Alum Doug Alder, right, and his partner, Eric Middleton, check out WUTK’s studios on a visit to the station.
After celebrating its 40th anniversary all year long, WUTK 90.3 “The Rock” has something else to celebrate: its very first endowment. This new source of funding for the radio station was established by School of Journalism and Electronic Media alumnus Doug Alder (’92) and his partner, Eric Middleton, who are thrilled to be a part of the station’s evolution and growth.
“I got chills walking in here for the first time since graduation,” Alder said during a recent visit to the WUTK studios. “This place still looks the same as it did when I sat behind the microphone 30 years ago. But it’s offering amazing new opportunities for today’s students that I never imagined.”
Alder says he fell in love with broadcasting while working at WUTK as a student, launching his Emmy Award-winning career in television news. He currently serves as a director of communications for the Boeing Company in Seattle, and is leveraging a gift match from the company to boost the value of the endowment.
The gift from Alder and Middleton grew out of a confluence of interests and passions; they were exploring how they might contribute to the College of Communication and Information in an impactful way, and asked CCI Dean Joe Mazer where the need was the greatest. That’s when the idea of creating the first-ever endowment for WUTK was pitched, and it was a perfect fit. Not only did Alder work at WUTK, Middleton is a music lover and avid supporter of independent radio.
“I want kids coming in here, whether they’re into podcasts, UT sports coverage, video production or audio engineering, to be creative and know this is a special place where their voices can be heard,” Middleton said. “I didn’t go to school here, but during my first experience in this studio, you could feel the passion from the students.”
Though Middleton’s UT Volunteer status comes by association, he’s been heavily involved with volunteering at another station found at 90.3 on the FM dial in their home city, KEXP in Seattle. KEXP is a nonprofit public radio station with deep local roots, as well as a massive international reach that continuously finds ways to be innovative in its sector. Middleton said he hopes WUTK can look to stations such as KEXP for inspiration as the endowment funds are put to use.
“I’m a huge fan of Seattle’s KEXP and it’s pretty cool that Doug and Eric want us to work towards that model.” said Benny Smith, general manager and director of WUTK. “That’s a great goal and we hope to get there someday with this kind of support.”
Smith said he would love for WUTK to continue increasing its audience reach via both radio waves and streaming platforms, as well as by increasing its presence throughout the UT campus. The station has been self-funded for many years now, and this new influx of money is especially exciting because it will allow Smith and his staff to focus on teaching students the ins-and-outs of radio. He also hopes the couple’s gift will inspire new donors to come forward.
Smith, Alder, and Middleton said all of this came about because of CCI Dean Mazer’s vision for the station and through the ongoing support of JEM Professor and Director Catherine Luther, who oversees the station.
“I can’t thank the dean and Catherine enough for their ongoing support. Right away Dean Mazer saw what the station means to students and the need to invest in it. It’s so exciting to be at a point right now where we’re all moving in the same direction. I’m excited for all involved, but especially for our students and future students,” Smith said.
Smith said the initial revenue from the endowment will support technology and equipment improvements. While he, station staff, and students have worked tirelessly over the years to successfully fundraise for items such as its brand-new transmitter, this gift will allow for even more upgrades.
“WUTK is something every CCI grad should be proud of,” Alder said. “These kids are doing great things. Whether it’s on campus or online around the world, we want this to be the station you keep tuning in to and supporting long after graduation.”