Maxie C. Jackson III is the new executive director of nonprofit 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. Jackson has more than three decades of experience in public media, including radio, television, digital and live events. He most recently served as chief content officer for New England Public Media in Amherst, Massachusetts.
In a recent interview with BizTimes reporter Ashley Smart, Jackson shared the challenges public radio is facing today and how he hopes to bridge the gap between the station’s different listeners.
What attracted you to this position at 88Nine?
“There’s really three things. My wife and I are from the Midwest, and we are about to become empty nesters. We were interested in relocating to the Midwest. Our parents are still alive, and we have family and relatives in Michigan and Chicago. I actually applied for a job here in Wisconsin maybe three or four years back. I was always interested in the market and the community here, but I’m also intrigued by the city itself. I think Milwaukee was identified as the most segregated community in American not too long ago. What really intrigued me about Radio Milwaukee was the mission of the organization, which is to unite a divided or segregated community.
“One of the things that I’m really about when it comes to public radio and public media is community engagement and public service. That’s my north star. That’s why I’m in this field. I also think there’s an opportunity for Radio Milwaukee to really define the next generation of public media consumers.”
How have your past roles prepared you for this executive director position?
“I have been the president and CEO of two national organizations in my career. I was (executive director) at Pacifica Foundation and also president and CEO of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. I think the NFCB position probably prepared me for this job better than any, but there’s also the fact that I’ve worked at some of the premiere public media environments in the country. Being in management positions at those organizations, I’ve seen what good management looks like. I’ve seen how leadership working with productive boards of directors looks like. I saw what it looks like when a strong leader works with an organization that’s all about innovation, creativity and really growing the audience and developing the brand.”
What are some of the challenges that public radio faces today?
“I think, first and foremost, we’re going through a change in terms of how people consume media in general, but public media as well. Digital consumption is forcing us to make sure that we produce content differently than perhaps we did when it was just radio and television. Having a digital strategy, understanding how that digital strategy works with your terrestrial strategy, that’s one big piece.
“I think the other thing is we are transitioning from the baby boomer generation to Gen X, millennials, Gen Z, etc. What motivates those different cohorts to become supporters of public media is different. Becoming nimbler and more dynamic in how we approach revenue and development opportunities is another piece of the puzzle. A third one, which I would say is really important, is our industry has really failed in many respects in reaching diverse communities. It’s a challenge that we at Radio Milwaukee have to undertake, and I think our effort with HYFIN (Radio Milwaukee’s new urban alternative channel) is a direct call to that, but our industry as a whole has really struggled with creating content that crosses racial divides.”
What are some of your immediate goals for Radio Milwaukee?
“I think, number one, we have to make sure our own house is in order. So, make sure from a foundational standpoint that all of our systems are on go. What I mean by that is we’ve got to make sure that the very foundation of our organization is solid. Do we have the right employees? Is our mission strong? Is our vision focused? Do we have the right systems in place for the people who work here to be efficient and effective? That’s part of it. The bigger, outward facing issue is how do we make sure our content is really focused to hit the mark of the audience that we are primarily targeting? We’ve got two music formats that we present. We need to make sure that we are hyper-focused with those formats so that we’re not spread too wide.
“I think we also need to ask ourselves if there are other content models that we need to embrace and engage in that would help us unify the community. Music, some would argue, can be a polarizing content model in the first place. There’s a question as to if the 88Nine audience and the HYFIN audience have much overlap. If they do not, and I’ll unpack that as I look at the research, then we have to ask ourselves: What is the nexus?”
What are you most excited about when it comes to exploring Milwaukee?
“Number one, I’m excited about doing that (exploring) with this staff. We have a lot of creative, passionate and very Milwaukee-centric people working at Radio Milwaukee. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with them, our board of directors and our partners in the community. They’re going to help me be able to understand this community in ways I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”
Who are your top three artists at the moment?
“There’s a guy out of the U.K. called Jacob Banks who I’m really hyped on. His music is like neo-soul with a gospel flavor to it. I’m also a big fan of Robert Glasper. His music is… I guess the best way to put it is he leans in on jazz, but he’s very experimental in a young, progressive manner. I won’t even minimize him to jazz. Lastly, I’ll go a little bit more mainstream for you, and just tell you that Kendrick Lamar is a big favorite of mine. I’m a big fan of his artistry, and I think he’s a really deep thinker. I think he’s really dynamic. Those are my favorites, but I will tell you this: My ultimate favorite artist is Prince.”
Holiday flash sale! Subscribe to BizTimes and save nearly 40%!
Limited time offer. New subscribers only.