September 25, 2007

Radio-TV to celebrate golden anniversary

by Pete Rosenbery


CARBONDALE, Ill. — A distinguished group of alumni returns to campus next week as Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Department of Radio-Television celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Jim Bittermann, CNN's Paris-based senior European correspondent; radio station icon Walter "Wally" W. Clark, Jr.; Robert J. Ramsey, vice president/general manager at KSWB-TV in San Diego; Steven J. Stahl, director of technical operations for CNN in Washington, D.C.; and award-winning filmmaker Hilla Medalia will be among Saluki alumni present during the department's golden anniversary celebration, Oct. 1-6.

"This is a wonderful time to celebrate a very illustrious history. The department has done remarkable things over the last 50 years training thousands of students, literally, to go out into the radio and television industries both here and abroad," interim Mass Communication and Media Arts Dean Gary P. Kolb said.

"We are very proud of our alumni's accomplishments. They have contributed a significant amount to the industry and through that industry to American culture and the American presence in the world. I feel they are highly valued by the department and the college as a terrific resource."


Media Advisory

Interviews with alumni are available. To arrange interviews, contact Department of Radio-Television Distinguished Broadcast Journalist, Eileen C. Waldron, at 618/536-7555. Panel discussions will also be open to the public. For a schedule, contact the department at 618/536-7555.


Activities are aimed at alumni and students, and include classroom discussions and alumni panels. A reception for alumni, faculty and student ambassadors is Thursday, Oct. 4, at Giant City Lodge. Bittermann will deliver the keynote address.

Historical documents show that in June 1956, the SIU Board of Trustees authorized establishing the Department of Radio and Television. The department, along with the departments of Speech, Journalism, Printing and Photography, Speech Correction, and Theater, formed the School of Communications, effective in July 1957, according to professor and department chair John L. Hochheimer.

Prior to that, the Department of English offered a course in radio speech starting in 1938. The Department of Speech later took that course, and between 1948 and 1954 added other courses including radio writing and production courses. Broadcasting began at SIUC in 1950, Hochheimer said.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for alumni faculty and current students to gather together to celebrate and honor the past while planning a robust future," Hochheimer said.

Eileen C. Waldron, an instructor in radio-television, said it is "important to bring back alumni — successful in their careers — to talk and work with our students who are just starting out. The alumni can become a bridge to real world ideas and practice."

The alumni who are returning reflect a great deal about loyalty to the department, the college and SIUC, said Jan Thompson, an associate professor in radio-television.

"There's a loyalty and a passion that our alums have. It has always been there and this 50th celebration demonstrates that," she said. "Any university would be proud to see successful alums returning and sharing what they've learned to climb the ladder of success.

"Our department has always been known to train students to get a job in the industry, and we have a lot of alums who demonstrate that," she said.

Kolb said students receive the proper balance of "strong hands-on opportunities" along with theoretical work "that adds a dimension to their hands-on activity."

"We want to graduate people who not only know how to push buttons but who know how to tell stories and know how to critique media as well as utilize it," he said. "We are very committed to continuing that hands-on training that students get here because it is what has identified us as a college … in all the units in our college … while at the same time, making sure that students graduate with a critical perspective on what they are doing as well."

Bittermann divides his SIUC learning experiences into two categories, he said.

"On the practical side, it was a terrific place to get the hands-on experience and learn the basic tools needed for a career in radio and television," he said. "On the academic side, the journalism and radio-television studies instilled the kind of curiosity, discipline and professionalism that's required the instant you step out of the classroom."

Bittermann earned his minor in radio-television and a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1969. Bittermann joined CNN in 1996 from ABC News, where he was a Paris news correspondent from 1990 to 1996. Bittermann's story coverage included the death of Princess Dianna in 1997, NATO air strikes in Kosovo in 1998 and the French presidential election campaign earlier this year. He also covered Pope John Paul II for more than 25 years, and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

From 1978 to 1980, Bittermann was a European correspondent for NBC News, based first in Rome, and then Paris. He received a national news Emmy Award for his coverage of the 1988 Sudan famine, and a CableACE Award for CNN's coverage of the civil war in Zaire. His experience also includes work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., at stations in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, and as a newspaper reporter in Waukegan. Bittermann has also been an adjunct professor of communications at the American University of Paris since 1998.

Ramsey earned a bachelor's degree in radio-television in 1979, and works in the nation's 27th largest broadcast market.

"The radio-television department gave me an advantage in the marketplace and that advantage continues today," he said. "I come across SIU graduates on a daily basis. In San Diego, alone we have a GM, two GSM's, a group program director, several news people, and one legendary local rock jock. That's quite a reach into a market a few thousand miles from Carbondale."

Ramsey said he plans to "learn as much from the students" as they do from him during his visit. "This is the most dynamic period in our industry's history and these students will be there to create history," he said.

Clark's role with radio goes back to his teen years in Du Quoin at WDQN when he first went on the air at 16. A 1960 SIUC graduate with a bachelor's degree in radio-television, Clark became an industry leader as a general manager, executive producer and a managing partner. In 1979, while general manager at WWWW in Detroit, Clark hired a young DJ from Hartford, Conn., to work the morning show in what was then the nation's sixth largest city. Meet Howard Stern. Clark then helped Stern in his jobs in Washington, D.C. and at WNBC in New York.

In 1982, Clark, then general manager at KSD AM/FM in St. Louis, became general manager at KIIS-FM in Los Angeles. Within three years, the ailing rock station became No. 1 in the nation, and "the highest revenue-producing music radio station in the world," he said.

Clark and Rick Dees created "The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40" national radio program, and in 1984, Clark was named a Billboard Magazine 'Trendsetter of the Year," along with Prince and Julio Iglesias.

Clark, who lives in Du Quoin, said he was fortunate to be around fellow students and faculty who shared his passion for broadcasting while at SIUC. He is general manager for Health Talk Radio, a radio syndication network.

"We had a passion for being in the business. The staff at SIU also had a passion for the business as well," Clark said. But none of the accomplishments are a "gift." Even with today's technologies, the basics remain important, he said.

"We have to work for it," he said. "I still dwell on skill sets after all these years. You have to know what you are doing. There are a lot of pros around that you can watch and learn from."

Medalia's 76-minute documentary on the tragedy of a March 2002 suicide bomb attack that killed two 17-year-old girls — one Palestinian, the other Israeli — and its impact on the girls' families, will air on HBO beginning Nov. 1. The film, "To Die in Jerusalem," started out as Medalia's thesis project nearly five years ago. She earned her bachelor's degree in radio and television in 2001, and her master's degree in professional media practice in 2004.

Stahl earned his bachelor's degree in radio-television in 1984.