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Remembering Susan Howarth

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  • Mona Dixon, Arkansas PBS Foundaion COO
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Susan Howarth has long been a leader in public media and effected positive change at several systems, including AETN. In addition to holding numerous regional and national leadership positions, she pioneered innovations at each station she served and proved to be an advocate for journalistic integrity in the 1990s when AETN participated in – and ultimately won – the landmark First Amendment case “Forbes v. Arkansas ETV.”

She also impacted individuals.

Susan has been my mentor for almost 30 years, and I’m proud to remember the influence she’s had on me and the organization I’ve served for nearly 32 years.

When Susan Howarth came to AETN in 1988, I was a young, green employee, and she instantly saw my potential. When you worked for Susan, getting an “atta-girl” was a really special occasion. She was innovative, inspirational and challenging. Good wasn’t enough. She wanted great. And when you reached great, the bar for great got raised to phenomenal.

I always wanted to be at that next level, and Susan Howarth modeled that for me – from her passion for rescue animals, March Madness and the UConn Huskies, and winning at racquetball to performing at the top levels of PBS station leadership. Her time at AETN clearly demonstrates her dedication to excellence.

Susan was instrumental in helping build and grow the Arkansas PBS Foundaion.

During her time at AETN, Susan was always forward thinking and, because of that, the Arkansas PBS Foundaion General Endowment was created. We squirreled away every spare dime into the endowment, the emergency fund and – when digital came on the radar – we started a DTV Transition Fund to help with the implementation. Susan monitored every dime that came in or went out, and she was always making sure that adequate funding was there: any extra should be saved and applied for the future.

Susan always loved pledge.

She wanted to be involved in every aspect of pledge from scheduling programs, talent and helping to produce breaks. Susan came to AETN from the Buffalo, New York, station, WNED, and she brought with her a very particular style of doing pledge breaks. Somehow, those breaks were monikered “Buffalo Breaks.”  We would come out to the studio and announce that this was going to be a “Buffalo Break” and everyone knew exactly what to do and how to do it with no other explanation. To this day, we still occasionally do a “Buffalo Break,” and I always think of Susan when I hear that.

Susan innovated.

Additionally, Susan was the reason that we updated our phone bank system and started using computers. She had attended a national PBS meeting where she heard about this “new system” that Trac Media was putting together with a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). She volunteered AETN to be one of the groups that would join. When she came back from the meeting, she walked into the development office area and told us what she had lined up.

She was over the moon about the idea!

We almost fainted.

But, in the end, she was right. We were converts after one drive and never looked back.

Susan planned for AETN’s future.

Susan was instrumental in obtaining funding from the State of Arkansas to help transition AETN to digital television. It was a huge capital expenditure on its own, but somehow, in that Susan-way, she simultaneously was able to find funding and add a new building for the station to the process. And, it wasn’t only a new building for us: Susan worked with the University of Central Arkansas, the City of Conway and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to build a state-of-the-art, connected and wired facility so we could originate broadcast from every area of the building. It was a huge accomplishment working through all the building issues, partnership issues and getting funding support from then-Governor Huckabee.

Susan was a stalwart advocate for AETN and PBS.

When House Speaker Newt Gingrich led the efforts to zero-out funding for CPB and, subsequently, PBS and NPR, Susan Howarth and Jane Krutz were part of the federal effort to save the funding. Jane Krutz testified before Congress and always remembered that she received a standing ovation for her testimony. Funding was saved – thanks in large part to Susan’s brand of creative ideas. Susan instinctively knew that Jane’s style and passion would be beneficial in convincing the hearing, and Susan was right. She was right a lot.

I’m very proud to say that, in great part due to Susan’s quiet mentoring, I was able to rise to the level I currently hold with the Arkansas PBS Foundaion. Susan called me to congratulate me the day I became COO and Director of Development for the Arkansas PBS Foundaion. Her congratulations came with a challenge: “What’s next? Reach for the next rung!”

In my mind, PBS President Paula Kerger summarized Susan’s influence beautifully saying, “Susan Howarth epitomized the very best of public broadcasting, including integrity, innovation, and a relentless commitment to mission.”

May we all always reach for the next rung. Thank you, Susan.

In memoriam:

Susan Howarth

Susan Howarth WEDU

45 Years of Service in Public Broadcasting


WEDU “Susan Howarth, WEDU PBS President and CEO, Dies at 66 Following Battle With Cancer”

Current Magazine: “ Susan Howarth Dies at 66; Legacy Includes Landmark Supreme Court Case”