In Memoriam: Dave Black, 1955-2022

Dave Black, general manager at WSUM Radio
Dave Black, general manager at WSUM Radio, is pictured in the studio office inside 333 Campus Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 20, 2015. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Dave Black, who inspired generations of students as general manager of UW–Madison’s student radio station WSUM 91.7, has died at age 66.

Dave started work on WSUM in 1993 as a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, after the previous student radio station shut down. Along with SJMC Professor Emeritus Jim Hoyt, Black oversaw the over eight-year process of building WSUM into the station it is today. 

From leading a petition drive to convince student government to invest in the station to fighting opposition to the construction of the station’s broadcast tower, Dave’s tenacity and determination helped get WSUM off the ground and onto the air.

Dave Black, general manager at WSUM Radio
Dave Black (left), general manager at WSUM Radio, works with student creative director Maureen Duthie (right) in the news studio at WSUM Radio inside 333 Campus Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 20, 2015. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

“Dave was an absolute force, working tirelessly to launch WSUM over 20 years ago, and build it into what it is today,” said Kelsey Brannan, director of radio at WSUM. “He was a fearless leader, invaluable mentor, and dependable friend. His impact spread far beyond the walls of WSUM and the borders of campus and will last for many, many years to come.”

On February 22, 2002, at 2:22 p.m., the newly formed station went on the air. Since then, the station has gone on to become an institution at UW–Madison, featuring a wide variety of award-winning programming from music and entertainment to sports and news. Through his guidance and mentorship, Dave touched the lives of many students, listeners and friends of WSUM.

“For the last 20 years, Dave has been the central figure in building WSUM into a campus and community institution,” said Doug McLeod, Evjue Centennial Professor in the SJMC and ​​head of the WSUM Governance Board. “He trained and mentored countless UW students, many of whom were our SJMC majors, providing a vibrant learning laboratory for our students to practice a variety of communication skills. To have seen where WSUM started and where it is today, is a testament to Dave’s vision, dedication, and management skill. In WSUM, Dave has left an enduring legacy at the UW–Madison.”

Dave went on to receive his M.A. from UW–Madison’s SJMC in 2003 and lead a long and storied career at the helm of WSUM. He received the College of Letters and Science Mid-Career Award from the L&S Academic Staff Professional Development Committee in 2014 and the Wisconsin Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Leadership: Individual or Unit Level in the Academic Staff Excellence Awards in 2015. 

“Dave had a deep influence on the students he mentored, walking the delicate line between respecting their editorial independence while insisting on professional standards,” said SJMC Professor Emeritus Jack Mitchell. “While many students are anxious to host music and sports programming, Dave insisted on a strong news and public affairs operation. And students responded to his belief in public service as the main responsibility of any broadcast station.”

Students from WSUM at the WBA Awards
Dave Black (third from left) with students from WSUM at the WBA Student Awards for Excellence. (Photo courtesy of WSUM)

Dave took special pride in mentoring students, empowering them to make the station truly student-run and use the skills they’ve learned to grow professionally. Under his leadership, students have received awards from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, Madison Area Music Awards, College Broadcasters International and many more. WSUM alumni have gone on to careers for top organizations in radio, television, music, news, podcasting, sports, advertising, and public relations.

Through his own dedication to broadcast journalism and radio programming, Dave made an impression on students at UW-Madison and instilled the University’s value of sifting and winnowing. He taught or guest-taught on the topics of interviewing and broadcasting within the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Communication Arts, and Life Sciences Communication. He made WSUM studios and equipment available to faculty, academic staff, and students who were interested in learning about and experimenting with a variety of broadcast formats, including radio and podcasting. Dave was dedicated to guiding students towards their passion, in and out of the classroom.  

As the primary liaison to the station, Dave worked collaboratively with others to make WSUM an invaluable asset to the campus and Madison communities. With a personal investment in matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion, he fostered relationships between WSUM and campus organizations like First Wave, and pre-college programs like Information Technology Academy and the PEOPLE Program. He was a dependable resource when colleagues faced challenges and even extended indefinite use of WSUM studios and offices to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism when their offices flooded in 2019.

After a 26-year long career, Dave retired from WSUM in November 2021 and was named general manager emeritus. In an interview with UW–Madison last summer, he shared why he believed student radio is so important to the university and to its students.

Dave Black holding up a Brewers jersey that reads "Black 91.7"
Dave Black with his retirement gift, a Milwaukee Brewers jersey with his name and the number 91.7, WSUM’s call number.

“You teach students how to make media, and when you teach students how to make media, they become more critical consumers of media,” he said. “The training in radio not only trains them for radio and TV and podcasting. It also teaches them skills that they need to take with them in any kind of work environment. [WSUM] has students [who] built something beautiful, and passed it on to [other] students, so they all feel a connection.”

Aside from being a steadfast leader and dedicated mentor, Dave was a proud husband, father and grandfather. He was so loved by so many and will be dearly missed by all who were fortunate enough to know him.

A memorial service will be held at the Memorial Union Great Hall (800 Langdon Street, Madison, WI) at 12:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, 2022. Family and friends who wish to view the service via livestream can visit Dave’s obituary page. A celebration of Dave’s life will follow the service at the until 5 p.m.

33 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Dave Black, 1955-2022”

  1. This is such horribly sad news. Dave cared deeply for his students and helped them grow in so many ways, most importantly in bringing integrity to all that they did in media. I am going to miss his dedication and his broad grin.

  2. Dave was a truly talented teacher, innovative broadcaster, and remarkable human. 28 years ago, he took up the task of building a radio station out of thin air, simply because he took seriously his students’ desire to have a voice on the airwaves. He worked tirelessly and persistently to bring this vision to fruition, despite eight years of challenges before being able to broadcast. He secured studio space and filled it with state-of-the art equipment to use as a hands-on teaching tool on campus. He shepherded over 2,000 students through their time at WSUM and into their desired post-grad pursuits.

    Dave was the kind of person who always saw the bigger picture, and with clarity and certainty could guide others to see it, too. When I was a student, Dave bolstered my confidence (and gently badgered me) until I agreed to take on the role of Program Director – a job without which the rest of my career would not have been possible. After I graduated, he became my most dependable mentor, always available for shop or pep talks when needed. When I approached him this summer about a crackpot idea I had to launch my own station, his response was: “if anyone could do it, it would be you. But I’m also retiring soon and think you should consider applying for my job.” I initially declined Dave’s suggestion, but many of us are familiar with the way that Dave’s persistent encouragement had a tendency to take root…

    Since stepping into the role in September, Dave has been a consistent and reassuring presence in my working life. For the first two months, he generously spent hours with me on web calls every single day to train me up and guide me through a steep learning curve. Even after his official retirement, he made himself available to me whenever I needed. In fact, I went to him for advice as recently as a few days ago. We ended that call the same way we always did, with him saying: “I am certain the station is in the best hands, but I’m always here if you need me. I love to help.”

    I know from speaking with so many people from the WSUM community that my experience with Dave, while treasured, was not unique. When I moved into his office, I found a handwritten note pinned to the corkboard behind the desk that said: “there will be people in this life who will need you. It is your job to be there for them.” I imagine this was somewhat of a mission statement for Dave, and we are all testament to the fact that he lived up to it each and every day. He was there for so many of us in so many ways, and that impact will be felt for years to come.

  3. I am very sorry to hear this. As president of College Broadcasters Inc, I have seen Dave do some great things and was a great addition of the CBI board. I’m glad to see him being honored as a great advocate for student media.

  4. Dave as a teacher, mentor and friend. He modeled for me the kind of teacher I wanted to be – firm but fair, consistent and kind, always willing to listen. He will be missed so, so much.

  5. Dave Black was a fine educator and a good man. I knew him as a friend, and recollect him fondly. I am so sorry to learn of his passing.

    1. Bill-I too am saddenedby the passing 9f your friend Dave tho’ we only met recently. I b
      Ecame a broadcaster after
      a mentor got me interested in UW-Oshkosh’s station WRST, a career which lasted 25 years. When invited to join WSUM’s friends group board of directors last year, Dave’s vision became better known to me. As Ed Murrow said: “History is what we make ” Thabks Dave

  6. Dave Black had such a huge influence on the UW-Madison and its surrounding community. He built WSUM from the ground up to what it is today–a community institution that brings news, public service information, sports and entertainment programing to the Madison area.

    In the process, Dave had an enormous positive impact on the lives of thousands of UW students by providing a laboratory for professional training and real-world experience. Dave’s mentorship helped launch the career of many students.

    I had the pleasure of working closely with Dave for more than a decade. He was a cherished member of the SJMC family. His loss will be deeply felt by so many, but his influence and achievements will be with us for many years to come.

  7. Dave Black was a wonderful, kind man who cared deeply about students and the student radio. I was privileged to work with Dave in the early 90s on the radio and kept in contact with him over the years when I would come back to Madison. He was such a great man and will be missed. This is a tremendous loss for Madison. May Dave rest in peace and comfort knowing he had such an impact on so many … including me!

  8. Dave was such a great teacher, mentor and friend and someone who I still count as one of the handful of people that shaped my career path. He was always available, day or night, to talk about anything and provide guidance as we navigated student radio, college life, and what lay after it. I hope his family can find some solace in knowing how many lives he impacted.

  9. In 2011, I attended the WSUM orientation session, wondering what my time at the radio station over the next four years would bring. I remember at one point looking to my left and seeing a man smiling from ear-to-ear as each person in the lecture hall introduced themselves and explained why they were interested in joining WSUM. I later learned that that man was Dave Black. A friend told me soon after (paraphrasing), “Scott, you have to get to know Dave. He is a wealth of knowledge, he truly cares about everyone at WSUM, and is just an overall amazing human being.”

    To this day, I am so glad that I got to know Dave. At WSUM, in his LSC course, and in conversations after I graduated, Dave was an incredible mentor, instructor, boss, colleague, & friend. I owe him so much, including for the incredible opportunities made possible through WSUM. In fact, it was my role of training new members of the radio station that inspired me to pursue being a professor. Ultimately, I would not be who or where I am today without Dave. And I know this is the case for countless others who are beneficiaries of Dave’s hard work, guidance, support, and care.

  10. To say that Dave’s legacy was his work with the radio station would be grossly underselling his positive impact on the lives of so many. Friendships were forged and career interests were sparked at WSUM/WLHA, and many of us have Dave to thank for that. He had the ability to make each of us feel special, that we were each his own protege. Dave was interested in and proud of who we became long after we left campus.

    I was just one volunteer in the mid-1990s in a cast of thousands that have crossed paths with Dave over a period of nearly 30 years. And like so many others, I am proud to call Dave a mentor and a friend.

  11. Dave is my brother, a finer brother no man ever has had or could have. He is a child of Christ & is thankful to be. David models Christ far better then I do. I will miss him terribly until we are re-united. greg black

  12. I got to know Dave through the Madison, WI Institutes for the Healing of Racism. I learned to respect him for his honesty and caring heart. He will be greatly missed in Madison.

  13. By all accounts, Dave was a treasure to the Madison community. His loss will also be felt deeply within the entire college radio landscape. He was an incredible resource and I was proud to call him my friend.

  14. Such sad news. I met Dave through our involvement in College Broadcasters, Inc.

    As I newer, younger college radio GM, I quickly realized that WSUM was an exemplar of what a college radio station could be, and how much of that stemmed from Dave and his wholehearted dedication to his students.

    I’ll miss him.

  15. I was a grad student in Communication Arts in the late 2000s and 20210s. Dave was so generous and warm towards me during the 5 years that I DJ’ed at WSUM. The WSUM that he guided is such an amazing facility and, more importantly, a vibrant and welcoming community for UW-Madison students. I learned volumes about college radio from Dave, knowledge that I still draw on today. Now as an assistant professor myself, I’ve had the pleasure of advising my college’s student-run radio station for the past 6 years (WONY, at the public liberal arts college SUNY Oneonta). That experience has included shepherding the building of a new studio, effectively rebuilding the campus’s radio station from the ground-up. In working with the station and its students, Dave himself (as a general manager and all-around human begin) and what he created at WSUM have always been the models that I’ve tried to follow. My deepest condolences to Dave’s family, friends, and all who knew and loved him.

  16. This is so sad! Dave was such a kind man! He mentored me from the moment I joined CBI as an advisor and his help has always been timely and detailed.
    To Dave’s family – my deepest condolences! He leaves a huge empty space in the hearts of everyone who knew him!

  17. Dave’s impact, his legacy, goes far beyond WSUM.
    I have known Dave since we were the “Old Men” graduate students on Wisconsin Public Television’s (PBS Wisconsin) Production Crew in the early 90’s.
    Dave did not shy away from important community issues focusing upon equity and inclusion. He also took the time to hold the mirror up to himself, confront himself, change and then act.
    He was a co-facilitator in the Leadership Institution in the Office for Equity and Diversity (Learning Communities for Institutional Change and Excellence), participated in a White Men’s Discussion Group focusing on his White Privilege, and worked with the famous Emeritus School of Music Professor and Internationally Acclaimed Bass Player, Richard Davis, on Madison’s Institute for Racial Healing.
    With many, I am dearly missing Dave and will remember him with head and heart.

    1. Will, it seems like I’ve known Dave forever, and couldn’t pinpoint where. Then you said it, Leadership Institute and all his work on campus for racial healing and inclusion. He had such a big heart and it was always so much fun to be on a committee with him or run into him on campus. What a loss to the entire Madison community. Peace to you, Dave, our friend.

  18. As a gifted teacher, Dave was a role model of rare talents. But what I loved most about Dave was his large heart, smart exuberance and wit. Dave Black lived life with joy — it was always a good day when you ran into Dave. His kindness lives on in the hearts that he touched. I am very sad, but also grateful that I could witness his brilliance. Thank you, Dave.

  19. I am deeply saddened by this news. Dave was an SJMC classmate of mine and remained a colleague and friend as we transitioned from grad students (advocating for the new facilities that became the current WSUM studios) to staff (participating together in the Leadership Institute and other programs). He believed this university was a special place and he worked hard to make it live up to his beliefs.

  20. This really saddens me. I met Dave in my first semester as freshman at a student organization meeting, he had no idea who I was but he gave me advice and contacts that first day. Eventually he made me the first sports director of WSUM, which didn’t actually exist yet, and I graduated before the station got on the air. He helped me out when I graduated by letting me interview him for a story to use on my resume tape. We stayed in touch for more than 20 years since.

  21. I was privileged to be the WSUM Sports Director from 2012-2016. Dave brought a reassuring presence to every room I ever saw him walk into. His passing is truly a big loss for the rest of us.

  22. I was lucky enough to work with Dave from 2011-2015 at WSUM, first as a DJ then Traffic Director, Music Director, and Program Director. I still cite him as the best boss I’ve ever had. He truly cared about his students and encouraged us to think outside of the box and pursue big projects. While I ended up in a field outside of media after college, I still use constantly use his advice and his leadership. He’ll be missed and it’s beautiful to see the tributes to him – he truly had a massive impact on so many people.

  23. My college radio career was brief: One year spent as a producer/occasional host with on the WSUM sports show which was still only streaming over the Internet for an audience that likely only consisted of family members who could figure out how to get it to work.

    My friendship with Dave was not. Despite my brief time in those studios, we kept in touch over the years, primarily on Facebook. I always loved seeing his name pop up in my comments here because I’ll be honest — I was kind of surprised he still remembered a guy who was only there for a semester or two in 1997.

    That didn’t make me unique: I was probably one of hundreds if not thousands of former 19-year-olds that Dave once showed tremendous faith, belief and support in — and continued to do so once we went out and found our own paths in the journalism world or otherwise.

    It came as a tremendous and sad shock to learn of Dave’s passing because — no hyperbole — he really was one of the world’s all-time good guys. He was among one of the many great teachers I’ve been lucky enough to learn from and his passing leaves a giant void at UW-Madison.

    My thoughts are with his family that he loved so much and the countless other UW alums who just lost one of their biggest cheerleaders.

  24. Dave was a very important supporter and cheerleader in my life. I’m still amazed that as a young Alderperson barely 2 weeks elected, he took my crazy idea of having Friends of Madison Student Radio serve as the 501(c)3 to pull the street permits and assist the young musicians attempting to organize the 2009 Mifflin Street Block Party into an actual, permitted event.

    The event had always been hands-off to the University, but having seen WSUM organize Party in the Park for many years, I knew that the friends at WSUM could be a good fit to be a partner host for the event…. and thanks to Dave and a bunch of fantastic, hardworking students, we made it happen!

    I am so, so sad at Dave’s passing. I hosted two radio shows -one music, and one public affairs show- and years later came back to assist the On Wisconsin crew. I always felt like I had a home at WSUM, even post-graduation. From the old station (that smell!) to the new (so sophisticated and professional!), from 2002’s Party in the Park (how did I get tired and leave before the White Stripes came on?!) to jumping in the lake for the Polar Plunge (and lining up backwards… so our body paint at first read MUSW.. ope!) I have so many beautiful, fond memories of my experiences with the station and the people I met because of the years of tireless work that Dave put in to make this magical, dream of a place exist, and give young adults the opportunities and platforms to make their crazy ideas and dreams into reality.

    I hope they play the Alec Baldwin manatee PSA on loop for 24 hours in a salute to Dave’s brilliance and dedication to make WSUM the special place that it is.

  25. I’m so grateful I had Dave to go to during college for advice, love, and support. I was so shy when I started as a DJ at WSUM that I could barely speak on air. But I really liked it and wanted to get more involved, and Dave believed in me. His mentorship brought me out of my shell and not only made me a better DJ, but a better writer, student, friend, and eventually a leader myself. I hope one day I can pay it forward. Love you Dave! Will never forget you.

  26. This is such sad news. I had the privilege to work with Dave over the last couple years and I enjoyed every second. My heart goes out to his family and to the station.

  27. So grateful to Dave for all his efforts in helping to establish and grow WSUM, and allowing me the opportunity to be a part of it.

  28. hello so said to hear about Dave.i was his PLT.SSG. (MEDIC)HHC 3/68 ar.sullivan barracks in mannheim 1978 to 1979.the best part he was my main Receiver on our flad football team the boy could catch he and i connected on a lot of TD passes.he also had many of dinners at my house in the BFV housing area.he loved soul food (smile) i am SSG.Anderson black medic i drove a sharp white vw i wore a beard and always strike in my uniform.i was the QB # 12
    for 3 yrs for HHC3/68 AR. we battled A CO. / B CO. / C CO.and CSC.we only lost 2 games in 3 yrs..i was in the army 1969 to 1979 i got out in 1979 and moved back to my home state in texas and became business and youth football coach.i am 71 now an old man but i still can throw the football.i had just one son in germany he is 51 now but we had twin boys once we got back they are 41.i live in Dalla/Ft.Worth for the past 35yrs. plz if anybody can recall plz contact me asap ok.have a bless day .SSG.Anderson

  29. correction from my previous message typos due to getting old (smile)i was in mannheim 1976 to 1979

    1976 to 1979 HHC 3/68Armor flag football QB

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