Dave Black, the founding general manager of WSUM 91.7 Madison Student Radio, died on Feb. 12 at the age of 66.
Black passed away 10 days before the 20th anniversary of WSUM’s founding on Feb. 22, 2002. Starting his work with the radio as a graduate student in UW’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1993, he played an integral role with Professor Emeritus Jim Hoyt in transforming the previous student radio station into a full-fledged operation.
WSUM is one of the largest college radio stations in the country today, but when Black started working with students in the ‘90s, the previous station closed with little options to move forward. Black spearheaded its growth of local Madison coverage, leading a petition to persuade the student government to help finance the station and supporting the building of the broadcast tower.
He worked to obtain the station’s FCC license and cement studios on campus to expand its audience to 183,250 listeners today, according to a press release from WSUM. In addition to typical sports and music programming, Black pushed for the station’s coverage of news and public affairs operations, insisting on professional standards for his students.
The station planned to honor Black’s retirement with a virtual celebration on Feb. 19.
“For the last 20 years, Dave has been the central figure in building WSUM into a campus and community institution,” Doug McLeod, Evjue Centennial professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and head of the WSUM Governance Board, said in the SJMC’s memoriam post. “To have seen where WSUM started and where it is today, is a testament to Dave’s vision, dedication and management skill. In WSUM, Dave has left an enduring legacy at the UW-Madison.”
Black impacted generations of students over the course of his nearly 30-year long career before his retirement last September. In the process, he earned his M.A. from UW-Madison’s SJMC in 2003. He was honored with the College of Letters and Science Mid-Career Award in 2014 and the Wisconsin Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Leadership: Individual or Unit Level in the Academic Staff Excellence Awards in 2015.
Following news of Black’s passing, students, alumni and community members expressed their condolences and fond memories on social media. NBC’s Elise Romas and Stella Porter, Defiant News’s Brady Dale and sports broadcaster Chris Vosters took to Twitter to share the importance Black had in shaping their careers.
In a Twitter thread, NPR’s Stephen Thompson recalled his experience trying to keep the radio station that would later become WSUM alive back in 1993. He wrote about Black’s integral role in recruiting volunteers and coordinating the building of the radio’s tower, describing Black as “forefront, joyful and unflappable.”
“I'm struggling to wrap my head around the personal loss, because Dave was a good friend and a deeply kind man. So for now, I'll just celebrate his legacy. More than 2,000 students have passed through WSUM and none could have done so without Dave,” Thompson tweeted.
Other teachers and peers filled the comments underneath the memoriam post for Black with thoughts on his legacy. Kelsey Brannan, who took over Black’s role of general manager following his retirement, expressed her appreciation for Black’s impact on her as a student and professional in a comment. She wrote that he was “a consistent and reassuring presence” in her working life, and that he made himself available for hours of web call training and advice since stepping into the role in September.
“When I moved into his office, I found a handwritten note pinned to the corkboard behind the desk that said: ‘There will be people in this life who will need you. It is your job to be there for them’,” Brannan said. “I imagine this was somewhat of a mission statement for Dave, and we are all testament to the fact that he lived up to it each and every day. He was there for so many of us in so many ways, and that impact will be felt for years to come.”