Things may be changing behind the scenes at Utah Public Radio, but listeners will continue to hear their favorite selections of national and local news as well as UPR’s original programs and classical, folk & world music.
Joseph Ward, dean of Utah State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, announced that UPR news director Kerry Bringhurst and program director Tom Williams will immediately assume duties as station co-managers. Former station manager Peg Arnold, who was at UPR for four years, is moving on to other opportunities, said Ward.
Both Bringhurst and Williams are longtime mainstays at UPR and are familiar to listeners statewide. The station, a National Public Radio member station, is heard throughout the state, with transmitters and translators broadcasting to many cities and towns, many of which have USU branch campuses or USU Extension offices. Utah Public Radio employs nine full-time employees and is the oldest public radio operation in the state, signing on-the-air in April of 1953.
Bringhurst, recognizable to listeners as the host of NPR’s Morning Edition, has served as the station’s news director for more than a decade and oversees daily newscasts as well as intern reporters and correspondents. Many of those duties will now be assumed by Dani Hayes, assistant news director and web content manager. Bringhurst will lead the nonprofit station’s development efforts, along with membership specialist Katie Swain and underwriting specialist Debbie Andrew.
Williams will continue as host of Access Utah, UPR’s daily, the hour-long program which features conversations with local, national and international newsmakers, writers, and subject experts. In his new role, he says, he will be taking over the station’s administrative functions. All Things Considered host and production director Shalayne Smith Needham will be taking on additional programming responsibilities and development roles. Chief Engineer Friend Weller is also going to be assuming further operational tasks beyond those traditional to the field of broadcast engineering.
Coincidentally, Bringhurst and Williams, both graduates of CHaSS (Bringhurst, BA Broadcast Journalism ’88, and Williams, BA Liberal Arts ’06), are also fellow Vernal natives. Williams began his UPR career in 1994 as Operations Manager. Always, he says, he had his parents in Vernal to keep him grounded. Their rural roots “help me have a statewide perspective,” Williams said. “I always think, ‘How is this playing in Vernal? Are we meeting their needs? Or, how is this playing in St. George or Moab?” Williams also earned his MBA from the USU Huntsman School of Business in 2013.
Bringhurst says her transition into a fundraising capacity is both exciting and challenging. After more than a dozen years on the air, she understands the nature of public radio and the need to rely on private donors. She expects continued increases in the cost of NPR programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. These and other programs are “considered by many listeners to be our top programs, so we’re always looking for funding resources” says Bringhurst.
Beyond that, there’s what Bringhurst describes as the behind-the-scenes costs, like transporting an engineer to a distant mountaintop in a remote region of the state to repair a malfunctioning translator…during the winter! In all, the station operates six transmitters and 30 translators that receive the signal and rebroadcast it. The signal is relayed using a combination of technologies to reach such corners of the state as Woodruff, Milford, or Hanksville.
UPR is also in a world of technology where a device just purchased is a device already outdated - think of your cellphone! One current project is to replace the aging equipment necessary to relay the signal statewide. It’s expensive and detailed, said Williams, “but all the listener needs to know is “Where’s the signal in my town?’”
“That’s one of the challenges of a public radio station,” Bringhurst agreed. UPR greatly appreciates donations from people who specify a program they love. “It’s a hard sell to help people understand that the technology is always changing too and that we need their support to maintain that.”
Bringhurst deals with the stress of fundraising by anticipating a future that boasts of continuing programs from NPR and others sources like the BBC, as well as an expansion of the locally-created programs that connect the station with the community. “Really, we are community radio.”
The two new station managers also see their role – especially being based at Utah’s only land-grant university -- as “bringing people together statewide to talk about important topics,” said Bringhurst.
April will see the launch of a new community series called “Human in the Helmet,” a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare and USU Athletics focusing on such community anchors as Little League and Junior Jazz. UPR will also shortly introduce “One Small Step,” an outreach of the national StoryCorps initiative to facilitate and broadcast conversations with Americans of opposing viewpoints from cities across the country.