By Emily Knepple
UW-Madison’s student-run radio station WSUM 91.7 FM recently welcomed a new general manager. Kelsey Brannan takes over the position after the retirement of longtime general manager Dave Black, who has been involved with WSUM for nearly 26 years.
Brannan first came to UW-Madison in 2010 as a student and graduated in 2014 with her degree in communication arts. Brannan shares the presence of a radio station on campus was one of the reasons why she came to UW. Initially, Brannan had hoped to get her PhD and become a literature professor. However, after being involved with WSUM, Brannan says she knew she wanted to work in music halfway through her undergraduate experience.
“I did DJ training. I became a DJ, then traffic director, then finally program director, a job I had for two years,” said Brannan. “WSUM helped me learn that I could pursue a career in radio, that it was a viable option.”
Upon graduation, Brannan worked at Minnesota Public Radio for The Current, a music radio station. After about three years, Brannan moved to Seattle, where she worked at KEXP as a producer and project manager.
In 2019, The Current wanted Brannan back and offered her a leadership position, which she held until her return to Madison. She admits that she recently felt that she wanted a career change. “I had been thinking about launching my own station in the next five to ten years,” added Brannan. Turning to her mentors, Black included, she began discussing her dream.
In conversation with Black, he offered words of confidence but also mentioned that he would be retiring. “He told me that if anybody could do it, it could be me. But, he also said, ‘I’m retiring soon and we’re going to be posting this job. Would you be interested?’”
Brannan took some time to consider but ultimately couldn’t see how she could pass it up. Throughout the process, Brannan “met some amazing people in the J-School, the Comm Arts department and those who work at WSUM.” She had conversations about life on campus and the station itself.
“I thought it was a great interview process because not only did I get to tell them what I was all about and what vision I have, I was also able to ask them questions about what it would be like to take on this job, which is so important when you’re trying to find the right fit,” said Brannan.
In terms of what she hopes to bring to WSUM, Brannan puts emphasis on a smooth transition with little disruption. “When there is a change in leadership, sometimes things can fall through the cracks, quality can slip, an organization can lose sight of its vision and mission,” mentioned Brannan.
She talks about the importance of a mission, which she says is why she’s always worked for nonprofits. Brannan attributes this approach to WSUM, where it was instilled in her early on.
“We have a great three-pronged mission at WSUM,” said Brannan. “The first is to act in a service and outreach capacity for the community. The second is to provide an educational hands-on broadcast environment for students at UW to learn, and the third is to provide an alternative source of news and entertainment to the community.”
Brannan also sees ways that the station can grow under that mission and expand its reach. “I think we can shift our focus from WSUM as a radio station to WSUM as a media organization,” shared Brannan. She believes the station can invest in other ways to remain relevant to their audience, whether that’s through podcasting or Freeflow, WSUM’s second online stream.
Overall, Brannan hopes to work with students and grow with the station as a whole. As the station is both excited and lucky to have her, Brannan is more than fit for the task. “As a leader, I want to provide opportunities, embrace the ambitious projects that students want to take on and serve as a guide and a resource for them.”