Dave Black reflects on his time at WSUM and the future of student radio
Dave Black was instrumental in building WSUM into what it is today.
Now the general manager of student radio stations is retiring in September, but he is leaving the station in good shape to continue entertaining and educating students in the future.
” I think that [Black is] leaving us in a position where everything will go as well as before, ”said program director Matt Jarosinski. “He’s making sure we’re in good hands. ”
The station, staffed and managed by UW-Madison students, offers 24/7 music, talk and sports programming on 91.7 FM in Madison and online at wsum.org.
Black started working on WSUM in 1993. The previous student radio station had been closed, so Black and others began the process of building the new station. It would take eight and a half years.
First, Black had to convince the student government that WSUM was a worthy investment project. “We wanted to apply for an FCC license from the Board of Regents, but we had to [first] convince the student government that it should invest more [money]”Black said,” So we got a petition. ”
The petition campaign worked. After the student government gave Black the green light for WSUM, Black had to obtain an FCC license from the Board of Regents. Black also had to find a location to install a tower that would be able to pick up radio frequencies. It also added time to the radio station’s launch.
“At that point, the students were starting to let us go a bit in terms of participation because they could see they weren’t going to go on air right away,” Black said. “So we [decided] do something to keep them engaged.
In the fall of 1997, Black and his co-creators moved to a space on State Street for radio. “It was that little old soundboard… we started there and [had] up to ten listeners at a time… so if an eleventh person called to listen, then the person who had been the longest was kicked out, ”Black said,“ but that was something… [and] this rekindled interest.
A location for the radio tower was found, but some neighbors of the site objected. Eventually the location was approved and the tower was built.
“We were on the air on 02/22/02 at 2:22 p.m.”
Then the fun began.
“I had to teach myself a whole new set of skills,” Black said, “I needed to learn to organize and coach, lead and teach students. [and] student managers, ”Black said. “[That] was fun because I love working with students more than anything else.
Black believes student radio is important to both the University and its students.
“You teach students how to create media, and when you teach students how to create media, they become more critical consumers of media,” Black said.
Radio training doesn’t just train them for radio, television and podcasting, ”he said. “It also teaches them the skills they need to take with them in any type of work environment.”
WSUM listeners love to have a connection with the live people who are broadcasting, Black said. “[Listeners] want people who are actually local, students from Wisconsin talking to people who were students in Wisconsin.
The station is approaching its 20th year on the air. “He has students [who] built something beautiful, and passed it on to [other] students, ”Black said,“ so they all feel a connection, even though there is a generational difference. “
Current musical director and former Black assistant Izzi Bavis praised Black’s work.
“[Black is] excited about the projects we are working on and he really made an effort to try to get to know everyone in the best possible way, ”said Bavis,“ He’s a great resource, especially because he’s been here for so long time.
Since Black has been in the student radio business for so long, he is able to present students with resources and information. Bavis said: “I think another interesting thing Dave has done… is connect us to other college radio stations across the country, because college radio is so unique in how it works.”
Bavis also noted how vital Black was during the pandemic: “when the pandemic first started [Black] was a big reason why we were [able to] always aired, ”Bavis said,“ he stood up for our rights… and made sure that we could still function to a certain extent. ”
Current station manager Sean Horvath also commented on Black’s contributions: “Obviously his biggest contribution to the station is the station,” Horvath said, “he was the one who organized the WSUM and got it approved and basically set up the way it works for this day. ”
Horvath also noted the value of Black’s connections both at UW and the wider world of student radio. “He’s… everyone’s friend,” Horvath said, “he knows a lot of people across the radio departments of the UW system.”
Black relished what radio came to share with what radio means to him and the personal value of student radio. “It turns out radio chose me as a career and I love radio,” said Black, “I didn’t think a career in radio would work and it worked wonderfully.”