The man at the helm of National Public Radio discusses the effect the computer

age is having on the medium and talks about the need to stand firm in the face

of political changes in Washington.


Delano Lewis knew that taking over National Public Radio would be a a tough

job. But he didn’t know quite how tough.  A former administrative assistant to

Congressman Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia, he left behind 21 years

as a telephone executive in the Washington area and started his new job as NPR chief

executive officer two years ago next month. That gave him only a brief honeymoon

before the GOP gained control of the House of Representatives last fall and, talking

revolution, put funding for public broadcasting in the cross hairs.

Lewis, 57, was enough of a scrappy Washington insider to know when to pick a

fight — and when to avoid one. He tried to turn the debate over public

broadcasting away from highly charged rhetoric, relying instead on

dispassionate argument and the support of people around the country speaking

up for their programs.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich has stopped talking about “zeroing out” public

broadcasting’s funding, and its budget cut for fiscal 1998 is expected to be

modest — roughly $250 million, compared with $260 million for fiscal ’97.

Lewis trimmed NPR’s staff of 400 by roughly 5 percent to cut costs and says

more cuts may be necessary. He has lobbied to create a $4 billion trust fund

that could remove public broadcasting from the merry-go-round of annual

federal support, and the Senate has recently begun to study the idea.

Lewis, interviewed recently at a San Francisco hotel, was considered as a

candidate to take over the NAACP, but he took his name out of the running so

he could concentrate on his current job. He wishes he had been given a shot at

the job earlier in his career — and doesn’t rule out future interest.


Q. How would you describe your vision for NPR at this point?

A. I came to the

organization thinking about expansion, new delivery systems, our bureaus, our

network, our stations, different kinds of programming, expanding on the good

things we do, increasing our audiences, getting more minority listeners, more

younger listeners. I was in sort of a growth mode, particularly with the

advent of new technologies and how that’s going to fit.

What hit me were a couple of things. No. 1, a culture that was more entrenched

than I thought, a culture I didn’t really know, which is obvious after 21

years in the telephone business and 10 years in the federal government. So I

had to learn the culture. I had to gain the respect of those in the industry.

And the other thing, obviously, was the funding fight and the challenges on

Capitol Hill, which began to take up a lot of time. That began to put the

reality of the grist mill there that I had to take care of those things. But

the vision still holds.


Q: You talked about the advent of new technologies. What are NPR’s plans for

the Internet?

A: The exciting thing that NPR has is we’re not just broadcasters, we’re

content and context providers. If you look at yourself that way, the horizon

becomes extremely bright and broad. We’re the best at what we do, content

wise, and we do offer context you don’t get anywhere else, varying

perspectives, different angles.

Now I also say that there will be people who will still use the radio. People

will continue to do that. When TV came in radio didn’t die. And I think that

with all the computer technology, plain old radio will probably be alive. What

we have to do is understand that but mix in and take advantage of the new


We have a home page on the web ( and we’ve been in

contact with America Online and we’re making some arrangements with them now.

You can tune into the Internet and download NPR programming and hear the

programs in real time. We’re doing that now along with ABC News.


Written by: Steve Kettman – Published 4:00 am, Sunday, December 31, 1995



By | 2014-09-16T19:57:21+00:00 August 19th, 2014|Categories: Articles|0 Comments

About the Author:

Brian Lewis is a Chef, Author and speaker. He is the third child of Delano Lewis and is currently in charge of public relations for the Ambassador.