At this week’s Downtown Rotary meeting, the iconic Jim Fleming reflected on his career at WPR that spanned over five decades. Although Jim may not look familiar, his voice is instantly recognizable as long time host of programs such as, “Chapter A Day” and “To the Best of Our Knowledge.” Jim came to Madison with his family in 1964, when his dad, Robben Fleming, accepted a Provost position at the University of Wisconsin. His mother, a violinist, helped to shape and instill his love for music from a very young age.
WHA, which later became WPR, began on campus in 1912 and is one of the oldest radio stations in the country. Since its inception, many things at WPR have changed, but it’s devotion to the Wisconsin Idea has always remained steadfast. WPR believed that the boundaries of the University were the boundaries of the state and for many years, they aired UW lectures to give access, exposure and opportunities to those in more rural areas of Wisconsin.
In 1967, The Corporation of Public Broadcast Act spurred national public TV, as well as national public radio. WHA was proud to help shape NPR by providing many staff to help it launch, including their initial program director and music director. In the mid-1970s, one of the biggest changes occurred at WPR when they moved from a single service carrier to a two services carrier. The split separated out the Ideas Network (talk services) & Music & News Service, into the framework that remains today.
When looking forward, Jim feels that the generosity, dedication and loyalty of listeners and business donors will continue to help them survive. Generally about 75% of operating funds comes from these two sources. Going forward, Jim also feels that WPR must remain committed to honoring diversity in it’s book selections, and admits there is still much work to be done on this front. Although they have made advances in sharing stories from a woman’s point of view, they must continue to look for additional voices that ring true. As anticipated, Jim is a big believer in the power of story, and encourages all leaders to consider storytelling as a tool whenever they need to be persuasive. Telling people the why and why it matters is crucial to a compelling argument.
Our thanks to Jim Fleming for his presentation this week and to Jessika Kasten for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/S3_nx0_i7Ic.