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Maria O'Mara To Lead NPR Utah And PBS Utah As Executive Director

Photo of radio control board.
Austen Diamond for KUER

Three years ago, Maria O’Mara returned to lead the public radio station where she started her career as a reporter in the 1990s. Next month, the general manager of KUER (NPR Utah) will assume a new role: overseeing both KUER and PBS Utah.

Effective Feb. 1, O’Mara will become the Executive Director of the University of Utah’s two statewide public media outlets. KUER announced the new role today as the centerpiece of a leadership restructuring at the storied radio and television stations.

Photo of Maria O'Mara.
Credit Austen Diamond for KUER

“From a practical standpoint, much of what PBS Utah and KUER do in terms of administrative work is parallel: accounting, FCC and CPB oversight, university policies and legal compliance, human resources, purchasing and facilities management,” O’Mara said. “Having the same person responsible for those things will be both more efficient and more effective for both stations.”

As part of the restructuring, KUER Director of Programming and Promotion Joel Meyer will become Station Manager and oversee all programming, operations, promotion and audience development. Ja’Naye Payne, currently KUER’s Director of Development, becomes Associate Director of Philanthropy for KUER and PBS Utah, working with O’Mara and PBS Utah’s Alice Webber.

Under O’Mara’s leadership, KUER has experienced growth in listenership and fundraising, increased the size of its newsroom, opened two news bureaus in southern Utah and embarked an ambitious expansion of its terrestrial and digital footprints.

O’Mara’s return to KUER in 2017 followed two decades in reporting and news management roles at Salt Lake Observer, Deseret News and KSL-TV. The Utah native and U of U alum also worked in external communications positions with the University and Rocky Mountain Power.

Prior to joining KUER in 2018, Meyer was an executive producer of talk programs and podcasts for WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and Slate. In his current role, Meyer oversees programming, promotional strategy and content development, including the recent reboot of KUER’s marquee program RadioWest and the launch of the new podcast Preach.

Payne joined KUER in 2007, and has played multiple roles on the development team, including Manager of Business Sponsorships and Director of Development. In her new role, Payne will continue to direct fundraising and development at KUER, while working with O’Mara and Webber at PBS Utah (formerly KUED).

“Media is having a philanthropic moment,” O’Mara said. “Rising populism, political polarization and worries about big technology are driving charitable giving toward programming that explains the news and holds the powerful to account – something public broadcasting is known to do. Not all parts of the two stations’ fundraising work should combine, but I think PBS Utah and KUER could couple their strengths and philanthropic reach and take advantage of this interesting time in history.”

As it begins the new year with redefined leadership, KUER is planning a busy 2020, including coverage of local, state and national elections; the completion of its signal expansion project in St. George; the opening of a third news bureau; and last but not least, the celebration of the station’s 60th anniversary.

Correction 7:33 p.m. MST 1/9/20: An earlier version of this story misstated Ja'Naye Payne's new role as assistant director of philanthropy. Her correct title will be associate director of philanthropy.

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