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WBUR leader to resign

La Camera cites need for change

Paul La Camera Paul La Camera
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / November 20, 2010

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Paul La Camera is stepping down as the general manager of WBUR-FM (90.9) at the end of the year, after leading one of the country’s top-rated broadcasters through tumultuous times.

The veteran TV newsman had been running the Boston National Public Radio affiliate since 2005 after retiring from a 33-year career at WCVB-TV (Channel 5), where he was president and general manager. He arrived at the station while it was in turmoil: almost a year after the resignation of former general manager Jane Christo, who was heralded for improving the station’s programming but resigned amid allegations of mismanagement. At the time, the station was dealing with a $13 million deficit that had accumulated over several years.

La Camera, 67, who ushered the station through that difficult period as well as the recession, said yesterday that this was the best time to leave as WBUR “transitions more and more into digital media.’’

“In light of where a public radio station like ’BUR needs to go, I am no longer the best person for that,’’ he said. “I am a guy who loves newspapers and kitchen radios, and that’s not necessarily the kind of leadership that WBUR is going to need in the future.’’

La Camera will remain with the station and Boston University, which holds WBUR’s FM broadcasting license, as university administrator, or what he calls an “ambassadorial role’’ for public radio.

His replacement will be named in a few weeks.

La Camera’s departure comes as the station has been engaged in fierce competition with another public broadcaster, WGBH. Last December, the Brighton-based radio and television giant reinvented 89.7 FM to a full-time news talk format and began running similar syndicated NPR programming. WGBH, which is an NPR affiliate, also created two local midday and early-afternoon news talk shows: “The Emily Rooney Show’’ and “The Callie Crossley Show.’’

In response to WGBH’s changes, WBUR expanded its only weekly local news magazine show, “Radio Boston,’’ to a daily program last May.

“WBUR went from being the dominant player with no substantial competitor for public radio news and talk to still being the dominant player but now with a well-financed and serious competitor,’’ said Scott Fybush, who writes Northeast Radio Watch, an industry newsletter.

Still, WBUR has held its lead in Boston public radio. The station ranked 11th in the Boston market with a 3.3 percent share of listeners last month, according to Arbitron. WGBH ranked 24th with a 1.1 percent share for the same period.

Besides expanding “Radio Boston,’’ La Camera also brought some of his TV background to the public radio world. He hired David Boeri, a former WCVB general assignment reporter, to report for WBUR. Earlier this year, La Camera recruited Iris Adler, a former New England Cable News documentary division editor, to be an executive producer of “Radio Boston.’’

La Camera also nearly doubled the “Radio Boston’’ staff from four to seven and oversaw an overhaul of the station’s website, wbur.org. Overall, the station now has 110 employees with an annual operating budget of $21 million, the second largest nationally in public radio.

Fybush said that La Camera’s arrival at WBUR “was very much an extra encore performance.’’

“He was really the guy who brought stability back to the place,’’ he said.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.