WASHINGTON • The president and CEO of NPR is stepping down after less than two years to take a similar position at the National Geographic Society, the public radio organization’s board of directors announced Monday.
Gary Knell said he plans to stay on the job at Washington-based National Public Radio until November while the board works to find a successor, serving out most, if not all, of his initial contract.
Knell, who spent 11 years as CEO of Sesame Workshop, took over NPR in December 2011 after a difficult period. He succeeded Vivian Schiller, who resigned under pressure after a former NPR fundraiser was caught on camera calling the tea party racist. The episode led some conservatives to call for an end to federal funding for NPR, which receives some grant money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its member stations also get CPB funding.
“We’ve calmed some of the waters politically. I’ve done a lot of outreach to members on both sides of the aisle to put NPR into a better context,” Knell told The Associated Press. “I think we’ve set in motion a strategy and an economic trajectory that will make it easier for the next CEO to carry on the work.”
Knell said the offer to become president and CEO of the National Geographic Society was unsolicited and that the decision to accept it was difficult. He had planned to seek a renewal of his contract.
“We wish Gary the very best. He was a stellar CEO, and we certainly understand why other people want him,” board chair Kit Jensen said. “He’s put us on a very good footing for the future.”
During Knell’s tenure, NPR has improved its digital presence, strengthened relationships with its member stations and bolstered philanthropic and corporate support, the organization said in a news release.
NPR distributes news, information and music programming to 975 public radio stations, reaching 27 million listeners a week.