Young broadcasting professionals recognized for contributions

In the News People Young Professionals

Young professionals are making their mark on broadcasting in Wisconsin and the WBA is recognizing them.

The WBA Young Professional of the Year Award seeks to recognize young broadcasters who have made a significant impact on their stations and communities. A subcommittee of the WBA Board of Directors selected five young professionals to recognize in 2023, and one of those five has been identified as the “Young Professional of the Year.”

Two honorees are profiled here. The three other honorees will be identified and profiled in and upcoming WBA newsletters and the Young Professional of the Year will be announced in the May/June newsletter and awarded at the WBA Summer Conference on June 14 at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake.

Our first two honorees are Amanda Spark and Caleb Svendsen.

Amanda Spark

Company: Big Radio

Position: Traffic and Production Director / Producer / On-Air Talent

Years at station: 2

Started in broadcasting (year): 2012

1) How did you get into broadcasting?

When I was younger, I used to sit in my bedroom and listen to the radio any chance I got. That evolved into grabbing CDs and pausing them to intro for my audience of stuffed animals and little sister. Any chance I got to pretend to be a broadcaster, I took. Until high school came along and I joined the Teen Day Broadcasting Program and I got to do the real thing. I’d interview any and every one, put together different broadcast packages, and listen to them on WSUW, UW-Whitewater’s campus radio station. I did this all through high school and when it time to attend college, it was a natural flow to UW-Whitewater. My first semester freshman year I had a couple shifts hosting shows and by the second semester I was Station Manager, a position I held all four years. I worked for a year and a half at WSJY in Fort Atkinson before landing in Janesville with Big Radio.

2) How do you view the role of young professionals in broadcasting?

All of my 20-something friends have said to me, “my parents just don’t understand.” The same is applicable in broadcasting. Not only are we the future of the industry, but we’re also the next wave of audience members. It’s vital to have young professionals in your corner to help stations continue to cater to the evolving audience.

3) What advice would you give to other young broadcasters?

Say yes to everything. Every big opportunity I have had has been because I’ve said yes to all the small things. “Yes, I’d love to board-op a game” lead to being the point person who trains all incoming board-ops. “Yes, I’ll produce the afternoon show part-time” led to a fulltime position with Big Radio. All the small yes’ add up, plus, it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn or try something new.

4) What does the future of broadcasting look like to you?

We are in the age of “instant.” Viewers and listeners don’t want to wait for their favorite song or show. It’s why streaming platforms and social sites like Tiktok have become so popular. I think the future of broadcasting will follow that trend. Full shows can be uploaded in a podcast form or short clips as a daily “best of,” giving the audience the content they want available at their convenience. You’ll still have “live and local” shows, but the content should be available 24/7 to hit all audiences.

Caleb Svendsen

Company: WWIB/WOGO Radio

Position: Sales Manager/Promotions Director, Morning Show Co-Host, Play-by-Play Sports Announcer, Social Media Manager…and probably a few other things that don’t merit titles but need to be done!

Years at station: 13

Started in broadcasting (year): 2009

1) How did you get into broadcasting?

It was a bit accidental, to be honest! I went to school for Electronic Media Communication with an emphasis in video production, intending to be a cinematographer and screenwriter. During my senior year, I started taking some audio production courses to finish out the requirements for my major, and ended up totally falling in love with the creative possibilities of painting pictures in the mind using only audio – so much so that I began to seriously question whether I really wanted to move to LA to pursue the Hollywood dream, even though I’d been preparing for it for years! I didn’t think I had the experience to jump into the radio world and felt a little marooned, career-wise, but after moping a bit at home following graduation, my wonderful mother nudged me in the direction of an open sales position at WWIB, the station I’d grown up listening to as a youngster. I applied, they gave me a chance on the ground floor, and the opportunities, both on-air and off, haven’t stopped coming since then!

2) How do you view the role of young professionals in broadcasting?

I think radio in particular needs an influx of the talent we see on Tik-Tok, YouTube, podcasts, and the like. Many of these creators are doing what we do (or hope to do), just on different platforms – connecting with people on a daily basis! This is SUCH a personal medium, where er see our faces but truly feel like they know us, like we’re family. We need energetic young creatives with a passion to “do life” along with our audience, communicate it in authentic, new, and different ways, and be good citizens in their communities! Fresh eyes who look at every process, every operation, and say: are we being the best we can be? And if the answer is “no,” or “not quite,” then don’t wait around for things to change: make suggestions, offer to help, roll up your sleeves, and get it done!

3) What advice would you give to other young broadcasters?

Always be curious! Find out what other people do at your station (traffic, engineering, programming, etc.) and ask them about it! You just might find a fresh interest, or end up cross-training in something that will become your passion – or lead to a promotion! And this goes beyond just your immediate workplace! Don’t be an island – be humble, be helpful, and make as many connections in the industry as you can. You’ll learn so much more than you would otherwise!

Question everything – but temper it with respect. Sometimes the “old ways” do need to be freshened up, and maintaining the status quo just because it’s comfortable can mean stagnation, but as young professionals we are walking in a road that was paved by the footsteps of legends, and there is so much we can learn! Personally, I can’t get enough of live radio airchecks from the 80s on YouTube, DJs like “JoJo Cookin’ Kincaid” in San Diego, who had none of the tools that make our lives easier (like voicetracking and drag and drop digital music files) but could vibe with any song, never miss a beat while switching carts, and had personality in spades – a consummate entertainer!

And finally, but perhaps most importantly, keep your eyes open to causes and needs in your community and constantly ask the question: How can we help?

4) What does the future of broadcasting look like to you?

I’m excited that so many forms of audio are being consumed, whether through social media platforms, streaming, podcasts, and traditional broadcast media. There are now ways for us to integrate all these seemingly separate elements into deeper connections with our audience, reaching them where they’re at but also informing them about new (or old) forms of media that can provide information, entertainment, surprise, and delight! I think we’re seeing a reawakening to the beauty of all that can be created solely with audio, and that’s exciting! What I hope we realize, though, is that broadcasting tools and platforms are only as good as the people that are utilizing them, and so we need to invest in those people – finding them, training them, and giving them the resources to succeed. The bottom line is that people are who we’re seeking to serve – broadcasters are nothing without an audience!

We are their commuting companions and community news sources. We make them aware of causes worth supporting, give them the opportunity to give back, and lead the way in doing so. No matter what they’re going through, we are a constant in their lives. Whether they realize it or not, they count on us. That is a privilege and a responsibility. Broadcasting may reach the masses, but, in the end, it comes down to caring about individuals.