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In Memoriam: Dave Black, 1955-2022

Dave Black, general manager at WSUM Radio, is pictured in the studio office inside 333 Campus Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 20, 2015. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

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 started work on WSUM in 1993 as a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, after the previous student radio station shut down. Along with SJMC Professor Emeritus Jim Hoyt, Black oversaw the over eight-year process of building WSUM into the station it is today.

From leading a drive to convince student government to invest in the station to fight opposition to the construction of the station’s broadcast tower, Dave’s tenacity and determination helped get WSUM off the ground and onto the air.

Dave Black, general manager at WSUM Radio
Dave Black (left), general manager at WSUM Radio, works with student creative director Maureen Duthie (right) in the news studio at WSUM Radio inside 333 Campus Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 20, 2015. (Photo by Bryce Richter/UW-Madison)

“Dave was an absolute force, working tirelessly to launch WSUM over 20 years ago, and build it into what it is today,” said Kelsey Brannan, director of radio at WSUM. “He was a fearless leader, invaluable mentor, and dependable friend. His impact spread far beyond the walls of WSUM and the borders of campus and will last for many, many years to come.”

On February 2, 2002, at 2:22 pm, the newly formed station went on the air. Since then, the station has gone on to become an institution at UW–Madison, featuring a wide variety of award-winning programming from music and entertainment to sports and news. Through his guidance and mentorship, Dave touched the lives of many students, listeners and friends of WSUM.

“For the last 20 years, Dave has been the central figure in building WSUM into a campus and community institution,” said Doug McLeod, Evjue Centennial Professor in the SJMC and head of the WSUM Governance Board. “He trained and mentored countless UW students, many of whom were our SJMC majors, providing a vibrant learning laboratory for our students to practice a variety of communication skills. To have seen where WSUM started and where it is today, is a testament to Dave’s vision, dedication, and management skill. In WSUM, Dave has left an enduring legacy at the UW–Madison.”

Dave went on to receive his MA from UW–Madison’s SJMC in 2003 and lead a long and storied career at the helm of 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 deep 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 anxious to host music and sports programming, Dave insisted on a strong news and public affairs operation. And students responded to his belief in public service as the main responsibility of any broadcast station.”

Students from WSUM at the WBA Awards
Dave Black (third from left) with students from WSUM at the WBA Student Awards for Excellence. (Photo courtesy of WSUM)

Dave took special pride in mentoring students, empowering them to make the station truly student-run and use the skills they’ve learned to grow professionally. Under his leadership, students have received awards from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Madison Area Music Awards, College Broadcasters International and many more. WSUM alumni have gone on to careers for 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 students at UW-Madison and instilled the University’s value of sitting and winnowing. He taught or guest-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 were interested in learning about and experimenting with a variety of broadcast formats, including radio and podcasting. Dave was dedicated to guiding students towards their passion, in and out of the classroom.

As the primary liaison to the station, Dave worked collaboratively with others to make WSUM an invaluable asset to the campus and Madison communities. With a personal investment in matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion, he fostered relationships between WSUM and campus organizations like First Wave, and pre-college programs like Information Technology Academy and the PEOPLE Program. He was a dependable resource when colleagues faced challenges and even extended indefinite use of WSUM studios and offices to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism when their offices flooded in 2019.

After a 26-year long career, Dave retired from WSUM in November 2021 and was named general manager emeritus. In an interview with UW–Madison last summer, he shared why he believed student radio is so important to the university and to its students.

Dave Black holding up a Brewers jersey that reads "Black 91.7"
Dave Black with his retirement gift, a Milwaukee Brewers jersey with his name and the number 91.7, WSUM’s call number.

“You teach students how to make media, and when you teach students how to make media, they become more critical consumers of media,” he said. “The training in radio not only trains them for radio and TV and podcasting. It also teaches them skills that they need to take with them in any kind of work environment. [WSUM] has students [who] built something beautiful, and passed it on to [other] students, so they all feel a connection.”

Aside from being a steadfast leader and dedicated mentor, Dave was a proud husband, father and grandfather. He was so loved by so many and will be dearly missed by all who were fortunate enough to know him.

Information on a memorial service will be shared as it becomes available.

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