Senior Expo returns this month: PBS chief welcomes event as part of station makeover

By Joe Stumpe | September 1, 2023

Victor Hogstrom has led PBS Kansas since 2016.

PBS Kansas chief Victor Hogstrom says there’s a simple reason why the public television station is bringing back the Senior Expo this month.

“We knew it was a very popular event,” Hogstrom said. “Our audience is also that audience.”

Hogstrom is all about audience engagement, and resurrecting the Expo is just one of many moves he’s made since arriving in Wichita in 2016. He said the Central Plains Area  Agency on Aging, which discontinued the event in 2020 after a 33-year run, was supportive of its return. 

One of Hogstrom’s biggest moves was finding the station a new home in the former Meritrust Credit Union headquarters at 8710 E. 32nd St., which is where the Expo will be held on Thursday, Sept. 28.

He remembers walking into the old headquarters on West 21st Street for the first time. “Honestly, I looked around, and I came so close to saying, ‘No, I’m not going to do this,’” he said.

The well-traveled Hogstrom said the station had made several overtures to him prior to his hiring. 

Eventually, he said, “I came because I saw a lot of challenges.”

Hogstrom grew up in New Jersey and Liberia, where his father, a mechanical engineer, worked for a mining company. After graduating valedictorian of his high school class, he enrolled in Brigham Young University because it was relatively cheap and then stacked enough courses to graduate with multiple degrees in three years. 

Hogstrom worked as a producer and host for a public television station while still in college. When KSL, a powerful commercial station in Salt Lake City, offered him a job, he jumped at it. But he was ready to return to public TV when a PBS station in Pensacola, Fla., offered to make him director of news and public affairs.

“I had been in both worlds, and I wanted to provide a service. It was about service for me. Now it takes money, of course, but it was all about the service.”

Hogstrom’s next goal was to lead a public TV station. He got the chance in Redding, Calif., where he found the station housed in a 2,000-square-foot former meat locker that still had the freezer door hanging in it. Hogstrom led the effort to buy and renovate a much larger building.

Then it was on to Chattanooga, where the station was $1 million in debt and in need of a new facility. He erased the debt and spearheaded a new 31,000-square-foot facility before leaving for the Kansas City PBS station. There, he reduced the station’s debt from $7 million to $600,000. He returned to Utah for a job in public TV for two years before accepting the job here, where the station had been in a kind of holding pattern for several years. 

At 31,000 square feet, the station’s current home is nearly four times larger than its predecessor. The old building had one studio, which meant sets had to be switched out between every program. The new building has one mid-size studio and another big enough to hold a live audience, plus LED lighting and room for more equipment such as a large green screen “that can do just about anything” in Hogstrom’s words. 

There’s also space for the Cochener-Garvey Children’s Education & Discovery Center, which Hogstrom called the first of its kind in the nation for a TV station, as well as more space that can be rented.

Hogstrom also recognized room for improvement in the station’s programming, fundraising, viewership and image in the community. He has added several locally produced shows that appear on a regular basis, including “Positively Kansas,” “Hatteberg’s People,” “Empowering Seniors,” “Inside the Cover” and “One on One with Victor Hogstrom,” plus documentaries such as “Kansas Ghost Towns,” “Kansas From Above,” “Kansas Pie Style” and “Wichita the Air Capital.”

“Our documentaries, during pledge time, bring in more pledges than the national (PBS) programs,” Hogstrom said. “People love them.”

Speaking of pledge drives, Hogstrom made them more effective by getting well-known local figures to appear on air asking viewers for pledges. Last year, the station ended a pledge drive early when it exceeded the goal with a couple weeks to go.

The station has added staff, tripled membership and added events such as the BritClub High Tea at Botanica for fans of its British programming. The station raised the $4.5 million needed for its new building in about a year, Hogstrom said, in part by finding sponsors for the studios, discovery center and other spaces.

Hogstrom changed the station’s name from KPTS to PBS Kansas because “we are serving more people than any other station in the state,” he said. Thanks to the internet, he said, the station has viewers and members in just about every county in the state.

Currently, a website that covers public media nationwide, recently profiled Hogstrom as a “Turnaround CEO” in an article titled, “How PBS Kansas regained its footing in Wichita.”

Hogstrom has achieved all this while a part-time resident of Wichita. He spends many long weekends in Chattanooga, where his wife, twin 28-year-old sons and 16-year-old daughter live. He is proud of having raised his sons himself after an earlier marriage ended in divorce. Jeremy and Jermaine Hogstrom are both physicians in Chattanooga with, their dad notes proudly, several million TikTok followers as the “Twin Doctors.” When not on a plane, in the office or out in the community promoting PBS Kansas, Hogstrom enjoys cooking, reading and watching PBS Kansas. “Like I tell the staff, I watch it like a hawk.”

He isn’t done. He wants PBS Kansas to have a mobile unit for broadcasting live from events such as Riverfest, the Kansas State Fair and sporting events. “Just imagine us broadcasting live the high school game of the week,” he said.

He has big plans for the Senior Expo as well.

“Our goal is to make it an annual affair, spread it out in the parking lot and grounds. Just make it huge.”