Longtime WGLT Program Director Turns Off The Mic
WGLT Program Director Mike McCurdy will retire at the end of the month after nearly 40 years in broadcasting, 30 of them at WGLT.
McCurdy came to WGLT as news director and a few years later became program director. In that time McCurdy says a lot has changed in the way radio is done, and radio might not be as important as it used to be.
"I think there is still a segment of the audience that wants to tune in and let the programming wash over them. They will listen to what we make available. But they can find all of the things we do locally and all of the things that NPR does nationally online. I think that's been one of the biggest paradigm shifts for me is to always remember at this point it's web first," said McCurdy.
Nationwide radio listenership is down across all stations. Part of that is fewer people are commuting to work during the pandemic. That is a historically prime moment for radio users. Internet streams have also cut into terrestrial radio use. McCurdy cautioned that does not mean radio is obsolete.
"One of the things I have been most pleased with at WGLT over the last 30 years is the station has managed to hang on to its share of the audience. So even though Netflix, Hulu, all these streaming services have come along, a myriad of content that is available out there, WGLT has been able to hang on to its piece of the pie locally, through all of that competition," said McCurdy.
He said that says something about keeping your eye on the ball and having a staff that understands quality is important. McCurdy has enjoyed creating radio in central Illinois.
"One of the things I started hearing after a while was, I like having a radio station in Bloomington-Normal that sounds like a big city public radio station. And I think that says something again about making sure all the details make for a good big picture. And that is a lot of quality control. You have to make sure everyone is talking to the audience in the same way," said McCurdy. "That sort of comment to me is one of the biggest compliments I can get."
Even in a fragmented media landscape, McCurdy said public media journalism is as important as ever.
"Who's going to keep tabs on the courts? Who's going to keep tabs on government officials? I think it's important for public officials to know that the media is looking over their shoulder, paying attention to what they are doing, paying attention to how they are spending money. I think that sort of check and balance is just as important locally, if not more so, than it is nationally," said McCurdy.
In another sense, public media is as important as ever to build community identity, he said, particularly its online service.
"I think people just want to know what's going on. They want to have the watercooler talk. Sometimes the stories that don't seem that important are the ones they are actually talking about," said McCurdy.
He also said WGLT has done a great job using its events to support that identity.
"Is there any greater sense of community than seeing 5,000 people on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington for one of our summer concerts?" he said.
In retirement, McCurdy said he enjoys bird watching and collecting new species sighted. He enjoys gardening and already has a new community garden plot. And he said he hopes to get involved in helping set up polling places. He plans a permanent relocation to the west coast.
"I think in the short term it's going to be me just doing what I want to do for a little while. If I don't stay busy, I think I'll lose my mind," he said.
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