Alisa Miller, MPP’99, MBA’99, was a Graduate School of Business student with a plan that hooked into resort magazines in Aspen, Telluride, Vail, and other affluent destinations. But in the midst of the dot-com boom, that idea didn’t fly, and she got a business-strategy job at Sesame Workshop (née Children’s Television Workshop)—“working for Elmo,” as Miller puts it. In 2001 the broadcast-journalism major rediscovered her first love when she was offered a job in Minneapolis at Public Radio International, a producer and distributor of public-radio programming. Miller became senior vice president and head of PRI Content in 2004. That year PRI lost distribution rights to its two most famous shows, A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace. Miller, appointed CEO of PRI in 2006, has wasted no time looking back, with a distribution list that includes This American Life, The World, Studio 360, The Tavis Smiley Show, Bob Edwards Weekend, and the new satirical news show Fair Game. This March PRI announced the unthinkable: it will launch a competitor to NPR’s signature program, Morning Edition. Stay tuned...
Behind the microphone: As a broadcast-journalism major [at the University of Nebraska], I did my stint on the air on KRNU. I did a piece on corridors between green spaces in western Nebraska, which migratory animals use to find their way. I remember thinking, I want to make this sound like public radio. It had nice music as the underbed and moments of reflection. I was having my All Things Considered moment.
Ms. Miller goes to Washington: When I graduated, I took out a $5,000 loan and moved to Washington, DC. I gave myself six months to get a job at National Public Radio. I had done this piece on green fields in Nebraska, so I should be able to get a job there, right? So I tried and tried and tried. They would ask who I knew, and I didn’t know anybody. So I had to give up on that dream.
Big Bird, big stress: There was a lot of pressure, because everything had to live up to this iconic, amazing brand. With kids-oriented content, the bar is so high. You have to make sure it meets the philosophy of teaching every single moment. One reason public radio appealed to me is there’s more flexibility in what you can try.
The future of radio: Radio is the ultimate multitasking medium—it engages the mind, but you can also do something else at the same time. Terrestrial radio is free and really simple, and I think people will continue to listen for the foreseeable future. At the same time, station streaming, podcasting, etcetera, are increasing.
Morning Edition and other sacred cows: Morning Edition is a wonderful program. But the digital world is about choice. And in public radio, there is no choice at the key point in the day—morning drive, where the big boys play. We believe we can create a program that’s highly interactive; that’s live, not packaged; conversational, not presentational. The idea is that we’re not going to be taking audience from Morning Edition, but helping to expand the audience for public radio, particularly a slightly younger and more diverse demographic. People respond to public radio’s core values—insight, strong journalism—but we’re losing the next generation on tone.
Avocational accomplishments: We [she and husband Jason Artemiuk, MPP’01] designed the house we live in, and we built it ourselves. I call it a farmhouse on acid. On the outside it looks pretty traditional, but on the inside it has steel beams and feels kind of like a loft.
Nonpublic pursuits: I love singing. I’m trying to get plugged into a choir in the Twin Cities, but my travel schedule makes that difficult. My mother was a painter, and I really enjoy painting as well. I need to get my easel set up and take out my public-radio angst.