LaFontaine E. Oliver, the president and general manager of WYPR, was voted the chairman of NPR’s governing board on Friday afternoon.
The board is instrumental in both NPR’s day-to-day and long term strategy: it decides management’s policies and overall direction, monitors the news organization’s performance and provides financial oversight of its 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.
His election comes in the midst of massive reckoning about racism, diversity and inclusion throughout NPR and the member station system. Oliver said he hopes the new role will allow him to be part of the change that many wish to see throughout the public radio system.
“This effort around making sure that NPR programming and content continues to make strides, as far as representation is concerned, is probably the number one priority,” Oliver said. “I would not have accepted the nomination if I didn't feel like the leadership of NPR also believes that.”
Oliver is currently serving his second term as a Member Director of NPR’s board. The 23-member board consists of 12 Member Directors who are managers of NPR Member stations, nine Public Directors who are prominent members of the public, the NPR Foundation Chair and the NPR President and CEO.
Oliver will replace Paul Haaga, the retired former chairman of the Capital Research and Management Company, which oversees a group of mutual funds with over $1 trillion in assets under management. Haaga first joined the board in 2011.
Haaga’s experience is markedly different from Oliver’s, who has worked in radio in a variety of roles and at multiple NPR member stations for decades. Oliver’s tenure in public radio management and oversight of everything from collaborative fundraising pilots to expanding digital coverage will allow him to wear multiple hats as Chairman, he said.
Oliver joined WYPR in Baltimore in July of last year, replacing longtime manager Anthony Brandon. His tenure has emphasized local news programming; he commissioned two Baltimore City Democratic primary polls with the Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore and added a Report for America fellow to the WYPR newsroom.
Under his leadership, WYPR has thus far avoided layoffs and furloughs during the coronavirus pandemic; instead, he created a voluntary buyout program for employees based on length of service.
Oliver joined WYPR after 6 years at the helm of WMFE and WMFV in central Florida. There, he nearly doubled the newsroom staff, launched an education news desk and expanded a public affairs program.
His arrival at WYPR was a return to Baltimore: he led WEAA, Morgan State University’s news talk station, as general manager from 2007 to 2013. There, he created The Michael Eric Dyson Show.
NPR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This story has been updated.