Dave Black, who inspired generations of students as general manager of UW-Madison’s student radio station WSUM 91.7, has died at age 66.
Dave began working on WSUM in 1993 as a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, after the previous student radio station closed. Along with SJMC Professor Emeritus Jim Hoyt, Black oversaw the more than eight-year process of building WSUM into the station it is today.
From leading a petition campaign to convince student government to invest in the station to fighting opposition to the construction of the station’s broadcast tower, Dave’s tenacity and determination helped make take off WSUM and airborne.
“Dave was an absolute force, working tirelessly to launch WSUM over 20 years ago and make it what it is today,” said Kelsey Brannan, Director of Radio at WSUM. “He was a fearless leader, an invaluable mentor, and a trusted friend. His impact has spread far beyond the walls of WSUM and campus boundaries and will last for many, many years to come.
On February 22, 2002, at 2:22 p.m., the new station went on the air. Since then, the station has become an institution at UW-Madison, offering a wide variety of award-winning programming ranging from music and entertainment to sports and news. Through his guidance and mentorship, Dave has touched the lives of many WSUM students, listeners, and friends.
“For the past 20 years, Dave has been the central figure in transforming WSUM into a campus and community institution,” said Doug McLeod, Evjue Centennial Professor at SJMC and head of WSUM’s Governance Council. “He has trained and mentored countless UW students, many of whom were our SJMC majors, providing a dynamic learning laboratory for our students to practice a variety of communication skills. Seeing where WSUM started and where it is today is a testament to Dave’s vision, dedication and management skills. In WSUM, Dave left a lasting legacy at UW-Madison.
Dave went on to earn his master’s degree from UW-Madison’s SJMC in 2003 and had a long and storied career leading WSUM. He received the College of Letters and Science Mid-Career Award from the L&S Academic Staff Professional Development Committee in 2014 and the Wisconsin Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Leadership: Individual or Unit Level in the Academic Staff Excellence Awards in 2015.
“Dave had a profound influence on the students he mentored, walking the delicate line between respecting their editorial independence while insisting on professional standards,” said SJMC Professor Emeritus Jack Mitchell. “While many students are eager to host music and sports broadcasts, Dave insisted on a strong news and public affairs operation. And the students responded to his belief that public service was the primary responsibility of any broadcasting station.
Dave took particular pride in mentoring the students, empowering them to make the station truly student-run, and using the skills they learned to grow professionally. Under his guidance, students have received awards from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Madison Area Music Awards, College Broadcasters International, and many others. WSUM alumni have gone on to careers in top organizations in radio, television, music, news, podcasting, sports, advertising and public relations.
Through his own dedication to broadcast journalism and radio programming, Dave made an impression on UW-Madison students and instilled the University’s value of sifting and winnowing. He has taught or taught on the topics of interviewing and broadcasting within the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Communication Arts, and Life Sciences Communication. He made WSUM studios and equipment available to faculty, academic staff, and students who wanted to learn about and experiment with a variety of broadcast formats, including radio and podcasting. Dave has dedicated himself to guiding students towards their passion, inside and outside the classroom.
As the station’s primary liaison, Dave has worked collaboratively with others to make WSUM an invaluable asset to the Madison campus and communities. With a personal investment in issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, he fostered relationships between WSUM and campus organizations like First Wave, and pre-college programs like the Information Technology Academy and the PEOPLE program . He was a reliable resource when his colleagues faced challenges and even extended the indefinite use of WSUM studios and offices to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism when their offices were flooded in 2019.
After a long 26-year career, Dave retired from WSUM in November 2021 and was named General Manager Emeritus. In an interview with UW-Madison last summer, he explained why he thinks student radio is so important to 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,” he said. “Radio training doesn’t just train them in radio and TV and podcasting. It also teaches them the skills they need to take with them into any type of work environment. [WSUM] has students [who]built something beautiful, and passed it on to [other]students, so they all feel connected.
Besides being a steadfast leader and devoted mentor, Dave was a proud husband, father and grandfather. He was so loved by so many and will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to know him.
Information about a memorial service will be shared as it becomes available.