Dean Kallenbach and The Future of Radio News

Bailey Rieger-Borer

Starting off in a new career is understandably scary for most, but if we’re lucky our passions become our professions. This is exactly the case for Wisconsin Public Radio’s Western Regional Senior Manager, Dean Kallenbach.

From the first moment I met Dean I knew he was good at his job. Dean is an assertive, passionate, and a truly engaged listener; all traits that lead to a successful career in radio journalism. When I was given the assignment to job shadow someone, I knew exactly who I would contact.

After scheduling an appropriate day for me to observe him, I decided to arrive at the Eau Claire regional office at 8 am and follow Dean in what would be his average day. Immediately after walking through the stations front door I got an overwhelming sense of playfulness. The walls were covered in show posters, radio advertisements, framed awards, artwork, and a handful of news clippings.

“Let me give you the grand tour,” said Dean as he shook my hand and promptly started the office tour. Dean was a clear professional as he gave a complete and memorized introduction of me to the entire staff as they filtered in.

After meeting all the station and getting an inside look of the recording booths, Dean felt it was important for me to walk around on my own and get a real sense of how the office works. I spent my time sitting in on a live recording of one of the Stations more popular shows ‘The West Side’.  I also got the chance to observe show host, Rich Kremer, working in his natural environment. The show was set up to be a candidate debate for Wisconsin’s 87th assembly District. It featured Democratic candidate Elizabeth Riley of Hayward Wisconsin and Republican candidate James Edming of Glen Flora Wisconsin.

Once the show finished I decided it was time to spend some one-on-one time with Dean to further discuss my reason for being there. Once we settled into the chairs surrounding his desk, I asked him how a young man from the rural areas of Barron County Wisconsin lands a senior position in public radio. Dean responded,

“ I grew up on a dairy farm, the radio was on while I was milking cows, I hated milking cows so the radio was kind of my chance to escape what I was doing. If my brother was the only one in the barn with me we would listen to a rock n’ roll radio station, if my dad was in the barn we would listen to an information station, so I got kind of both ends of that in the back of my mind. So I was very interested in radio, I thought it was a really neat thing.”

Dean adds that in 1975 when he went to college in Barron County Wisconsin, he got a job at a local radio station running the boards for the Milwaukee Brewers games. Eventually, Dean went on to become a weekend announcer, an evening announcer, and even a Disc Jockey.

It was during this time that Kallenbach realized he was more excited to go to work then he was to attend school. This recognition led him to transfer to the University of Wisconsin Platteville and switch his prior math major to Radio and Television Broadcasting.

Dean mentioned working in Antigo, Rice Lake, and Wausau Wisconsin before being hired in 1986 by WPR Eau Claire and have continued to work there for 32 years.

“It’s really in our mission to be focused on providing information, providing cultural experiences that benefit the community and so to me from a news standpoint there is nothing out there that matches public radio,” Dean said in response to my question on why radio journalism and public radio matter.

“It’s covering news in a way that is deep, and fair, and balanced and providing the kind of coverage that people need in order to participate in their democracy, which is kind of a big deal.”

I asked Dean where he saw the future of WPR and public radio going as the world inches more towards technology every day.

“I think public radio, in particular, is always going to have an impact. 93 percent of all people in the United States listen to radio at least 5 minutes a week and there’s no other media that has that kind of reach including the internet,” said Dean “-it allows our listener to be part of the conversation.”

If you would like to hear more from Dean Kallenbach, listen here:

Audio Interview