By: Russ White, MSU Today, WKAR All photos credit: Russ White
Click the photo to see Russ White’s Gary Reid Photo Gallery
“I never expected to be a teacher. I really never did,” says retiring MSU hall of fame broadcast educator Gary Reid. Forty-four years later, he has impacted hundreds of broadcast and communications-related careers.
Reid tells how his predecessor, the father of the classic rock radio format Fred Jacobs, “put his job on the line for me,” and he describes the tremendous change in students he’s observed over the years.
Listen to Russ White’s interview with Gary Reid here:
Reid is the first person I heard say “content is king” several years ago. But he’s still bullish on terrestrial radio’s future. One of the keys to the medium’s success, he says, is its human connection.
“From my standpoint, it’s really important to differentiate content from delivery. For the older generation, for the gray beards like me, when we say radio, we basically are combining content and delivery. We’re doing a radio show now, but it’s only radio if it’s transmitted. It’s going to be a podcast as well. The difference is a podcast is just streamed online and it comes to the point of convenience.
“Content, from my standpoint, is always going to drive what we’re interested in. While the internet is wonderful, and I think the artificial intelligence, and Pandora, and Spotify, and all that is just fine. To me, the content is really driven by a human connection. We don’t get that from a computer. We don’t get that from artificial intelligence.
“I’m old enough to remember what they called the heyday of radio in the ’50s. Once television came in, there were people saying, ‘turn radio off. Radio is dead. It’s all gone to TV.’ Well, radio reinvented itself. To be honest with you, here it’s 2019 and radio is still the largest mass medium, striking 93 percent of the American population every week – greater than TV, greater than the internet, greater than cell phones, and greater than streaming. So, it’s still a mass medium.
“The delivery is going to continue to change, but the content, ultimately, needs to stay the same. From the listeners’ standpoint, I don’t really care how you get it. I don’t care if it goes up a thousand-foot tower; I just care that you get it.”
Reid shares his concerns about the future of higher education and adds that he’ll stay active in retirement.
“I’m currently the president of the Michigan Association of Public Broadcasters. I feel very strongly about the value of free, over the air broadcasting, public and commercial. So, I’m going to try to stay as relevant as I can there, both in Michigan and nationally.”
Congratulations are in order for WKAR Public Media. Recently, the Michigan Association of Broadcasters named WKAR Michigan Public Television Station of the Year and Public Radio Group One Station of the Year for 2018.
Listen to the interview here:
“I’m very proud of our team,” says Susi Elkins, director of broadcasting at Michigan State University and general manager of WKAR Public Media. “It’s always exciting to be recognized by your peers and so for the Michigan Association of Broadcasters to support us in this way is really fantastic. Our team works especially hard all year and so we always look forward to seeing if what we’ve done is resonating with our peers and if our hard work is paying off. So to be recognized in this way of course feels really good.”
“ATSC 3.0 is essentially a new television standard. The unique part about it is that it’s a hybrid, So it’s part IP, part broadcast, and is still disseminated one to many like a standard broadcast. What’s unique about it is it’s much more efficient with the spectrum. It has a much stronger mobile capacity. It’s just a stronger signal so it can get through walls and potentially people can view TV over their phones and in their cars or automated vehicles. It’s also just a much more beautiful picture with over 20 channels of audio.
“We’re the first public broadcaster in the country to have this experimental license, so that’s really exciting, and I think that’s really because of our university license.”
“One of the big challenges is really communicating the value of public broadcasting for the federal funding. It’s not a challenge to communicate value, because the general public has said over and over and voted to say that we’re a trusted organization. The president’s budget is proposing zeroing out funding for the corporation for public broadcasting, and that federal funding piece is extremely important to the entire infrastructure for public broadcasting around the country.
“We’re some of the last independently owned media organizations and communities across the country, and particularly in rural areas where there isn’t any viable commercial service, that federal funding piece is what really holds the whole infrastructure together. If you’re in a rural community with simply not enough of a population to support the expense of providing this content, then you can’t function without that federal funding piece. So it’s really important that all stations thrive and have that funding piece.”
As technology continues to expand at a fast pace, people are consuming WKAR content through a variety of platforms beyond the traditional broadcast signal.
“I just want to serve audiences when and where they are with what they need. The broadcast piece is extremely important to me and I think to our community members because it is free, over the year, and we’re reaching 98 percent of the population. So regardless of your resources you can have access to important, informative, educational, and entertaining content.
“We need to be relevant to people’s lives, and so if they want to listen via the app, we need to be there and be everywhere where people are in order to remain relevant. We know they love our content. We know we have very high quality and important content, so it’s our responsibility to make sure that we are adapting along with audiences to make sure it can be there for them at their convenience, not ours.”
Elkins offers her advice to young people who want to get into this ever-changing and fast-paced world and says WKAR will remain busy and innovative in 2019.
“We’re investing in education, public safety, and civic leadership. We’re really trying to be audience focused and community minded, and that’s what’s driving our decisions on where we go in the future.”
Affectionately known as the “Dean of Sports,” Lansing-based WILX-TV and WVFN Radio’s Tim Staudt has been broadcasting in the area for 50 years. He has hosted “Staudt on Sports” on The Game 730 AM since 1993 and he has anchored the sportscasts at Channel 10 since 1980. Prior to that, he was the sports director at the former WJIM-TV in Lansing from 1970-1980. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1971 with a degree in journalism.
Listen to the interview here:
“To this day, two or three of the journalists and professors I had at Michigan State still have an impact on me; I thought they were aces. They were absolutely impartial. They taught facts and taught us to report the facts,” says Staudt.
“I always thought I was going to be in writing because as a part time job going through school I was in sports information and that seemed fascinating to me. I worked for two hall of fame guys in Fred Stabley and Nick Vista.”
Then after working in radio and doing radio news with Detroit Pistons and Spartan Football broadcasting legend George Blaha, Staudt began his television career as a weatherman.
“Channel 6 needed an 11 o’clock television weather man because the six o’clock weather man had a radio morning shift, and they didn’t want him working 18 hours a day. Then after I’d done it for a couple of nights, I said “Now you know I’m doing this because I want to do the sports.’”
How has the broadcasting industry changed in Staudt’s 50 years on the air? Technology advances, of course. “But you can say that about medicine, automotive, airplanes; everything’s changed over 50 years due to technology. I always thought local television’s greatest impact was in the pre-cable days because, if you wanted to watch television at the dinner table, you had to watch ABC, CBS or NBC.
“Cable gave everybody options. That was in 1979, and that’s when ESPN came about. Then I think the other big change was the introduction of high-definition television.”
The challenges ahead for broadcasting revolve around who is going to pay for TV and who isn’t.
“This has been an endless issue in the industry. Should you go ala carte and be able to pay for what you want or do you have to pay for everything? Like your property tax. To this point, you pay on a tier basis. An issue with this is the Big Ten Network moving forward. If the Big Ten Network can’t keep getting money from everyone in paid TV, then that’s going to obviously reduce the amount of money they can give to various schools.
“It’s hard to predict exactly whether that same amount of revenue, let alone more revenue, is going to be available then.”
And since television funds so much of college athletics budgets, these factors could impact intercollegiate athletics.
“The new president of Michigan State, later this year, when he or she looks at where athletics are – and if that president is well versed in athletics – I would think that president is going to have to look long and hard at the future of paying the bills. This is an issue for everyone moving forward in higher education in America.”
Staudt shares his views on basketball’s “one and done” rule and weighs in on the implications of Bryce Harpers’ 13-year $330 million contract. And he says “Baseball is at a crossroads. The commissioner of baseball today is looking at the state of the game and the demographics of those who pay the money to buy the tickets. It’s a challenge for the colleges and the NFL and the NBA and everybody else to find people who are willing to meet the salary levels by paying to buy the tickets to go to the games and support it in the way that professional sports have been supported by the public through the years.”
“Baseball is a slower game that appeals to a generation prior to the advent of the popularity of the NFL. The hard cores are probably always going to stay with it, which is the nature of sports. If you want to grow the sport to the younger generation, that’s the challenge.”
Staudt isn’t exactly sure what advice to offer to young people today who want to get into broadcasting and journalism.
“The way I did it could never happen anymore. I’m a dinosaur the way this thing has all worked out. Fifty-year runs in anything are very difficult to do. Are we going to have printed newspapers next year? Are we going to have television news the way we know it? I can tell you that in television news like everything else, companies are trying to pare the health insurance down and pare the payroll down even though they might have viewership and advertising revenue and are doing well. They don’t want to lose that.
“I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t really have a lot of good advice because I don’t know where the industry is going to go relative to this. There isn’t a clear career path like there used to be where you take this job first and then this job will come second and this will come third. By the time you’ve been in it ten years you’ll be making six figures. I can’t promise that, especially now. This is an iPhone media conscious world. Every place I go when I’m in New York there used to be many newspaper stands on the corners with a plethora of newspapers to buy and everybody was buying them. Now all you see are people reading iPhones. Even people you don’t even think know how to work the things are consuming their news on an iPhone.
“To me that’s where it’s headed. But who’s going to produce the news and how will they get that information to the iPhones? And I have no idea what those people will get paid.”
Story and photos by: Russ White, MSU Today/WKAR.org
MSU alumnus Jeremy Whiting is the new professional general manager of Michigan State University’s award-winning student radio station WDBM 88.9FM, better known as the Impact. He’s just the third GM in the almost 30 year history of the radio station, which will celebrate 30 years on the air on February 24, 2019.
A decade ago, Whiting was the student general manager for Impact Radio. He was happily teaching broadcasting and journalism to high school students, but he says of the opening at WDBM-FM: “If there was anything that was going to pull me out of my current job, it was this. I really got to thinking about it. I met with the students, and it was really apparent that it was a really good fit.”
Whiting says the mission of WDBM “really hasn’t changed. We’re still looking to educate students, and we also want to have a professional presentation on the air. We want to sound a lot like commercial radio. We want the average listener to be able to flip through the dial, hear music that is good, hear DJs who are good, and not really know any difference between something more to the right on the dial. Then we want good programming. Diverse programming. Programming that has a set format, but that also provides opportunities for voices from the MSU community and from the Lansing and East Lansing communities to be represented on the air.”
Of the challenges and opportunities facing the entire radio medium Whiting says of the industry’s future: “The Impact is really continuing to evolve as a brand, not just as an FM station. Certainly there’s always going to be a huge audience that is listening to the FM signal, whether you’re driving in your car or listening at home or whatever, but mostly in the car these days. People at home, they’re often listening to our live stream. They’re listening to podcasts. But we’re also producing other content like sports programming, news and content listeners can download from our website or interact with on Facebook. It’s all about that local connection and trying to find different ways that we can get information and content out to our audience that is relevant to them.”
Is Whiting bullish about over-the-air radio’s future? Yes.
“The actual delivery system might change in the future, but the content is still going to be the key. People are still going to want to have a live DJ telling them local information. I think the reason that Spotify and Pandora and some of the other services are popular is because friends can share playlists. They’re looking for recommended songs. They’re looking to hear what other people are listening to. And that’s really a strength of radio. You’re finding out what the masses are listening to. Popularity is often not what we’re going for with at a college radio station. We often discover up and coming talent. I think that’s very valuable to people. You can go on Spotify and find most of the artists that we play on the air, but you’re not going to find many stations like Impact that are picking those artists and recommending those specific ones to you, often before you’ve heard their name or heard their music anywhere else.”
So what are Whiting’s short and long term goals for Impact Radio?
“My short-term goal is just to get acclimated and to really get to know the staff and make sure they have the resources to be successful. Longer term, though, we want to upgrade the technology at the station. We’re looking at going to the next level for our radio automation system to enhance all the backend technology that helps us play music. We’re making sure we’re spending our student tax dollars wisely and really making sure that the equipment we have for the students to use is ready to work now and well into the future. We really want to stay relevant. We want to find good programming that is going to appeal to MSU students and our broader community and constantly reinvent ourselves when necessary.
“I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel because WDBM has such a strong foundation. The students are fantastic. The students are passionate, not only about radio, but about the Impact brand. It becomes their home, you know? They’re there at all hours of the day and night. We broadcast 24/7, but there are also people working there 24/7 doing other things besides being on the air. They’re all really passionate. Things change. It was weird coming in and seeing that much of the station is similar to when I left 10 years ago, and some of it is totally different. But that’s fine. It’s meant to evolve. It’s meant to stay relevant. If you’re looking for what’s happening in the MSU community and looking to hear up and coming music, Impact is where it’s at.”
MSU alumnus Scott Moore is the voice of Michigan State University hockey and baseball for the Spartan Sports Network (SSN). This past hockey season, Moore called his 1,000th game for SSN.
“It’s been a dream come true, and it’s been a joy for me to be able to do this,” says Moore. “I tell people that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. And I have yet to work in the last 26 years.” Listen below:
Moore reviews the team’s progress during the 2017/2018 Spartan Hockey season and looks ahead to next season. And he talks about the impact new coach Danton Cole has had on the program.
He talks about the success of Big Ten Hockey and discusses the challenges and opportunities facing the entire sport of college hockey.
Moore recalls some favorite moments from over 1,000 game broadcasts – like the Spartans’ 2007 hockey national championship. His favorite memory, though, involves having his daughter by his side in the press box for many of his broadcasts.
He talks about how both hockey and broadcasting have changed over the years, and he offers his advice for young people who want to get into the ever-changing communications industry.
WKAR’s Russ White recently sat down with Susi Elkins, director of broadcasting and general manager of WKAR Public Media at Michigan State University to talk about evolving the station’s mission to “serve, educate, inspire and entertain” in the digital age.
She said it’s a great time to be in broadcasting, in part due to the many different ways the audience can consume WKAR content in 2018.
“That means to me that we follow our mission to ‘serve, educate, inspire and entertain’ even more ardently,” she said. “It’s less about figuring out the program schedule and determining when people will hear or watch something and more about thinking about each member of our audience as individuals and providing choices and options for them in content and information.”
The challenges ahead for media organizations mostly all involve serving audiences. Elkins said, “It’s understanding them and understanding what they’re interested in.”
MSU alumnus Mike King is regional vice president for Gray Television and general manager of WILX-TV 10 in Lansing.
King recalls the limited options of the television world in the early ’80s when he entered the business and how the content options for consumers have exploded. “The content is still important,” says King. “The platform has really become more agnostic to us.”
Listen to the interview here:
King says Channel 10 now delivers its content through the web, mobile, Hulu, and Amazon. And local news is still important to people, and it’s something they find more difficult to find online.
“We are really focused on providing local content on multiple platforms. We’ve always been about content. Now instead of having one television signal we have multiple channels that we’re delivering to.”
King says WILX is now a multimedia marketing organization, not only one television signal. The goal is still to sell advertising, but “it’s not just about delivering TV commercials anymore. And consumers want to be reached via multiple platforms.”
King tells how ATSC 3.0 is a new delivery standard for television stations. “It will allow for more two-way interaction with consumers and slicing of the signal so we can deliver even more content over the same amount of bandwidth.
“To simply be in a one-channel advertising-supported business model isn’t sustainable any longer.”
So what and how will we be watching 5, 10 or 20 years from now?
“I wish I had a crystal ball. But as a company – Gray Television – we are going to be in the local news and content business. What I can’t answer is how you’re going to consume our content.”
For young people who want to get into broadcasting and communications, King says to be a good storyteller first and foremost.
“And you do need to understand how consumers are consuming the media. You can’t just go into broadcasting anymore. It’s really about figuring out the news and information people want in their lives and then understanding the multiple channels on which they want to receive that information.
“It’s about standing above the noise and staying on top of the rapid pace of technological change.”
My first hero in a lifelong love affair with the radio medium was the legendary Dick Purtan, who tells me how he first began visiting Detroit with his father when he was a child. And he recalls fondly his days at the famous Keener 13, his first stop in Detroit radio.
Listen to the interview here:
He says Keener was a fun place to work and a natural fit for his evolving talents.
Then as the Big 8 CKLW began to demolish the competition in Detroit radio, Purtan recalls a time when he had to stick up for himself and the kind of radio show he thought listeners wanted to hear. And he was becoming increasingly weary of the trend to program radio stations from New York rather than locally, like at WXYZ, a station where Dick would eventually work.
Purtan describes how he first started to hone his on air philosophy listening to morning radio in Buffalo where he grew up and then later to groundbreaking morning teams in New York. His goal was to entertain and be informative.
When Purtan retired from radio in 2010, he was already beginning to see what he sees as a decline in local morning radio. It was becoming more about music than locally-based talent, entertainment, and information. So he decided it was time to hang up the microphone and headphones.
While he’s dismayed about much of the current state of radio, he’s optimistic that things will get better someday, especially on local talk radio.
Purtan’s advice for young people who want to get into the constantly evolving broadcast and communications world is to understand and embrace what appear to be the industries of the future.
During our conversation, Purtan references a couple times his decision not to succeed J. P. McCarthy at WJR when that morning radio legend died suddenly in 1995. Here he provides the inside story on how close he came to moving to WJR. Mike Fezzey’s honesty and the fact that Purtan felt he’d already tried the ‘JR thing in Baltimore ultimately led him to decline the opportunity. “It just didn’t feel right.”
Purtan tells me about learning that two of the most famous and successful talents in radio today consider him their hero: Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern.
Keep in touch with Detroit radio legend Dick Purtan on Facebook.
MSU Today airs Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on 94.5 FM and AM 870.