Peg Arnold, CHaSS’ new general manager of Utah Public Radio.
Peg Arnold: Radio Active
ALONG WITH NEW STUDENTS, new instructors and even some new curriculum, USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences this fall welcomed a new general manager to Utah Public Radio. Peg Arnold has more than two decades of public radio experience and a passion for fundraising, both important attributes for someone at UPR’s helm. UPR is licensed to Utah State University and first graced the airwaves in 1953. Broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, UPR supplies a mix of information, public affairs, and fine arts programming. Listeners hear UPR across Utah and in Southern Idaho via a network of six stations and 30 translators. More than half the population of Utah resides within the station and translator network coverage area.
Managing UPR is something of a daunting task, but Arnold is ready, willing, and very happy to accept the challenge.
Q: How did you get involved in public radio?
A: “I came to public radio like many others, through volunteering. I was an avid listener and volunteered at Wyoming Public Radio in Laramie when
I was in grad school. They needed part-time help and the help turned into a part-time job and the part-time job turned into a full-time job.
Suddenly, I saw a career shift. I was a history major who then turned to public radio. But I think of public radio as recording history in the making.
Public radio includes a lot of historical perspective. Even in my undergraduate years, I looked to public radio to build my awareness of many topics.
It really broadened my horizons. That’s what public radio does for people.”
Q: Can you describe your public radio career path?
A: “After volunteering, I was in development at Wyoming Public Radio for about 14 years. I then moved to Wisconsin to take a job as general manager
of WXPR Public Radio, which is in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where I was just prior to this, so it’s been about 20 years of involvement in public radio.”
Q: What brought you to UPR?
A: “Well, it’s an interesting story. One day I was archiving my email and this one email stuck. I tried to archive it and it stuck again. So, I tried a third time and it stuck a third time. So, I finally thought, ‘Well, obviously this needs my attention. What is the universe trying to tell me?’ I opened up the email and it was a posting about this position [UPR general manager]. I wasn’t actively looking, but it was brought to my attention by technology.
“When I looked closely at the listing, there were a couple of things that interested me. There were management and
public radio, both of which I love, so those parts fit. The
statewide network [at UPR] also is very similar to what I worked with in Wyoming, so this position was familiar in that sense. I also love the West. My history graduate degree was in the American West. My thesis for my master’s was, believe it or not, about Ute trade in Utah and the Great Basin.
“The other part that I thought was interesting was the teaching component. I loved this idea of contributing to the next generation of multi-media journalists. It’s so important that we prepare our students for anything, so there’s print, video, radio, web, social media. All those things have to be learned so graduates can be competitive in the job market.
The world of media has exploded and we need to be preparing people to do a multitude of things. We in radio aren’t just ‘in radio’ anymore. We’re print journalists. We’re social media experts. We’re photographers and videographers. We’re doing so many things that weren’t required even 10 years ago. That was interesting to me, to see a university interested in working to build that kind of a journalism program.”
Q: What plans or ideas do you have for UPR?
A: “In public radio our first thought is always, ‘How can we best serve our listeners? And how can we best serve our members? How can we grow? How can we make our service as important and viable and relevant for the people we serve?’ This organization does amazing things in terms of engagement and community involvement. UPR will host StoryCorps in Vernal for the month of July 2015. Joe Palca, an NPR science correspondent, was on campus and did a number of events with students and the public. Paula Poundstone is coming in January. We have also invited public speaker and poet Janice Brooks from southern Utah to present her one-woman show, Traveling Shoes, February 5 at the Caine Performance Hall. So this station is doing those things very well. We’re
augmenting our programming, offering additional ways for people to enjoy what is the best of public radio. I’m looking at these good things the station is doing and then, we want to do more.”
Q: How important is fundraising in your position and to UPR and public radio in general?
A: “It’s huge [laughs]. But, I like fundraising. Really, fundraising is about people. It’s about understanding people. It’s about connecting with people. It’s about serving people. Oftentimes, their donation, their gift, their contribution is in appreciation of that.
“So, it’s similar to education in the sense of gathering everything we can that we think is wonderful and important and sharing it; then hopefully, people are willing to pay for that. Fundraising is always on our minds. There are entire industries built around types of fundraising — direct mail, telemarketing, etcetera. But methods of fundraising are changing so dramatically right now that in 10 years things could be dramatically different. We don’t really even understand yet what that could look like because technology is evolving so quickly. It’s different and difficult, but that’s what makes it fascinating.”
Q: In this digital age, have you found people to be more willing to pay for quality journalism in the form of public radio memberships?
A: “It’s a very interesting question in this era of blogs and opinions and social media where people are just acting as if they’re reporters or journalists. It’s part of our job to make sure that people understand what goes into journalism. That again taps into the education piece of this job in terms of training the next generation of journalists. But also, it’s important to help everyone understand what is reliable journalism. It’s a project we work on all the time.
“I was impressed that Utah State wants to advance in the area of journalism and build its journalism program. We have several interns here at UPR who are journalism and other majors and we employ some recent graduates. It’s heartening to see their enthusiasm.”
Q: Do you have a vision of the kinds of things you would like to do at UPR?
A: “Yes. First, building the strongest programing we can to serve our members and the state. That means making sure that our content is available on air, online, and on demand. It’s also making sure that content is important to the community we serve. That’s our mission. And, at the same time, being able to educate that next generation of journalists to be able to compete in this new world of multimedia.”
Q: Had you been to Cache Valley before interviewing for the job and subsequently moving here?
A: “I lived in Wyoming long enough to have visited Utah several times, but not Cache Valley in particular, no. But, it’s beautiful. I think that every day, walking through campus surrounded by mountains — just beautiful.”
Q: How has your experience at USU and in CHaSS been thus far?
A: “Oh wonderful, absolutely wonderful! It’s so beautiful here and everyone has been great, very helpful, open and welcoming, all very good things.”