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GLT's Pat Peterson, The Ultimate Public Radio Believer, Set To Retire

Pat Peterson during GLT Fund Drive
GLT Individual Giving Director Pat Peterson will retire later this month.

Pat Peterson was a public radio believer years before she began her tenure as GLT Individual Giving Director 23 years ago.

Just days before she retires from GLT, Peterson reminisced about her public radio career, which began shortly after selling her stake in Chicago’s acclaimed independent retailer Barbara's Bookstores.

Pat and Charlie
Credit Staff / WGLT
Pat Peterson pitching during GLT Fund Drive with News Director Charlie Schlenker about 10 years ago.

“I had a great time, I met every marvelous writer in the world,” said Peterson. “Nobel prize winners came in our doors … Pulitzer prize winners came in our doors.”

She quickly recalled a pretty heady list of authors, including Nobel winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller, Richard Ford, Susan Sontag, and children’s and musician/composer Laurie Anderson, among many others.

“They were fabulous, terrific people,” recalled Peterson of meeting and interacting with the famous authors. “And that (Barbara’s Bookstore) was a people job too because you’re always thinking about your customers and what they might be looking for. It was very rewarding. I built stores, tore them down, moved them around … did everything there was to do.”

When big box retailers emerged in the 90s as major booksellers, Peterson surmised another direction might be wise.

“And I had a baby and didn’t want to raise him in the city. So my then husband and I looked for something to do outside the city but still in a university town. So we landed here,” said Peterson.

After a short stint with an independent publisher in Bloomington, she landed at GLT after volunteering her time during fund drives. Though the tools and technology in her job has evolved over her two plus decades as Individual Giving Director, the job description has remained fairly constant.

“Primarily it’s to convince people to do the right thing and support the station. Help them understand how we’re funded. Then take really good care of them once they do. So there is a lot of stewardship we use. It’s all about thanking them and encouraging them and making them proud of what they’ve done to support the station,” said Peterson.

She’s also the producer of what had been the twice-yearly fund-drives heard on GLT. Those drives have included an off-air component, and recent years have included smaller on-air drives.

What’s called The Giving Path has been the guiding force for converting public radio listeners into financial supporters. Peterson said with the explosion of media outlets over the past decade, she’s not sure that model is still relevant.

“For instance, if you only use or consume GLT online, that is you only read stories on our website and may not play around on social media where you would see us in news feeds, where is the path for you to understand that that intelligent reporting online wouldn’t be there without your support? And then people who only access us in their news feeds ... how do we talk to them and say, ‘This is great, we’re so glad you’re involved with us, but we can’t do this without your support.’ So it’s challenging right now,” said Peterson.

Traditional mail is still part of the GLT fundraising mix. Peterson smiled when recalling envelopes that would land on her desk stuffed with donations, and listener comments.

“Every third one used to come back with, 'Say hi to Frank,’ which meant Frank Black, our beloved blues host who retired in 2014. And there are still people who go way out of their way to explain how much we mean to them … that this service, especially lately with local news coverage, is valuable. And I see this a lot: ‘I couldn’t live here if it weren’t for GLT, I need this in the community,’” said Peterson.

Because GLT is a public radio station, and facts matter, we have no documentation she is the most passionate public radio person you’ll ever meet, but anecdotal evidence suggests you’d be hard pressed to find someone in central Illinois who is more of a public radio believer than Pat Peterson. That started in Chicago, when she found WBEZ, a station she described as “was/is/will be" a great station.

“I think there is a level of compassion and intelligence in the way content is presented,” said Peterson of public radio. “It’s also very thorough, well-researched, well crafted … the sound is good. It’s a great fit for me and has been forever. When you run into other people who are public radio users and fans, there’s an instant connection there. You get a sense of community there I don’t find in the commercial world.”

Pat Peterson
Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT
Pat Peterson during the spring 2019 fund drive.

Compassion. Intelligence. Thorough. Community. Words also applicable to how Peterson has approached her job as GLT’s Individual Giving Director since 1996.

“It’s been a great ride, it’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve worked really hard. I’m really proud of what GLT is …what NPR is, and I’m hoping for the best going forward,” said Peterson.

Jennifer Armstrong of Normal has been hired as GLT's new Director of Individual Giving.

You can also listen to the full interview:

Pat Peterson's interview.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.