Tom Michael, founder and general manager of the wildly popular Marfa Public Radio and West Texas Public Radio, has joined Boise State as the new general manager of Boise State Public Radio.
In a recent interview, he described BSPR as a gem that provides a vital public service to southern Idaho. He offers his views of what the future holds for the station and storytelling in the capital city.
WHY BOISE STATE?
I think this was a great opportunity. BSPR is an organization that is ready for growth and that’s true for the city of Boise as well. That was really exciting to me. The station has good community support and I think people are ready and eager to see it grow.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR BSPR?
We’re looking to improve technology to make our variety of transmitters more robust and reliable.
We’re also looking to strengthen our news and programming to really shine a light on local and regional issues, to strengthen how we cover the community. That includes editorial partnerships, hiring a new morning host-reporter and potentially looking at other forms of local service, whether that means a news magazine show or increased reportage.
WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF ‘LOCALISM’?
Every public radio station worth its salt should reflect the community that they’re in. If I’m listening to a station in Maine, it should sound like Maine. If I’m listening to a station in Texas, it should sound like Texas. If I’m listening to a station in Idaho, it should sound like Idaho. And it should cover the concerns of its listeners. We’re a public service and our mission is to serve the community. I believe that stations large and small shouldn’t just be repeaters for national coverage, they should cover local issues.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN RADIO?
I’ve been a reporter my whole life. I’m a liberal arts major, so I’m interested in knowing what people are talking about. I really love public service media. I feel it’s unvarnished and it’s not pretentious and it just tells the story. I’m kind of a media junkie and I think public radio has great storytellers.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE IN WEST TEXAS.
Eleven years ago, I started a radio network in an area that didn’t have terrestrial radio service and grew it to a million dollar business that had a coverage area the size of South Carolina. It was an incredibly rural area, one of the poorest counties in the U.S., but we built a successful radio network and it grew to include the oil towns of Midland and Odessa, Texas, and it filled a hole in public broadcasting in the country. We spoke to a lot of constituents, whether they were border patrol, part of the long-time Latino base there or ranchers; we spoke to all types of folks and it was very fulfilling.
HOW DID YOU SECURE FUNDING IN SUCH A RURAL COMMUNITY?
We marketed and branded ourselves so well that half of our membership came from elsewhere. Have you ever gone on vacation, gone to another city and signed up to be a member of a different radio station? Probably not, but hundreds of people did there. It was really unique.
Boise State Public Radio is southern and central Idaho’s nonprofit, listener-supported National Public Radio member station, reaching the region’s metropolitan and rural areas. Tune in to KBSX 91.5 FM for news, or listen to classical music at KBSU 90.3 FM.