In Memoriam: Dave Black, WSUM’s Founding General Manager

It is with a heavy heart that WSUM shares the news of the loss of its inaugural General Manager, Dave Black.

Dave’s role as co-founder of WSUM Madison Student Radio was integral to the station’s launch, exponential growth and subsequent success. Beginning in 1995, he diligently worked to obtain WSUM’s FCC license and fought tirelessly to secure a location for the station’s tower and establish a home for its studios on campus. While navigating initial challenges to an on-air launch, Dave was innovative in beginning WSUM as an internet-only webcast in 1997 so that the station’s first generation of students would have the opportunity to broadcast. In 2002, WSUM took flight as an FM station, and the very first broadcast was from his campus office. Dave was chosen as WSUM’s first General Manager and served as the primary advocate for the station. 

From the beginning, Dave positioned WSUM as a tool for community service. He defined the station’s mission to serve its community, provide an educational environment as a teaching and learning tool, and provide an alternative source of information and entertainment. ​​“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.” 

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 sifting 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. Whenever possible, Dave displayed an eagerness to help others and inspired those around him to do the same.

It is because of Dave’s vision that WSUM grew into one of the largest college radio stations in the country. WSUM went from having listenership in the double digits within the Madison area only in 2003 to having over 183,000 listeners worldwide in 2021. Dave developed a news reporting program that produces two daily newscasts and dozens of public affairs shows every semester. He grew WSUM’s sports department into one of the leading college sports reporting teams, covering over 130 Badger games per year. In a field as ever-changing as broadcast media, Dave consistently had the foresight to predict industry trends. As a result, WSUM is now a nationally-recognized, award-winning college media outlet with an FM signal, three internet radio streams and a podcast shop.

Over two thousand alumni have passed through WSUM and Dave dedicated his career to being a resource and guide to each of them. His former students have gone on to hold positions in the field of broadcasting at networks like ESPN, Big Ten Network, NBC, NPR and others. He was relentlessly committed to providing the same scope of educational opportunity and professional generosity to burgeoning broadcasters everywhere. Dave served on the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association education committee and was a board member for College Broadcasters, Inc. He led sessions and panels at conferences for both organizations every year. He also facilitated sessions for the Institute for Healing Racism. Dave had a talent and passion for teaching, which he deployed in both formal and informal settings to provide mentorship to emerging broadcasters and leaders. 

To say that Dave Black has dedicated his professional life to the advancement of WSUM would be an understatement. He took seriously the student desire to establish an independent voice on the airwaves and understood the profound impact that a student-run radio station would have on the UW-Madison community at large. He had a vision for how to bring WSUM to fruition and the perseverance to see it through, despite tremendous challenges. As the station grew, he sought out opportunities for community engagement around the state, including educational programs and broadcast collaborations. In his retirement, he was proud to say that WSUM was his legacy. The magnitude of Dave Black’s impact is immeasurable. Students, alumni, faculty and staff in all corners of the WSUM and UW-Madison community have been touched by Dave’s dedication and we are all undoubtedly better for his influence. 

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 to know him. His legacy will live on. 

A memorial service will be held at the MEMORIAL UNION, Great Hall, 800 Langdon St., Madison, at 12 noon on Sunday, March 20, 2022. Family and friends who wish to view the service via LIVE STREAM may visit Dave’s obituary page at www.gundersonfh.com  at 12 noon on Sunday, March 20, 2022. A celebration of Dave’s life will follow the service at the Memorial Union, Great Hall until 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, 2022.