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February 7, 2020

Meet David Polk

As a Digital Lead, Content and Strategy, for American Masters, David Polk’s mission is to help grow the audience for American Masters on all platforms as the series transforms from 12 annual TV programs to becoming a year-round brand with content published daily. “We want to serve current and future American Masters fans where and how they enjoy our content. The team is off to a great start with two digital video series in the works and a podcast that is about to conclude its fourth season. Hopefully, we’ll be able to apply the lessons we learn over the next couple of years to other brands across WNET and public media,” David says. Read on to learn about the path that led David to WNET, the reason his junior high nickname was “Mr. PBS,” and more.

What is your background, and how did you land at WNET?

I’ve spent most of my career in audio. Prior to WNET, I was at WFMT radio in Chicago, where I was the Program Director for the last six years and interim GM for part of that time. Before that, I was an audio producer and host. But since everything is converging, I spent just as much time growing our digital audience (multimedia, podcasts, and video) as I did on the broadcast side. And because WFMT is part of the same company as Chicago’s PBS station, I’ve always been PBS adjacent, including making many appearances on their Pledge drives! A year ago, I decided to fulfill a long-held desire to try living in NYC and I made it happen a few months ago. A year ago, I was Pledge pitching one of Michael Kantor’s films, and now I sit across from him!

Are there any current or upcoming American Masters programs you’re particularly excited about?

I’m a trumpet player, so Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool is especially interesting to me. In high school, I spent weekends trying to transcribe his solos from his most famous album, Kind of Blue. But while I’ve listened to his recordings for most of my life, I didn’t know much about his personal story until this film. That’s what I like about American Masters: I learn about the lives of people whose work I may be aware of, but whose stories I only vaguely know, and it fills the gap.

For our Media with Impact campaign, we’ve been asking viewers to share stories describing how THIRTEEN has influenced their life. How has THIRTEEN (or the PBS station of your childhood) inspired you?

As a kid, I had dreams in which I lived on Sesame Street and considered Mr. Rogers to be a friend. I still (sort of) remember the words to the theme song to Reading Rainbow. In junior high school, my nickname was “Mr. PBS” because I must have talked about it all the time. And it continues to be a source of education.

Which three shows airing on our stations this month are you most likely to watch, stream, or record?

I love Frontline – it speaks to the International Relations major and political junkie in me — and I can’t wait for Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos. I watch Frontline regularly with one of my best friends here in New York. I also regularly stream PBS NewsHour. Finally, is this the section where I get to say how excited I am about Taylor Mac being named Artist-in-Residence for ALL ARTS? One of the best days of *my life* was attending Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music in Brooklyn in 2016, a 24-hour concert (no intermission!). I flew from Chicago to see it and can’t wait to see what judy creates for WNET (Taylor uses the gender pronoun “judy”). I think that heaven is a never-ending Taylor Mac concert.

Where do you live, and what are some of your favorite places in your neighborhood?

I just moved to Hell’s Kitchen. Since probably all of you have spent more time here than I have, I welcome suggestions!

What book are you currently reading?

The Power Broker by Robert Caro is currently on my nightstand. It will probably be there for a very long time.

Do you have a special interest or hobby outside of work? If so, tell us about it!

I love going to theater and concerts, and spend a lot of time listening to podcasts. I’ve started doing some podcast consulting and working on a project of my own on the side. I also play the trumpet (not well) with The Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps, a community band. Once a band geek, always a band geek.

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