DuMont to step back from museum operations

Bruce DuMont

Bruce DuMont

Thirty years after he founded the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Bruce DuMont is ready to let someone else run the show.

DuMont, 69, said he plans to recommend that his board of directors hire an executive director or general manager to succeed him in overseeing day-to-day operations along with sales and marketing functions at the Chicago museum.

But he insisted that he remains no less passionate about its mission: “The museum continues to be an important part of my life, and I think there’s a lot more that I can give to the institution,” he told me. DuMont said he will continue as president and CEO of the nonprofit organization he incorporated on Oct. 5, 1983.

“I’ve been wearing all of the hats. I don’t think for the good of the institution that’s a good idea anymore,” he said. “We have to professionalize the staff in a variety of ways, and we should start with the person that’s coordinating the day-to-day operations. That’s not my strong suit, it’s not what I like to do, and there are far better people who can do that than I.”

DuMont’s announcement comes 16 months after the museum officially reopened in its new $27 million edifice at 360 North State Street. The shrine to broadcast history and repository of programs and artifacts had been closed for nearly a decade as delays in state funding and other problems stalled construction.

Once he’s freed from managing the museum, DuMont said he can focus his energy on raising funds and raising awareness — especially on the West Coast, where he hopes to expand the museum’s national profile and broaden its base of financial support. He’ll continue to live in Chicago but spend much more time in Los Angeles. DuMont called it “coincidental” that his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren live in L.A. “It’s good to have your family out there, but the most important thing is it’s where the next level of the museum must go,” he said.

Asked to assess the museum’s first year in its new home, DuMont said: “I think it’s been creatively diverse. The ongoing challenge of operations is the same as at any other institution. If we had a larger advertising budget, we probably could have done a better job of attracting tourist traffic. But the things we’ve done and the programs we’ve sponsored have raised our visibility. I think it’s been a very successful year.”

In addition to its themed exhibits on the history of television and radio in America (with special emphasis on Chicago), the museum also houses the National Radio Hall of Fame and the broadcast studio for “Beyond the Beltway,” the weekly political talk show DuMont has hosted since 1980.

With younger leadership onboard, DuMont said he’s eager to see the museum evolve in the digital age.

“This is an opportunity for a new generation of innovative entrepreneurs at the board level and the staff level,” he said. “This institution should be an incubator of new ideas in new media because the world is changing. My original idea, which goes back to 1982, was for this to be a place where people could come and watch historic television shows and listen to historic radio shows. I didn’t know about the Internet or streaming media then. So we opened a building where people could come in and look at our analog tapes on our VHSes.

“The Internet and streaming media have raised that initial idea to unlimited opportunity. We’ve been focused on bricks and mortar for 10 years here. Now the focus can be on building the digital aspect of it, creating and expanding educational products that can be used by students all over the world. That’s what the Museum of Broadcast Communications should be.”

DuMont said he’d been strongly thinking about stepping down from day-to-day management for some time — long before he underwent surgery last month to replace a stent in a coronary artery. (He said he’s feeling fine now.)

“For any founder of anything, there comes a time when you say: ‘OK, can somebody do a better job of this than I can?’ Insofar as operating the museum on a daily basis, yes, I think there are people who can do a better job of doing that than I can. Is there someone who’s got more passion for the institution than I have? I doubt that.

“It has defined my life for 30 years, and I’ve put a lot into it for 30 years. It’s come a long way from an idea to where it is today. And I think it can go a lot further in the next 30 years.”