"You would see the lights finally go on"
William Marcus doesn’t remember much about the first time he taught the basic audio production class for the School of Journalism. But hundreds of Radio-Television students will always remember his guidance and mentoring. After a 40-year career at the University of Montana, Marcus is retiring.
A Wibaux native, Marcus graduated from UM with a RTV degree in 1974. He was hired at J-School in 1975 as a producer and on-air host for KUFM Radio. After mixing other reporters’ stories, Marcus began producing his own stories for NPR. “And I thought, well I’ve got some ideas,” he said. “So Larry Abramson (then with NPR and now dean of the School of Journalism) put my first piece on the air.”
Marcus’ KUFM job also called for him to teach a class. Early on, he said it was a bit difficult. “It was pretty much just play radio shows because we didn’t have portable recorders. It was mostly making commercials, reading news and hosting,” he said. He would go on to teach the class for more than 30 years.
His love of audio is what drives Marcus in his teaching and storytelling. “That the world of sound is a world that is just assumed by people,” he said. “Vision is just so overpowering that people don’t pay attention to sound—where it’s coming from. And try to tune somebody’s ears for that was always a challenge.”
He said he has tried to make students stop and listen. “I tried everything I could think of take them on locations and say what sounds do you hear?” he said. “To analyze it and break it down and listen to it. Some of them who were interested, that was kind of cool. And others, it didn’t make a difference.”
Marcus said he didn’t think he would stay in Missoula and KUFM for so long. He said he wanted to look for jobs at other public stations in the Northwest. “But things here always got a little more interesting. The new building was coming along. And you’re looking at blue prints with studios and control rooms. And the possibilities there were just really exciting,” he said.
The Performing Arts/Radio-Television building opened in 1985—a year after KUFM Radio was spun off into the Telecommunications Center (now Broadcast Media Center). In 1993, the BMC director quit. Marcus was named to replace him. “I ended up as interim for two years. And after that I thought I know how to do this job. I’ll apply for it,” he said.
His leadership helped establish KUFM-TV. In addition to his Monday morning radio show, Marcus hosts and co-produces the popular Backroads of Montana television series and has served as executive producer for four Emmy Award winning shows.
“I think that Montana is a better place because of public broadcasting,” he said. “I think we’ve done important work that has helped Montanans understand each other better. And that’s been fun to be part of that.”
Marcus said he will miss the interaction with students. “You would see them grow,” he said. “You would see the lights finally go on.”
Marcus' retirement party runs June 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Caras Park.
Posted June 15, 2015