Wonya Lucas leaves PBA to lead company that owns Hallmark Channel

Wonya Lucas, CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta, will take over Crown Media, which owns the Hallmark Channel. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho

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Wonya Lucas, CEO of Public Broadcasting Atlanta, will take over Crown Media, which owns the Hallmark Channel. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Wonya Lucas has stepped down as president and chief executive officer of Public Broadcasting Atlanta to lead Crown Media Family Networks, which owns the Hallmark Channel.

Lucas, who joined PBA in 2015, is returning to her commercial cable network roots.

She previously ran TV One from 2011 to 2013. Before that, she had executive positions at Turner Broadcasting, Discovery Communications and The Weather Channel.

Former PBA chairman Chuck Taylor said he is saddened by her departure but not surprised.

“We knew she was exceptional when we hired her,” he said. “She has proven herself to be exceptional. I knew we wouldn’t have her terribly long because she’s too good not to take on a national role.”

Lucas, who considers herself a brand and organizational specialist, changed PBA’s internal structure so departments worked together better. She contracted the size of the board from 60 to 20. She bolstered branding for both its successful radio station 90.1/WABE-FM and its smaller TV station WPBA-TV (Channel 30). She enhanced the station’s digital presence and added podcasts, including the award-winning “Buried Truths,” focused on civil rights era criminal cold cases.

On top of that, she said the station’s journalism remains top-notch: The newsroom is stronger than ever.”

She was not known to be a hands-on manager. Rather, Taylor said, “She hired good people and let them do their jobs.”

In 2018, she made a decision to spend more money and turn WPBA-TV into a full-service Public Broadcasting System station, enabling it to air first-run PBS shows like that of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s GPB (Channel 8). Before the change, PBA could only air about 25 percent of available PBS content. GPB had first and often exclusive access to new programming over the years, from “Masterpiece Theatre” to “Downton Abbey” to “Victoria.” That’s not the case anymore.

Added costs to pay for NPR programming did impact the budget during fiscal year 2019, ending July 31. The organization generated a deficit of $1.7 million for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2019, with revenues of $16.3 million and expenses of nearly $18 million, according to its audited 2019 financial report.

PBA laid off a small number of people earlier this year. The organization drew more individual donations than expected, offset by underwriting shortfalls, especially after the pandemic hit. In the end, the organization had a much smaller $300,000 deficit for this past fiscal year, Lucas said.

“These are difficult times,” Taylor said, “but we’re alive.”

Taylor said PBA is now pursuing a national search for Lucas’ replacement. The chief content manager Scott Woelfel, who joined the station in January, is currently interim CEO.

Lucas said she’s looking forward to building and expanding the Hallmark Channel brand. For now, she will remain in Atlanta but may relocate in the future. Crown Media is headquartered in Studio City, California.

“It was just the perfect thing for me,” she said. “They are a purpose-driven company, and that’s important to me. It knows who its audience is. There is a lot of opportunity to broaden its audience and be more inclusive while keeping its core.”

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