An Interview With WQSU Manager Dawn Marie

For this week's theme week my chapter did profiles on influential people around campus. I picked my radio station's Operations Manager, Dawn Marie. She's a fantastic woman who knows so much about the radio industry, and she has made a huge impact in Susquehanna University's radio station, 88.9 WQSU. 

What is your position on campus?

I am the general manager of 88.9 WQSU.

What do you do as the general manager?

A little bit of everything. Training and mentoring the students to become the next generation of broadcasters. I explain the ins and outs of the radio station and all departments. Billing for the radio station, visit new clients to gain additional revenue, stay within our budget- budget manager. I critique students that are on-air and other departments. The ultimate goal is to give them a real-life experience inside these four walls, so they are prepared to leave the university. I have programming duties such as blogs, music, news, overseeing social media posts, empowering the student officers and lead the staff of 84 students at WQSU.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I sing in the church choir. I have gone to other churches and have sung as a special guest singer. Would have never thought that, would ya?

Where did you attend college and what was your major?

I attended Williamsport Area Community College, received my associate degree, took a year off from school to help my parent’s business, and then attended IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) for my bachelor’s degree. They called my major electronic media communications it was actually called mass communications. We weren’t cool like we are now.

What previous jobs have you had? Do you have a favorite?

Eighteen years of my broadcast career I did a little bit of everything at the local commercial station. Including a program director and on-air doing morning drive. At the time I thought that was my favorite job. Other previous jobs are an operations manager of an eight-station cluster in Missouri. And another job in Virginia as a morning co-host: morning on-air personality co-host. My favorite job to date is what I’m doing at WQSU. Absolute favorite. It’s a blessing. And I don’t miss the whole getting up at three thirty in the morning. That should be illegal.

Do you have a favorite student interaction?

A recent story is when we were in New York City at the conference and eight of our students, seven officers, and one student. We were leading a panel discussion on fifty years of college radio and how we create top of mind awareness and maintain that top of mind awareness at a college radio station. The students that lead that discussion were spot on with everything they were saying and they repeated things to the audience that I have said to them in class or in the station and just general conversation. It was kind of like an out of body experience where I just stepped back and thought ‘holy cow they really are listening, and they really are focused on what is going on.’ And when the students asked me at the end how did they do and what do you think I said, ‘I am so proud of you guys I can’t even talk about it without tears in my eyes.’ And I had tears in my eyes when I was telling them. We won five awards and two from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters of Excellence in Broadcasting.

Do you have any idols in the radio business?

Kerby Confer. There is a gentleman by the name of John Shomby, who is now working in Nashville, who used to do several air checks with me and has been a great mentor to me along the way. And also, my husband, who's been in the radio business for forty years. 

What change do you think you’ve made on campus?

Station-wise, on campus and off campus, the station has become top of mind and we have been better at branding the station. We are generating more revenue than we ever have. We are involved in more on-campus and off-campus activities. For Pete’s sakes, they asked us to MC the local Halloween parade. We are very willing to take risks at the station now in order for it to grow, and if we try something new and it doesn’t work, we say it’s okay at least we’re trying something. We’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay at least we are doing something. So, we have that mentality. As far as students, students have a clearer understanding of the inner workings of a radio station and broadcasting careers. And the students are now empowered to make a decision and go with that decision and stand by it.

Is there anything you haven’t accomplished that you would like to accomplish?

Ah, let me get my goal list. I keep a goal list- I believe to reach your goals they need to be visual and you should have them right in front of you. So, I add to them every once in a while. One of the things is that I would like to have more of a realistic automation system for the students to learn, so when they leave here they can become that ideal candidate to start a broadcasting career because they can say ‘I’ve learned this, I’ve learned this, I’ve done this, and I’ve done this.’ Now they have one up on the other person. I’d like us to join the Professional National Broadcasting Society, get another productions room, more community involvement, and increase our revenue in the next year by ten grand. I would like to put together another fundraising event for the radio station and that goes with the creating top of mind awareness as well.

Is there anything you dislike about Susquehanna University or the area?

There really isn’t anything I dislike about SU. You know the one thing about the position I’m in at SU is within the department we all have each other’s back and the same thing at the radio station. We’re all supportive of each other and we’re all willing to try new things with each other and to grow the department and the radio station as one. Anything I like about the area…I’ve worked in this area for twenty-five of my thirty-one years in this area. The people are great, the businesses are supportive of commercial and non-commercial stations. There really isn’t anything I don’t like. I don’t like the strip. I like all of the businesses on the strip, but I don’t like all of the traffic that is on the strip. That’s the only thing.

Have you noticed a difference in how men and women are treated in the radio industry?

Yes. Now, it’s not so much now, but it was fifteen years ago. It was very unusual, and not so anymore, it was very unusual for a woman to be in charge as a general manager, a program director, sales manager, and operations manager. For years and years and years it was always a man’s world, and they always created this little circle of the good ole boys club. Well now, all of a sudden you have all of these women who have worked their way up the trenches- going into a radio station at three in the morning, gather news, and read the news and be a part of that. Now, these women have worked their way up the ladder and now we’re like ‘listen, I can do a job just the same you can.’ Here’s another case and point. When I was working at the station in Selinsgrove, our owner decided that he was going to hire somebody else that was from another radio station. He was going to hire them to do mornings on one of our stations. Perfect, okay, great. I was the operations manager of the five-station cluster, so I knew all of the jocks’ salaries, I kept track of their vacation time, all of that stuff. I was responsible for these jocks, that was my job. So, the owner hired this gentleman to come in and be mornings on this other station. Fine. I inquired with our owner about how much this person getting paid to do literally the same job I’m doing on another station. ‘That’s none of your business. I can’t reveal that.’ Oh, I don’t think so, Tim. I’m not standing for that because there is no way this man is going to come in and make more money than I am making doing the exact same job. Uh-uh. Not going to happen. So, we had a very long discussion about it. I put everything in black and white and said this is everything I’m doing, and this is what his responsibilities are. Look, same as mine. I suggest you pay us both equally, or I’m taking this as high as I possibly can, and it changed the entire tone of the radio station. I even have a signed contract. I was guaranteed. This would have been in 2002 or 2003. I was making 52,000 a year, good money for Selinsgrove, and there was no way he was getting paid more. So, I fought that to make it equal. Since then, that whole tone changed at that station. Now the girls were looked at as being equals. Sometimes it takes a squeaky wheel to say ‘listen, I’m not playing this game.’ So, the whole tone of the industry has changed because you have more women who are station owners than you did fifteen years ago. Women are very capable of doing the same thing men are. You still have that in some places, but it’s better. Always stand up for yourself. Never let anyone walk all over you.

Any advice for college women?

Trust your gut, stick to your guns, and don’t let anyone walk all over you. Believe in yourself.