Today at 11:00 am there’s a KUOM staff meeting at a fancy restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. It wouldn’t make sense to hold it at the radio station because, strictly speaking, the KUOM I knew hasn’t really existed since 1993. That’s when it became “Radio K,” run by the U of M students. (So many radio stations I used to work for are gone — so long, WCAL — but that’s another story.)
The meeting’s really a celebration in honor of Marion Watson’s 90th birthday. Who’s she? Let me quote from the Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame web site:
Marion English Watson’s pioneering efforts in radio and in civil rights opened up new career opportunities for women and minorities in broadcasting. Her radio career began at WLB (now KUOM) in 1940 while she was a University of Minnesota student. She acted, directed, operated the sound equipment, wrote scripts, and became president of the WLB Radio Guild. After serving as a Signal Corps code-breaker during World War II, she taught speech at the University of Minnesota and continued to do radio on a free-lance and volunteer basis. Very active in the civil rights movement, she served as Legislative Chair for the League of Women Voters of Minnesota, Co-Legislative Chair of the Minnesota Council for Civil and Human Rights, and on the Minnesota Indian Affairs Commission and later the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. She became Program Director/Station Manager of KUOM in 1969, one of only three female public radio station managers in the country at the time, and the only one at a Big Ten school. Always a strong advocate for civil rights, she pioneered programming for American Indians, Hispanics, African Americans, and women. She stepped down as Station Manager in 1988 but served as KUOM’s Development Director until 1992.
Inducted October 11, 2008
Of course, when I worked there as chief announcer (1975 – 1978), I knew nothing of any of this. Marion was just The Boss. Very tolerant of my youthful ways, she once questioned my (ahem) casual style of dress by suggesting I’d be at a loss if I suddenly had to cover a press conference at the State Capitol. I said I had a coat and tie hanging in my office. Of course that wasn’t true but Marion never actually checked.
Marion was always running off to meetings … she served on the board of MPIRG, and this was also a time when the radio station was under attack by Minnesota Public Radio, whose constant attempts to wrest the station from the Board of Regents had to be dealt with. KUOM’s own staff meetings were attended by a horde of civil servants … there were over a dozen of us, I recall. Since KUOM was only on the air from 10:30 am until local sunset, I once pointed out that everyone in the room could take a half-hour air shift and still have people left over. This (and my habit of falling asleep behind sunglasses) didn’t endear me to the senior staff.
Marion Watson is an amazing woman. I admired and respected her (still do) and I regret not getting to know her better. I wish Marion a happy and joyous 90th birthday. It was an honor to have worked with her.