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1922-2022 A yearlong celebration marking WKAR's 100th anniversary of service to the mid-Michigan and Spartan communities

WKAR interim GM looks at station's past and future after a century of service

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Courtesy
/
WKAR-MSU
Shawn Turner, incoming WKAR Public Media interim general manager and director of broadcasting

WKAR is 100 years old. The station received its official radio broadcast license on Aug. 18, 1922.

From its roots as an educational service, WKAR has evolved over time to provide much more to the mid-Michigan community.

WKAR's Al Martin spoke with interim general manager Shawn Turner about WKAR's place in the community and his plans for the station's future.

This conversation originally aired during WKAR's Century of Service special on Aug. 20, 2022.

Interview Highlights

On resources WKAR provides to the community that Turner is particularly proud of

Many of your listeners are familiar with Robin Pizzo and the work that she does. One of the programs I'm really proud of is the reading kit program. That's a program that provided books and reading kits to more than 5,400 students in 2022, a program that worked with 90 different organizations in the community to make sure that kids who might not have had access to these books and reading materials, had an opportunity to get these really engaging books.

On what sets WKAR apart from other public media stations

As I look at our history, it really comes down to a couple of things, the most important of which is innovation and our willingness to lead in areas where others may be more cautious. You go back to the story that I told about radio, that was an opportunity that people who were at this university saw. And they went after that opportunity. And that brought us here today, we did the same thing with television. At a time when people really didn't know about this technology and whether it would catch on, WKAR decided to dive in.

On what Turner sees for WKAR's future

I see WKAR working really hard to make sure that we are reaching our viewers and our listeners where they are. That means that we're going to have to dive full-on into the digital era. I see WKAR doing a much better job at communicating to a more diverse audience with more diverse content, something that we're already, a space we're already leading in. And I see us really listening to and being responsive to our viewers and our listeners.

Interview Transcript

Martin: Thanks for joining us on WKAR as we celebrate a century of service. We want to bring in now the person in charge of steering this operation.

Shawn Turner is the interim general manager and director of broadcasting at WKAR. Shawn's extensive career includes serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, as an intelligence officer for the federal government as well as being an on-air analyst at CNN.

Sean, we are so excited to have you here. How are you doing?

Turner: Good. Well, it's great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Martin: No question about it. Now, I want to start here, when you were asked to lead WKAR, what did you see about this place that made you want to be here?

Turner: Yeah, you know, I should note that when I was initially asked to step in as interim, I had some reservations. I was a little reluctant to do it.

I have known Susi Elkins for a while, my predecessor in this position, and I knew just how good she had been at fostering progress here at WKAR and how well respected she was, not only here at the station but across the public media system. So, I had some reservations. I knew there would be big shoes to fill, but, you know, the more we talked about it and the more I realized what this role entails, something clicked for me.

You know, as you said, at the outset, I spent most of my career in service, I spent 21 years in the Marine Corps and another five years working in the intelligence community, in national security issues around the country. And I have always felt most comfortable when I'm surrounded by people who are committed to serving others. And so, when I thought about what the people here at WKAR are doing, what this station means to the community, what I saw was an opportunity to serve this community and to serve people around me.

And I know that that's what the people at this station get up and do every day. So, when I thought about it, I thought, this works. This syncs with who I am and what I want to do. So, it was a natural fit.

Martin: And quick follow up, was there anything that Susi said that that helped that click, come to a realization for you?

Turner: You know, she really just talked about how effective this team is and how much this team means in this community. And as she, as she delved into that and she really gave me a sense of just how important the work that we do is, you know, I just, I couldn't walk away from the opportunity. I had to be a part of this. And that's, that's the way this feels, it feels like I'm a part of something that's bigger than me.

Martin: Certainly. So, Shawn, what resources does WKAR provide to the community that you are particularly proud of?

Turner: You know, we do so much out in the community through our broadcasts, and through our physical presence in the community. And I'm really excited about the fact that we have plans to do even more.

But I think if I had to call out a couple of things that we're doing that really stand out, education is, the education program here is just phenomenal. Many of your listeners are familiar with Robin Pizzo and the work that she does. One of the programs I'm really proud of is the reading kit program. That's a program that provided books and reading kits to more than 5,400 students in 2022, a program that worked with 90 different organizations in the community to make sure that kids who might not have had access to these books and reading materials, had an opportunity to get these really engaging books and to see the world through these stories.

And that's a program that's been around for a while, and it's continuing to grow. And it's all made possible because of this the station's commitment to education. So, really proud of that program, there's so many more that are like that.

You know, I'll give you one more. And I think this is one that your listeners will really be interested in hearing. You know, when we think about the information environment right now, we think about where people get reliable information that helps them make decisions about, you know, things that are important in their lives. I'm really proud of the fact that we have a news team here, we have that is just really committed to making sure that people in this community have clear, concise, accurate information that helps them make the decisions that they need to make.

You know, there are a lot of different sources for news out there at the community level, at the state level and across this country. But every day, people who get up and listen to WKAR, people who read the stories that are posted at WKAR on our on our websites here, they are getting information that is the kind of information that they can rely on to make those important decisions. And that's important to us. Because, to be really candid, there's a lot of garbage out there. And we're committed to making sure that we're providing that information that people can really use.

Martin: Such an important point, Shawn, I always say you know, our news team here is just spectacular, what they do on a daily basis to inform the community, very important.

And in that same conversation there, Shawn, what do you think separates WKAR Radio apart from other public radio stations out there?

Turner: Sure. You know, it's, it's a really good question. And you know, as I think about the fact that we are celebrating 100 years of service here at WKAR, you can't help but ask yourself, "What's the secret sauce? Why are we still here?"

And as I look at our history, it really comes down to a couple of things, the most important of which is innovation and our willingness to lead in areas where others may be more cautious. You go back to the story that I told about radio, that was an opportunity that people who were at this university saw. And they went after that opportunity. And that brought us here today. We did the same thing with television. At a time when people really didn't know about this technology and whether it would catch on, WKAR decided to dive in.

Today, we're doing the very same thing. We're innovating and we're leading, when it comes to next generation television, we're doing the very same thing when it comes to a digital transformation and making sure that our content is available to our listeners and our viewers, wherever they are.

And so it really does, for WKAR, it comes down to whether or not we are willing to take those risks that might help us move to the next level. And then other stations take a look at what we've done and they follow suit, or they come to us and they want to understand how we did what we did here.

And so I think that's part of our legacy. It certainly has been for the last 100 years. And it's going to be part of what's going to drive us and help us be successful then for the next 100 years.

Martin: That's where I want to go next the future, right? What do you see Shawn, in WKAR's future to how we will adapt to a changing media landscape.

Because as we all know, this, this media landscape is changing by the day, it feels like.

Turner: It really is. And I will tell you, you know, we have been talking about being at an inflection point for several years now. This idea that we are going to get to a point where on the broadcasts on a television site, we are going to see more people streaming content than we're seeing people accessing content over the air.

Well, we're at that point. We know that there are people out there who liked the content that we're providing and who want more of what we're providing. But they want to be able to access that content, where they, where they are accessing other content. They want to be able to get it in those digital channels. They want to have more say in the kind of content that we're producing. They want to see content that reflects more of what we're seeing in our society in terms of different groups and different ideas and different perspectives on issues.

And so, what I see for the future is I see WKAR working really hard to make sure that we are reaching our viewers and our listeners where they are. That means that we're going to have to dive full-on into the digital era.

I see WKAR doing a much better job at communicating to a more diverse audience with more diverse content, something that we're already, a space we're already leading in. And I see us really listening to and being responsive to our viewers and our listeners. That's a really key aspect of what we need to do to be successful going forward.

Martin: What's a tangible way, I guess, Shawn, to grade what success is in the next 100 years for WKAR?

Turner: You know, I think that one way to do that is to look at our resilience, you know, we've been here for 100 years. You don't get to stick around for 100 years, especially at a public broadcasting station, unless you are doing something right to serve the community.

If we do not continue to make the adjustments that we need to make to be responsive to the needs of this community, we will not be here for another 100 years. But I'm really proud to say that everything that we're doing right now and all the feedback that we're getting from the community and the degree to which the community plays a role in what we do, I'm really proud to say that what that tells me is that this is just the beginning. There's no end in sight for WKAR.

So, we're going to continue to push. We're going to continue to persevere. We're going to continue to listen. And I think that we will not only be here for another 100 years, but long after you and I are gone, you know, several hundred years from now. Yeah, there'll be a couple of folks sitting here, and they'll be reminiscing about this conversation.

Martin: Let's hope so right, that'd be awesome. Shawn, before we let you go, I want to give you the opportunity to say anything that you want to our audience out there as again we celebrate, you know, this century of service, you know, WKAR turning 100. What would you like to say to our audience members out there?

Turner: Well, you know, we're going to spend the next year talking a lot about what this station means to the community and what we've done what we've accomplished over the last 100 years, but it's really important for everyone listening to know that we know that we would not be here without them.

Everything that this community has done to support us, everything that this community has done to hold us up and to respond to what we've tried to do over the last 100 years is the reason that we're here. And so I want people to know that we know that and that we need their support. And that we're going to continue to do our best to support and be responsive to their needs.

And on that point, I just, I think it's really important for people to know that this is a community station. And what does that mean? It means that the only way that we can serve this community effectively is if people engage with us.

And so, I'd like to say to all the viewers, reach out to us, engage with us. Tell us what we're doing well, and tell us where we can do better. And you have my commitment, you have our commitment that we will be responsive to that. And we'll continue to give this community what it's enjoyed for the past 100 years.

Martin: So well said, Shawn. Thank you so much for your time.

Turner: It was my pleasure, Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Al Martin is the host of Current Sports, the daily radio call-in program from WKAR NewsTalk. Al is also on the WKAR News team as a regular sports contributor and plays a key sports reporting and content role on all other WKAR media platforms.
As managing editor, Karel Vega supervises news reporters and hosts of news programming, and is responsible for the planning and editing of WKAR's news content.
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