Outlook 2023: WMHT’s first African American president emphasizes reaching out, building genuine relationships

A man smiles with a WMHT logo visible
Anthony V. Hayes
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NORTH GREENBUSH – “Some say that if you build it, they will come,” said Anthony V. Hayes, referencing the assumption that public programming will naturally draw interested eyes and ears from locals of all kinds. “But that simply isn’t true for what we do. You have to listen to people — all of them — and see firsthand how you can be of service to them, and then put that into practice.”

That means focusing on creating local content that accurately reflects each of the communities he serves, Hayes said, and proactively reaching out to a wider, more diverse pool of people to engage them. It necessitates looking into the details, and mirroring the lives and interests of a nuanced, layered constituency back to viewers and listeners alike.

“When people view our content they want to see and hear people that look like them — and that’s something we can all do by asking the right questions, and looking at our hiring practices and the candidates we’re interviewing,” Hayes said.

That’s all to say that the importance of listening — to one’s network, one’s community and one’s calling — is something Hayes knows firsthand following a notable career in media that has spanned three and a half decades and countless technological advances. He also knows a thing or two about public radio and television.

The Queens native was recently tapped to serve as president and chief executive officer of WMHT, the multichannel public media provider serving the greater Capital Region and beyond, and the local home of PBS. A husband and father to three adult sons, Hayes most recently served as chief operating officer and general manager of New England Public Media (NEPM) based in Springfield, Mass., after leading the two-year integration of WGBY-TV with New England Public Radio.

With a lifelong passion for creating locally relevant, educational programming across digital, TV and radio, Hayes got his start while still an undergrad at the New York Institute of Technology in the late 1980s, snagging a 40-hour-per-week, per-diem position at 1010 Wins All News 92.3, a commercial AM radio station in New York City, thanks to a timely introduction from his older brother and a healthy dose of persistence.

As Hayes described it, his brother’s former boss agreed to meet him, “rewarding” him with an interview, but as he didn’t have any experience at the time (and the station didn’t have any openings), things took a while. But the wait was worth it, with Hayes’ boss at the time offering both astute observation and sage advice that ultimately altered the trajectory of Hayes’ career — a recommendation to shift into media sales based on Hayes’ people skills and work ethic.

“It took me a year of interviewing at different stations in New York, but [710] WOR offered me an entry-level job. They said I was just so energetic and so enthusiastic that they created a rookie sales position for me and told me to come in and hit the streets,” Hayes said. “I remember he promised me the largest list of anyone within the organization, and then he gave me the yellow pages.”

Hustle would be required. Hayes soon built a reputation and used it to secure bigger positions in different markets, relocating to Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s after accepting a position as national sales manager with Bloomberg, then later securing positions with WETA and also WAMU 88.5, American University Radio and Washington’s NPR station, where he built his own sales team from the ground up — notable, given that only three stations in the country had national sales divisions at the time.

After 12 years there, Hayes joined Connecticut Public Broadcasting as its senior vice president for engagement, eventually joining WGBY in Springfield. But even then, Hayes kept his eyes on the prize — a larger market and fresh challenges — taking himself out of the running for NEPM’s top role in the wake of his boss’ retirement.

In the summer of 2022, he learned about the position at WMHT. That’s when things got really exciting.

“I’m ambitious, always thinking about my future and always looking for a challenge, and have long admired the impressive legacy of WMHT. It has a forward-thinking board which is incredibly engaged, and a great staff, and I knew that this was the one I wanted to pursue,” he said.

Shortly before Christmas, Hayes received the offer to succeed Robert Altman, who had spent 15 years in the role.

Taking the reins in late January, Hayes has been busy planning for impact in the weeks since. As far as his priorities, Hayes was clear that he has three, in no specific order.

Get to know the broader community that WMHT serves and get to know them well, engaging with regional stakeholders across the service area to sufficiently understand how he can be of better service to them.

Engage with WMHT’s 40-plus-member team on a one-to-one basis to hear about their thoughts and experiences, as well as their suggestions. After all, Hayes said, these are the people who make WMHT possible, and they know the ins and outs. Making sure they feel seen and heard, and are able to come to him with anything and everything, is something he’s prioritizing.

Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are also core to Hayes’ plans, and something he is taking into account both from a content and hiring perspective.

“DE&I is way more than just a phrase to me — it’s near and dear to my heart, and something I’m passionate about,” he said. “The time is now right for an organization to focus on this. I believe that in order to reach our full potential, we have to do more than reach out to those we already have a relationship with. We have to reach wider, but we also have to give them something.”

Which is to say that the same programming simply won’t be enough.

“We want to ensure we have content which will appeal to many groups and demonstrate our commitment to being their station, and having content that they would find relevant and engaging,” he said.

Whether they’re African American, Hispanic, Jewish or a member of another group, Hayes wants viewers and listeners to find something that speaks to them. That requires thinking about gaps, as well as the audiences that WMHT doesn’t currently have a relationship with, then inquiring as to why that might be the case.

It’s a priority that sits in line with his broader goal: “Deliver compelling content that will educate, inform, inspire and entertain the diverse residents of the New York state Capital Region and beyond.”

Listening will be key, which is why Hayes is planning to set up a listening tour that will hopefully kick off sometime this spring or early summer, facilitating town-hall-style sessions and Zoom meetings to discuss issues relevant to Capital Region communities.

“I want to hear from donors, listeners, members of the community — and I want to hear directly from the people we’re committed to serving so we can develop and create new content across all of our platforms.”

As Hayes put it, local programming is essential to help distinguish WMHT in a crowded media space. “It gives us an opportunity to address important community needs and issues in a way that only public media can.”

Although new to the role and the region, Hayes referred to WMHT as the “pinnacle of his career.”

Grateful for the support of an engaged board and a solid team, and excited to be at the helm, Hayes said he looks forward to taking things to the next level, building upon the successes of shows such as AHA!, an arts-based program that airs on Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; and New York NOW, a collaborative effort with other New York public media stations featuring content relevant to the broader state.

Anthony V. Hayes
TITLE: President and CEO
EDUCATION: BFA in communication and media arts from New York Institute of Technology; Master of Arts in media entrepreneurship from American University
BEST LESSON IN BUSINESS: “Change is constant. Learn to see it as an opportunity.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise.” — W.E.B. Du Bois

More Outlook 2023: Looking Ahead – Our annual report on Capital Region business

Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Outlook 2023

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