Popular pick for WYSO
- Published: December 4, 2008
The prayers of many WYSO supporters were answered this week when Antioch University hired long-time radio producer Neenah Ellis as general manager of its public radio station. Ellis replaces Paul Maassen, who left the station in March to be the general manager of a bigger public radio station in New Orleans. Ellis plans to start the job at WYSO sometime in early February.
Ellis was one of two final candidates who were vetted for the position in two community interviews in October. A search committee, including Dayton Public Radio’s General Manager Georgie Woessner, WYSO resource board members Glenn Watts and Heather Martin, WYSO employee Jon Castonguay and Keep WYSO Local member Ellis Jacobs, provided direction for the university, which, with public input, chose Ellis over finalist Jon Peterson, a music host on Columbus public radio. The university administration, including University CFO Tom Faecke who has led the station since Maassen’s departure, chose Ellis chiefly because of her long history in public radio, according to university spokesperson Lynda Sirk.
“She was on the air with public radio before she had a driver’s license,” Sirk said. “Having the guidance of a well-seasoned NPR professional like Neenah will be important for WYSO.”
Ellis brings with her a plethora of creative ideas as well as connections to NPR that will give WYSO “new recognition it has not previously had,” Watts said. And her connection to the Yellow Springs community makes her aware of the importance of maintaining close ties to local listeners, he said.
“We’re pretty excited about her coming — this opens what will be a new and exciting chapter for WYSO,” Watts said.
Maassen left the station after a successful two and a half years uniting WYSO supporters and increasing local news programming and volunteer-hosted radio shows. The cooperation he fostered was a welcome change from the turmoil the station had undergone from 2002 to 2004 under the leadership of general manager Steve Spencer, whose decisions to cut locally hosted programs in favor of nationally syndicated programming were met with widespread disapproval from the community.
The community interest group Keep WYSO Local formed early on in the process to help maintain the station’s unique character, and according to KWL member Larry Halpern, its members are satisfied with the university’s choice of a new manager.
“Neenah was well-liked by the staff and the community, and she’s got the ability to work with people and to work creatively,” he said. “I don’t think we could have hoped for more.”
Ellis got to know the Yellow Springs community while she and her husband, long-time NPR personality Noah Adams, were here in 2002 doing research for his book on the Wright brothers. She also came to know WYSO, the university station that began in 1957 and now broadcasts at 37,000-watts 24-hours a day to the Miami Valley region. WYSO currently has seven full-time staff members, 15 on-air volunteers and 50 behind the scenes volunteers, and boasts a weekly audience of 55,000 listeners. Ellis feels the station has “a very bright future,” she said in a university press release.
Ellis began her career in radio as a teenager at her parents’ radio station in Valparaiso, Ind. She studied broadcast journalism and worked as a reporter for a local FM station in Washington, D.C. for a short time, and in 1979 she became an associate producer for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” Ellis won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and a George Foster Peabody award for stories on domestic nuclear preparedness and war in Mozambique. She was also an associate producer for “Weekend Edition Sunday” with Susan Stamberg, and wrote and co-produced a history of jazz series hosted by Wynton Marsalis, which won another Peabody.
For the past 20 years Ellis has been a freelance producer of documentary series for public radio and television. In 1994 she began producing a multimedia history for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum based on interviews with survivors, which are still ongoing. In 2000 she produced a series for “Morning Edition” about American centenarians which turned into a New York Times bestseller If I Live to Be 100 — Lessons from the Centenarians. In 2006 she produced a series on “Morning Edition” called “The One-Room School in the Twenty-First Century.” She has also edited for Chicago Public Radio and taught radio production for the Duke Center for Documentary Studies and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.
Ellis and Adams currently live in Takoma Park, Md., a small town outside Washington, D.C. They plan to move to Yellow Springs in the coming months, Sirk said.