Starling, Loewenstein Move On
     

Mike Starling and Pete Loewenstein, two engineers familiar to Radio World readers, have left NPR to begin the next chapter of their lives. They are among employees who opted for a voluntary buyout from the network.

NPR is operating at a deficit. By cutting up to 10 percent of its workforce through voluntary buyouts — potentially up to 80 employees with at least three years seniority — NPR hopes to reach a balanced budget in fiscal 2015. When it announced the buyout plan in September, NPR had 840 full- and part-time employees.

Early this month, a spokeswoman told me the buyout program has been “helpful” in moving NPR towards its budget goals. There’s not yet a final number of employees taking the buyout, and the network does not intend to share a final figure; but from what I hear, it sounds like NPR feels it is on track to meeting its goal through the buyouts.

 
Mike Starling samples goodies from the NPR Labs’ Chili Cook-off in December.
Credit: Photo by Leslie Stimson
I also hear from various sources that the network plans to fill Loewenstein’s position; but it doesn’t sound like Starling’s role will be filled with a new hire.

IN THE LABS

Starling most recently was executive director of NPR Labs, the organization’s R&D arm, which he helped to establish in 2005. It is based at NPR headquarters in Washington.

In 2009, NPR Labs was put under the wing of NPR’s Technology Research Center, which operates under the auspices of the Public Radio Satellite System. The PRSS is part of NPR’s Distribution Division.

In a note to colleagues that Starling shared with Radio World, he wrote that radio folks need to banish the word “retirement” from our vocabulary.

In addition to his engineering expertise, Starling has a law degree and teaches law part-time at Towson University outside Baltimore. He plans to teach, write, consult, fish, volunteer, dote on both his kids and his new kitten, spend more time with his wife Linda, and read more.

He told me at the Labs’ chili cook-off in December he may also take on some cool, new projects, and that he’s excited about the next phase in his life. Several NPR employees stopped by to wish Mike and Pete farewell, and Labs’ employees used the occasion to explain to other employees what the lab does.

Starling was director of technical operations at NPR and led the network’s transition in 1994 from M Street to a larger building on Massachusetts Avenue. Recently, he arranged for the online auction of thousands of pieces of gear that the network would not take to its new headquarters on North Capitol Street this year.

He became a vice president in 1998 and was named chief technology officer in 2002.

Notable projects on which NPR Labs personnel have worked over the years include testing related to HD Radio multicasts, the FM HD power increase and accessible radio for the deaf and deaf-blind.

Overall, Starling has been in radio 44 years, 33 of them spent in public radio.

He began his broadcasting career in high school as an announcer for WBMD(AM/FM) in Baltimore in 1969. Out of college at the University of Maryland in 1974 he became an engineering supervisor for Mutual Broadcasting. In 1976 Starling moved into management as the founder and manager of commercial WKYY(AM), Amherst, Va. He then became chief engineer for KPBS(FM), San Diego.

Starling is on the board of directors for the Toronto-based North American Broadcasters Association. He proposed that NABA form a radio committee, as we recently reported. For several years Starling also has been a member of the National Radio Systems Committee, the standards body co-managed by NAB and CEA.

 
Pete Loewenstein wears holiday lights at the December event.
Credit: Photo by Leslie Stimson
He also helped found the Association of Public Radio Engineers, which organizes and runs the annual Public Radio Engineering Conference.

He received Radio World’s Excellence in Engineering Award in 2005, the same year NPR won a “Cool Stuff” award from RW for the Tomorrow Radio Project involving HD Radio multicast channel testing. Starling was the project leader. He received the C. Stanley Potter Award from the International Association of Audio Information Services in 2004 for NPR’s work on accessible radio projects for the visually-impaired and hard-of-hearing, and a Wondervision award from Stevie Wonder for work on the first “talking radio,” the Dice ITR-100A.

His last official day was to be Jan. 11. Reach out to him at mikei.starling@gmail.com.

LOEWENSTEIN

Pete Loewenstein was one of the network’s original employees when NPR went on the air in 1971; he was there for the first broadcast of “All things Considered” 43 years ago as a technician in the studio control room.

Loewenstein retired in December as vice president for distribution, a division that oversees the Public Radio Satellite System.

The PRSS’ Network Operations Center operates an IP-over-satellite system that enables transmission of programming and other digitized content.

He tells me he’s looking forward to having quality time to actually listen to more of the programming he has helped support over the years, and says he’s facing a long list of items to fix around the house that have long been put-off.

But Loewenstein will have fun too; he’ll have more time for sailing, listening to and playing music, and operating his ham radio gear. He’s officially done with full-time work.

He characterizes his NPR career as “phenomenal” and says he’s been able to travel and meet people at stations all over the U.S. NPR is also where he met his wife Margaret.

In the late 1980s Loewenstein led public radio’s interconnection system through a complete reorganization of its governance structure and completion of a business plan that yielded long-term financial security for the system, according to NPR. In 2004, he and his team began a major redesign of public radio’s program distribution system with the development of the PRSS ContentDepot, which Radio World has covered in several stories.

Taking advantage of innovations in digital technology, the PRSS ContentDepot streamlines how public radio stations and producers select, send, acquire and automate programming. The system launched in 2006. The PRSS’ ContentDepot service is public radio’s national program distribution system; it uses a combination of Internet and satellite technologies to offer automated content delivery services to stations.

More recently, Loewenstein helped oversee the move of PRSS’ Network Operations Centerto the new headquarters on North Capitol Street. He says this is a good time to leave as the network begins a new planning cycle for infrastructure upgrades.

Loewenstein was awarded the Edward E. Elson Award in 1991. In 2002, CPB awarded him the Edward R. Murrow Award recognizing an “individual whose work has fostered the growth, quality and image of public radio.”

His last day was Dec. 27; reach him at petel22151@aol.com.


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