boss had ever said anything like that to me before (I’ve got lots of stories about them, but you’re never going to read them), let alone risked a heart attack for the opportunity to say it.

And that’s how people run through brick walls for the people they work for.

It may not be a lot of fun being the guy to replace Bill Kling, a larger-than-life figure in the world of broadcasting whose vision is singularly responsible for Minnesota Public Radio and its assorted offspring. No doubt there are plenty of people wondering whether the place can effectively emerge from the long shadow he casts in the Twin Cities.

They needn’t be concerned. MPR has hired a knowledgeable and decent person for the gig who understands completely the value and commitment to the audience of the people who work here.

The world is full of CEOs who don’t have the passion for the product, couldn’t articulate a mission statement if you spotted them the first 20 words, view the employee as an expense to be cut, and the customer as a necessary burden to endure. MPR doesn’t have one of those.

Although it would be cool if we could bring back the flying blimp and Nerf guns.

(Photo: John Nicholson)

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dear Bob – If you like Jon, that’s good enough for me.

    Unless of course you’re also bosom buddies with “let’s eliminate all the community radio stations and establish an outright monopoly” Bill.

    If so, I guess I’ll have to do my own research. :-)