WEDU’s Paul Grove talks about a higher mission than just producing television
Paul Grove, president and CEO of WEDU, the west coast of Florida’s Public Broadcasting affiliate, lives according to the same values as the company he serves: a lifetime of learning, and discovery, through innovation. For Grove, a graduate of the University of Florida school of broadcast journalism and telecommunications with more than 35 years’ media experience, shifting to public television was an important step in his personal journey.
“I was in commercial television for 10 years before I found a home at WEDU in the early ’90s,” Grove says. “I was really disillusioned about what was happening with commercial television at the time, the dumbing down of America through Fear Factor and the explosion of reality programming. When I had a chance to find out more about PBS and the quality, trusted programming we provided, I was thrilled to be part of it. I wanted to make our community a better place to live with the work that I do.”
During his initial 12 years at the station, Grove served as vice president of national programming and production, helping to launch various pledge programs and successful series, including the longtime Emmy-winning A Gulf Coast Journal. He left Tampa in 2004 to be president and CEO of the PBS station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, taking the challenging leap to work in an emerging market. Grove soon helped guide the station towards broader programming and innovation.
“I love innovative technology,” Grove says. “And we put together some programs in Tennessee that were groundbreaking for PBS across the nation.”
Some of the initiatives during Grove’s tenure include implementing the first statewide emergency messaging system, for use during natural disasters, technology he’s already starting to put in place in Tampa. He also spearheaded the launch of a free educational online service of classroom-ready, digital resources and lesson plans. Despite his success in Tennessee, Florida still felt like home and Grove welcomed the opportunity to return to WEDU two years ago.
“Coming back to Florida is not just coming back—it’s coming home, since we set roots here. I’m a staunch Gator fan; my four boys were born in Tampa. We love the Bay area. And what a great opportunity to take the 12th largest market, and the potential that it has, to turn it into one of the greatest PBS stations in the country,” Grove says.
Since his return in 2019, Grove has been dedicated to finding new ways, and means, of storytelling to represent the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
“We’re not your grandmother’s PBS anymore,” Grove says. “We’re constantly stretching ourselves, not just with our innovation and expanding platforms, but also with our subject matter,” he says.
That means covering a wider swath of the west coast, like with the upcoming Greater series, first featuring greater Sarasota (premiering Oct. 8) and a planned deep dive into greater Ybor City. Grove is also excited about a new docuseries, out in 2022, called Rise of the Rays: A Devil of a Story.
As he explains, “We’ve done wonderful work when it comes to history and business and in cultures and arts. But now we know there’s other ways to stretch, and that’s in content. This series will share the unsung heroes that made the Tampa Bay Rays possible. It’s an incredible story of political intrigue, all the backstories and behind-the-scenes. We continue to serve our wider community with these types of hyper-local storytelling, to broaden our creative content.” With expanding content, the PBS app and the streaming of back-catalog offerings through Passport, WEDU speaks fluently to the next generation.
And now, more than ever, people are recognizing the value in public television. During the pandemic, WEDU saw its viewership jump 76%, and Grove believes it’s a sign of the times.
“We’re a channel that appreciates the viewers’ intelligence because we’re educating and we’re real. After you flip through everything that’s on those infinite number of channels, and distractions, all you have to do is turn to PBS to see quality. We really are an oasis among a lot of clutter and noise,” he says.
As Grove points out, PBS is more than just award-winning shows spanning the ages, from Sesame Street to Frontline—it’s a comprehensive educational platform. WEDU responded to the increased need for educational programming during the pandemic by launching its “At-Home Learning” collection, while also growing their resource bank of educational materials. Now housing more than 100,000 resources, videos and lesson plans, the learning site offers a wide range of materials for teachers and students alike.
“We want our kids to have digital learning objects for every story we tell. So parents, teachers and caregivers can go onto our site and find resources more easily,” Grove says.
WEDU also continues to find ways to connect face to face with its community of learners, as it hosted the recent “The Greatest” poetry slam event and preview in Ybor City, the heart of Tampa’s original boxing culture, to support the upcoming premiere of the new Ken Burns documentary, Mohammed Ali, out in September.
Creative local content, emergency messaging, local and digital outreach: “That’s why I say we’re not your grandmother’s PBS anymore; we’re truly thinking about innovative ways to use our services to serve the community, every day,” he says. ♦