Like most American kids, WKAR-TV station manager Susi Elkins grew up watching Sesame Street. She remembers coming home from school and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk while watching her favorite show. Little did she know that one day she would be working alongside the children’s characters of Sesame Street and other programs that help define public television.
Susi grew up with her two older brothers and her parents in Fenton, Michigan and spent her first two years of college at Central Michigan University. Her first interaction with a camera was working as the only female on the set of a college comedy production with some friends. At the time, Susi was much more comfortable behind the camera, but that’s changed.
"When I’m looking into the camera, I pretend I’m talking to someone I know and I’m picturing real people—people that I know love the station and love what we’re doing—that’s really comforting to me."
Susi has always been extremely curious and loves learning new things. That’s what led her into the field of public broadcasting. When she saw the potential of what public broadcasting offers the community, she knew this was the path for her.
“I could learn about anything, we could do a show about anything and teach people all kinds of things and make them laugh or make them more curious about the world. That’s when I realized ‘this is something huge—on a grand scale—that I could really reach people with.’”
While still a student at CMU, Susi was visiting a friend at Michigan State University and met Bill Kinney, now WKAR’s television operations manager, who mentioned a potential opportunity for Susi to work at the station. She transferred to Michigan State and started working for WKAR as a student.
After graduating from MSU in 1995 with a telecommunications degree, Susi moved to Chicago, working in 24-hour news. She stayed in touch with her friends at WKAR and when Kinney mentioned a position opening up, Susi was eager to return to what she loves. She’s been with WKAR ever since.
Connecting with Our Community
"I love that every day is different," she says. " There is always a new program or project to get excited about. And I love that I get to work with such a passionate and creative group of people and that our efforts make a difference in the lives of so many people."
WKAR caters to its audience. Listener and viewer feedback is strongly encouraged and is always taken into consideration with programming. WKAR is supported in large part by its viewers and provides programming for a diverse audience.
"We have a strong foundation in national PBS programming, but our true strength is in connecting with our community through creating local content that reflects the passions, concerns and desires that are unique to our region," she explains. "We are dedicated to increasing our local content and we're doing it in creative ways—through partnerships with local media outlets, independent producers and through our connection to MSU and the College of Communication of Arts and Sciences. "
One example of this is a new local program that began airing in May, called LRN 101, produced by Such Video in conjunction with the Keep Learning initiative. It features local businesses and projects that encourage a commitment to a lifetime of education for both young and old.
Another example is WKAR's partnership with East Lansing's Hannah Community Center, which will be the new venue for recording BackStage Pass in June. Tapings are free and open to the community.
"There’s no other media that’s tied to our community like we are. Our free educational workshops for families often provide children with the first book they've ever owned," she says.
"I love it when people stop me to tell me what they watched last night or last week and how much they loved it. Either they learned something that amazed them or they were moved to tears by something that touched them or inspired them. It's surprising how often this happens - and it's then that I know I'm doing something special."
Susi met her husband Tim, a multi-media producer with Instructional Video Services, at WKAR. They live in Lansing with their two children: Alex, 8 and Amelia, 11. Susi received her Master’s from MSU in Educational Technology in 2005.