Kallenbach Unplugged

after 25 years on the job, WPR honcho talks politics, art, and the future of radio

Eric Larson, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Senior Regional Manager at Wisconsin Public Radio Dean Kallenbach hunkers down (picnic table-style) at WPR’s Eau Claire studio on Clairemont Avenue.
Senior Regional Manager at Wisconsin Public Radio Dean Kallenbach hunkers down (picnic table-style) at WPR’s Eau Claire studio on Clairemont Avenue.

Dean Kallenbach has hosted a lot of discussions during his lifelong career in public radio. Beginning as a part-time disc jockey in Rice Lake during college, he’s worked for various radio stations across the Midwest, eventually getting hired at WPR in Eau Claire in 1986 – a position he still holds. Now, after a quarter century, it’s our turn to pick his brain. Here’s a look at what Dean had to say once the mics were turned off:

You’ve obviously been in radio for a while – over the course of your time here at WPR, how have you noticed the community change?

Well, certainly I kind of came to the job towards the tail end of the industrial age. … We saw the economy shift from an industrial to more of a service economy. And that changed, obviously, income levels in many ways. But I think in the last, oh, 10 years or so we’ve seen the resurgence in the downtown area that we’re watching now. And I think, as a community, there’s a little more emphasis on diversity and a little more emphasis on the arts. I think those are both good things – we’re finding out there’s more of a life than work. People here pay attention to the life that’s going on around them and the culture that’s going on around them.

Are there any changes you’d like to see in the future?

I thought there’d be some way we could come up with a top-notch art center in support of this community. The State Theatre is a fine facility, but it’s limited in the kind of things you can do with it: the stage is relatively small, the loading area’s small – it’s not the most intimate of theaters. For the type of things we ask it to do now, it’s not really the ideal situation. I’d like to see the community move in that direction, and I sense that move has already happened.

Over the course of your career, how have media and the radio evolved?

Well, back when I was starting, AM was listened to more than FM. That changed in the late 70s when FM started to take on more listenership, and of course now FM is very strong compared to the AM stations in general. Certainly talk radio is helping it make a bit of a comeback – so that’s been one big change. Another big change is that back when I started in the 70s, there was regulation that required so much public affairs programming and so much news programming for each radio station. Those regulations went away in the 1980s; this community probably at one time had 12 to 18 radio journalists, but has now moved down to maybe a handful. That’s been a big difference, and it speaks to the need for public radio to continue to be strong. It’s not partisan and it’s not taking a single side and leaving the other behind; we try to treat both sides of an issue.