Meet Your IPC Board

Tom Michael, General Manager of Boise State Public Radio

Tom Michael is General Manager of Boise State Public Radio, which he joined as its director in July 2016. In February 2018 he launched the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of six public media organizations across five states, and serves as its managing director. In April 2018 he launched “Idaho Matters,” a weekday public affairs program, and serves as its executive producer. Tom has more than a decade of experience in public media management, as the founder of Marfa Public Radio and West Texas Public Radio. In 2015 and 2016, his news department won the largest number of regional Edward R. Murrow Awards among radio stations of its class. It also won a National Murrow Award in 2016 for investigative reporting.

Interviewed by Tara Roberts

How did you get your start in radio?

I’ve been in media and journalism all my career, but my first was a side job. I hosted a weekly interview show in suburban Chicago, which felt small at the time but was probably the largest market I’ve served. Later I founded and launched Marfa Public Radio in West Texas and managed it for a decade.

Tell us about one of your favorite stories you’ve worked on.

Ten years ago this month, we covered the start of what became the largest wildfire in Texas history (in terms of acreage). In its opening moments, I stood before the house as the fire jumped the road and headed toward populated areas. For a month afterward, as it burned, it felt like we never left the radio station, but it catapulted us into public-service journalism.

In 2016 I was one of the first reporters on the scene when Justice Antonin Scalia suddenly died, which set off a series of events about the selection of the Supreme Court that continues to this day. But that was more of a national than local story.

You came to Idaho from Texas — what lessons from your time in radio there did you bring here? 

I learned about managing people and the power of local journalism. It’s been so fun at Boise State Public Radio to work with such a dedicated staff, to launch shows like Idaho Matters, and to create the Mountain West News Bureau.

How has radio changed in the last decade, and where do you think it’s going in the next? 

Public radio has enjoyed a successful decade compared to some of its commercial colleagues. The audience was ready for smart “background in context” stories, as opposed to headline snippets, opinion rants, and DJ banter. NPR has been a longtime leader in podcasting. Like most media, optimizing the digital experience is a large part of our future. 

You helped launch the Mountain West News Bureau — what has that taught you about the ways media organizations can work together?

We just cannot achieve scale on our own. In a big-tech, big-conglomerate world, the only way to have greater impact is to team up. We need to partner with other public media, other local media, and other non-profit institutions. We launched the Mountain West News Bureau, with reporters across several states, because most stories (especially on culture and the environment) don’t stop at state lines.

How do you think Idaho newsrooms can improve our approaches to inclusivity and equity?

We have near-weekly conversations on this and staff has attended webinars and training on how to best serve and represent the public, which is our guiding mission. Today’s changes, and sometimes they’re incremental, pay off in the long run. Although Idaho is considered a less diverse state, as a smaller broadcast market, it’s also viewed as a career stepping-stone. Therefore, we can capitalize on this opportunity to mentor younger and more diverse journalists in their early careers.

What tips do you have for students interested in radio?

It seems that RTF (Radio, Television, Film) specialty college programs are in decline, but for newsrooms, strong communication and journalism skills are always in demand. We talk about an “editor shortage” in public media, so there are long-term career opportunities for today’s students. 

What are your favorite places in Idaho?

The Wood River Valley, the West-Central Mountains, and the beautiful Boise foothills.

Tara Roberts is the student media adviser and general manager for University of Idaho Student Media and is a member of the Idaho Press Club board.