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Moreover, KWMU's news department alerts Suarez's show to local issues that may have national repercussions, such as the watershed, and corporate mergers and relocations. "They're very willing to find ways to put St. Louis in the national spotlight," Suarez says, "and I gotta tell you, I'm on 156 stations, and there aren't more than a dozen like KWMU when it comes to that kind of thing."
The station attempts to match NPR and Public Radio International's quality by producing 14 percent of its own programming, including news, weather, traffic reports and commentaries and three talk and music shows each week: Cityscape, an arts and culture program hosted by Joe Pollack; St. Louis on the Air, a local talk/call-in program hosted by Mark Manelli; and Jazz Unlimited,hosted by Dennis Owsley.
In the development department, Kerley has expanded the station's arsenal of fundraising tools beyond mugs and T-shirts to include telemarketing, buying and trading mailing lists of likely donors, cultivating a base of $1,000-plus donors and instituting online pledging. As a result, KWMU has been able to sustain increases in NPR fees, as well as UM-St. Louis' reduction of support from 50 percent of the station's budget in 1989 to 12 percent today.
This success has earned Bennett the respect of her colleagues. She's been elected by fellow general managers to two three-year terms on the prestigious 17-person NPR board, 1990-93 and 1995-97. "Some people say it's sort of a popularity contest," says Kim Hodgson, general manager of WAMU in Washington, D.C., and chair of the board during Bennett's tenure, "because the people who are best known and who have made the best impression in regional and national meetings are the people who tend to get elected.... But people always thought that Patty was a good listener when it came to station interests and concerns."
Bennett was also elected current secretary of Public Radio in Mid-America. In addition, the Public Broadcasting Management Association recently gave her its Award of Excellence for deflecting the Ku Klux Klan's attempts to underwrite programming at KWMU.
Bennett's local reputation among KWMU board members and volunteers is equally positive. Mary Phelan, who sat on the board for six years and was board president, has a great deal of respect for Bennett's leadership: "She is a strong personality, no question, but I think it takes that kind of strength, probably, to make the progress that has been made at that station. And I think it's important to realize that there are people there that have been with her for quite a long time and seem to be perfectly OK."
Current board president and four-year board member Stephen Glickman praises Bennett's ability to bolster the station's fiscal strength with creative fundraising events. "The numbers speak for themselves," Glickman says. "You can fundraise and people give money, but are you giving something back in return? And I think, from wine-tasting to exposing personalities from National Public Radio to record sales, there are a lot of things that speak well of diversity and touching everybody's needs rather than just saying, "OK, we're on the air and we want you to give money.'"
Current employees say they are content with KWMU's work environment, calling it "fast-paced," "busy" and "congenial." Kerley, the station manager and development director, says that the most difficult aspect of Bennett's management style is her fast pace. "Any place that has a strong leader, very energized, it's sometimes hard to just keep up," Kerley says.
Ken Davis, operations manager, assistant programming director and fundraising producer, says that Bennett plainly spells out his duties. "That's one of the things that I'm most happy about. I came from a place where they weren't. So, in general, it's pretty easy to know what it is you're supposed to be doing."
Bill Raack, news director, has no complaints, either. "I haven't had any run-ins with her, or any problems with her since I've been news director. So I've found her to be fine."
Five ways of looking at a managerAs far as the university is concerned, Bennett is doing a great job, says her supervisor, Donald Driemeier, who is deputy to the chancellor at UM-St. Louis: "There is an impact upon the image of all the things that are going on at the campus that is enhanced by the quality of the radio station....
"Everybody has a different management style, and my job is to say, "Is a person's style within the broad range of acceptable management?' And this doesn't mean that you would be the same manager that Patty is, or that I would be, but is her style within a broad range of acceptable management? And I think my answer has been yes."
Lester Graham has a different theory on Bennett's management style.
"Here's the pop-psychology explanation: I think she's a very insecure person, and she compensates for that by being very dictatorial," he says. "It seems to me she's borderline paranoid about being questioned or taking input from others, and she has an incredibly short attention span.... Everything has to be resolved very, very quickly for her. So she creates these crises, one right after another. Because she's in command, she's very tenacious and very strong, which in a manager is a good thing, but at the same time she's completely tactless and really quite ignorant about what's going on, because she doesn't ever quite take the time to understand an issue."
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