Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Keeping the DUQ in WESA...huh?

Essential Public Media purchased WDUQ radio from Duquesne University not too long ago.  They made a few somewhat unpopular programming format changes that no doubt alienated some of the now former listeners of the station.  At the same time, the current format is likely starting to build an audience of its own.

I will refrain from injecting my opinion on all of this, but I can say this: I became a lover of jazz music going back to my days as a student volunteer at the station.

Just recently, the management of 90.5 FM, which is now WESA-FM, reached out to us WDUQ alums to garner our support of an effort to ensure a continued presence of Duquesne University students on staff as part of a special program.  That is very encouraging for those of us who benefited from learning from our own successes and mistakes courtesy of WDUQ.  They asked us to provide a few words of what WDUQ meant to us. 

After I wrote my comments, I thought an edited version might be worthy of a blog post, so here they are:

My tenure at WDUQ ran from 1980-82 in the station’s News Department, where I volunteered and then worked a part-time student aid job as Assistant News Director.  Because the station was student-run, we may not have produced the seamless on-air product that WDUQ later became known for, but a team of very motivated and driven students did some things at that station that set us up for successful careers in communications.  We experimented, hustled and competed with each other to see what we could do.

One of my proudest moments was when I had the opportunity to cover a speaking engagement in the 1980 Pennsylvania primary, when I covered Republican candidates Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, both speakers at a dinner in Westmoreland County.  I sensed that Mr. Bush for the first time opened the door to the notion that he might lose to Mr. Reagan, but he’d support the Republicans no matter what.  As soon as the dinner ended, I scrambled up to Mr. Bush, thrust a microphone between two Secret Service agents and got the sound bite I needed that essentially confirmed this fact. 

The next morning, my work aired on Morning Edition, but just as importantly, I got a check for $40 from NPR and I was no longer an unpaid volunteer.  I cannot tell you what that meant to me at the time, and what it still means to me when I think about it 31 years later.

Over the years, I have been reminded that the foundation for my career was built at WDUQ and through the opportunities to experiment with and experience the power of radio.

About six of us WDUQ student volunteers ended up landing jobs at KDKA-TV and Radio at before we graduated from college.  Obviously, WDUQ was doing something right.

It would be my hope that Essential Public Media could continue to foster an environment where Duquesne students will have the same opportunities that I had.  Without them, not only would I not have been able to achieve what I have so far, but more importantly, I would not have been able to help the people I have been fortunate to be able to help during my career.

It is also my hope that the structure of the student program be such that students be afforded more responsibility than a typical internship.  By having the chance to make our own “executive” decisions as students, and then to see what worked and what didn’t work, we were able to more effectively and more rapidly hone our skills and secure our place in the profession.  This eventually helped the station by having many well-placed alumni in solid positions in the community.

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