A Closer Look: Myrna Johnson
Executive Director of Iowa Public Radio
Friday, March 14, 2014 7:00 AM
Myrna Johnson’s first day as executive director of Iowa Public Radio was like coming back to a first love.
Education: Master’s degree in public administration from John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; bachelor’s degree from Wartburg College.
Johnson spent most of her childhood in northwest Iowa, but has lived all over the country for her career. She started in Washington, D.C., as a government relations associate for National Public Radio and moved to Colorado to assist the Outdoor Industry Association in establishing its government affairs program. While there, she served on the board of directors of KUNC radio. Most recently, she spent five years as executive director of the Boston Schoolyard Initiative.
A phone call from her sister turned her eyes back to Iowa, but Johnson said she believes her career naturally has led her to this role.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Ruthven, which is near Spencer and the Spirit Lake and Okoboji areas. Growing up in small-town Iowa, I learned to love the outdoors and found a strong appreciation for politics and public affairs. There was always a newspaper in our house, and my dad was always ready for a conversation about current events. After I graduated from college, that is what led me to Washington, D.C., where I had the opportunity to first work in public radio. I’ve also had an opportunity to work in the outdoor recreation industry and now I’m back.
Talk about your time with the Boston Schoolyard Initiative.
I feel like there are two major strands in my career - one in parks and outdoor recreation, the other in public radio. When I was at the Outdoor Industry Association, I became interested in a trend that kids are becoming less connected to the outdoors and nature. When I left the Kennedy School, I decided to work with the International Forum on Children and Nature, which led me to this cool initiative in Boston. They were renovating and greening schoolyards in Boston as a way to provide more play space for kids, but also to introduce them to their natural world. It was very fun work.
What has drawn you to working in the nonprofit sector?
My upbringing had community service all over it. My dad was a school administrator and teacher; my mom was a local librarian. Working in the nonprofit field is a way I’ve found to pursue my interest in helping make people’s lives and communities better.
More specifically, what draws you to public radio?
Public radio news is the gold standard in broadcast news. There are many great programs and services, and local talk shows provide a great opportunity for statewide conversation about politics and culture. The music and culture programming help bring music from across the state to a broader audience while enriching their lives as the same time.
How did you learn about this opportunity?
The short answer is my sister. She heard about it and called me right away. In addition, at the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, we were nearing our goal of reaching every schoolyard in Boston, so I started thinking about what was next. Public radio was right at the top of that list.
Talk about what your role here is like.
I’m still learning, but in the first week, I toured all our locations and got to know our staff. I expect to be on the road quite a bit this year. We’re setting up community forums across the state right now so listeners can meet me and I can meet them. I’d like to hear more about what they hope to gain from the service so we can build something really strong together. My job also encompasses the management of the entire operation and fundraising.
Do you have any short-term goals you’ve set for yourself?
In the shorter term, it’s going to be important to start identifying a vision of where IPR is going and setting some goals for how to get there. In the long term, I’m interested in finding new ways to increase and diversify our funding base.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love being outdoors. I have two bikes, golf clubs, lots of skis and I love to use them as much as I can. I also do a fair amount of reading, and I love to find the best coffeehouses in town. I’m also interested in finding the really good places to watch film and live music in Des Moines.
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