A Public Media Pioneer: The Legacy Of Donald Mullally : NPR Extra The late Donald Mullally, Director of Broadcasting and General Manager for Illinois Public Media, helped pushed a budding NPR into the mainstream.
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A Public Media Pioneer: The Legacy Of Donald Mullally

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Donald Mullally, former Director of Broadcasting and General Manager for Illinois Public Media Illinois Public Media hide caption

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Illinois Public Media

Donald Mullally, former Director of Broadcasting and General Manager for Illinois Public Media

Illinois Public Media

But it wasn't always this way...

Enter Donald Mullally, former General Manager and Director of Broadcasting for Illinois Public Media. Twice an NPR Board member and an early pioneer of the network's current structure, Mullally is credited by many for saving NPR from early financial ruin. Mullally passed away on January 21, 2015, at the age of 77.

To better understand Mullally's legacy in public media, let's do a quick recap of NPR's early years:

In February of 1970, NPR was incorporated by 90 radio stations, to provide them with national news programming. By 1977, the number of radio stations partnered with NPR had grown to 190, and they entrusted NPR to serve as their voice before the federal government.

In the 1980s, NPR launched the first nationwide, satellite radio distribution network. Demand for national radio programs and production soared. But midway through the decade, NPR encountered debilitating growing pains as it transitioned from "alternative" to "mainstream".

Mullally became Chair of the NPR Board of Directors in 1983, a period when skyrocketing growth had thrown the young network into financial turmoil.

With NPR, the "mothership", teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, Mullally and his team moved swiftly to push through major structural and financial changes for the network.

Stations were given greater editorial and financial independence and dibs on federal grants. In turn, NPR was allowed to court large, private donors and require stations to pay for its content. This new model empowered stations to better serve local audiences, by handing each station greater control over their programming lineup, and created direct paths to revenue for NPR.

Donald Mullally, former Director of Broadcasting and General Manager for Illinois Public Media Illinois Public Media hide caption

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Illinois Public Media

Donald Mullally, former Director of Broadcasting and General Manager for Illinois Public Media

Illinois Public Media

Mullally's early vision for a symbiotic relationship between NPR and its Member Stations remains a pivotal turning point for the non-profit media organization. More than 30 years since he helped lead the network toward stability, over 1000 radio stations nationwide purchase NPR content, to share with their local audiences.

Thanks, in part, to Mullally, NPR remains a strong symbol for intelligent and thoughtful journalism that's dedicated to a deeper understanding of the world we live in.