The Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame was created in 1989 to honor those broadcasters who have devoted their careers to broadcasting and its development in Wisconsin, to recognize their outstanding service to broadcasting, their communities, and their state, over at least a fifteen-year career in the industry, at least ten of which were served in Wisconsin.
The first twelve members of the Hall of Fame were inducted during the 1989 WBA Summer Conference. Since 1989, 122 outstanding broadcasters have been honored with Hall of Fame inductions (see listing here). Inductees are chosen each year from among nominations by WBA members. Broadcasters who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame include managers, personalities, engineers, reporters, educators and those broadcasting pioneers who were at once all of the above. The 2014 inductees will be: Ron Fruit, Ed Hutchings, Marv Nelles, David Sanks, and John Schermerhorn.
In October, 1989, Alfred C. Sykes, then Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, came to Wisconsin to formally dedicate a Hall of Fame display, including plaques honoring the inductees, at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library in Madison. In 2010, due to remodeling of the SHSW facility, the display was removed and is now in storage awaiting a suitable new permanent display site (just a heads up here that we should have some exciting news on this in the very near future….).
The Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame does have a permanent, virtual display at the online Wisconsin Museum of Broadcasting which debuted in 2009 at www.wisconsinbroadcastingmuseum.org where the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame Gallery is one of our major attractions.
Besides our annual inductions, the WBA Foundation has been working on a long-term project to complete such commemorative videos for all Hall of Fame members. The use of videos at the induction ceremonies did not begin until 2004, leaving a backlog of over 78 videos of which 33 have now been completed.
At their recent meeting in May of 2013, the WBA Executive Committee and Board moved to donate the necessary funds to the WBA Foundation to complete production of the 45 remaining videos. Longtime WBA Hall of Fame Video Executive Producer Jane Bartell has been working with several other producers, all of whom have produced our Hall of Fame videos in the past, with the goal being for the entire backlog to be completed within two years (June 2015). While the WBA Board did vote to donate the necessary funds to complete the project, please know that any and all financial contributions toward this project would be greatly appreciated!
In the meantime, I hope to see you all at our 2014 Hall of Fame festivities at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan on Thursday, June 19. The event will begin with the Hall of Fame Reception 6:30 p.m., with a banquet in honor of the inductees and the inductions following at 7:30 p.m.
Ron Fruit first signed onto the air at WRCO Radio in Richland Center in 1972, while still a teenager. Then he worked his way up, becoming program director, station manager and, in 1994, co-owner with his wife, Beth, of WRCO AM/FM. Along the way he built the stations into one of the strongest examples of local radio in the nation.
Under his leadership, the WRCO stations became the heart of community communication for Richland Center and surrounding towns and villages. Virtually every community, school and civic event was broadcast or mentioned in on-air reports. Officials from schools, public safety, sports teams, units of government, charitable organizations and more were invited into the studio for interviews. Fruit’s dedication to keeping local radio at the forefront of community service even led him to broadcast emergency information from a nearby hilltop when the Pine River flooded Richland Center (including the radio stations) in 2007. Fruit has been named an outstanding alumnus of UW-Richland, and received awards from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and many other organizations.
Ed Hutchings shaped the success of broadcast stations in Wisconsin and beyond with a 37-year career that spanned radio announcing, television sportscasting, sales and management, and education.
Hutchings became a broadcaster early in life. While attending the University of Iowa from 1949 to 1953, he signed on with Iowa stations KSUI-FM, KXIV Radio and KCRG Radio. After graduating with a degree in speech and journalism, he left the Golden Age of Radio for the new medium of television. In 1956, he began a 17-year career with WKBT-TV in La Crosse, where he rose through the ranks to manage the station with an emphasis on community leadership. In 1973 he became station manager at WEAU-TV in Eau Claire and later managed stations in Texas and Minnesota. After retiring in 1986 Hutchings purchased Trans America School of Broadcasting and re-branded it as Madison Media Institute. Hutchings helmed MMI for more than two decades and developed it into one of the nation’s leading colleges for media, technology and broadcasting.
Marv Nelles (1925-2008) was the voice of radio news in Wausau for nearly three decades during his 40 years in broadcasting. He made coverage of local news a priority and set a high standard for the next generation of radio news reporters and news directors throughout Wisconsin.
A native of Minnesota, Nelles served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He then graduated from radio technical school and worked at stations in Wisconsin and South Dakota. In 1951 he joined WSAU-TV and Radio in Wausau and subsequently, in 1958, became the first news director at WRIG Radio (later WRIG/WDEZ) in Wausau. He attended and reported on nearly every Wausau city council and school board meeting. He was trapped in his car by gunfire while covering a shootout in 1962, and he interviewed visiting newsmakers, including John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. He also served as county coroner from 1972-83. Nelles retired in 1987 and remained active in community service until his death in 2008.
David Sanks worked in almost every aspect of radio and television during his 35-year broadcasting career, but he is best known for guiding the success of WISC-TV in Madison and of its multimedia parent company, Television Wisconsin, Inc. Under his executive leadership, both the station and the company flourished. WISC-TV was a market leader the entire time Sanks was at the helm and was the first station in Wisconsin to air high-definition newscasts.
Sanks earned his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975 and then broke into broadcasting as a part-time studio and operations assistant at WMTV-TV in Madison. He joined WISC-TV in 1979 and, while earning a master’s degree at UW-Madison, rose through the ranks to become general manager of the station in 1990. He then served as executive vice president of Television Wisconsin from 2002 to 2012. Sanks played an important role in strengthening the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association through his work as WBA chair, WBA Foundation chair, and a founder of the Walker Broadcast Management Institute.
John Schermerhorn (1928-1974) was a broadcasting pioneer beloved by audiences and clients as an on-air sports director, producer, host of a popular polka show, salesman and general manager. During his 25-year career he created television programming and promotions that rank among the highlights of Wisconsin broadcasting history.
Schermerhorn’s on-air career began in 1948 at WKOW Radio in Madison. He served in the U.S. Army in Korea and, in 1953, returned to Madison to help sign WKOW-TV onto the air as its first sports director. His talent, drive and charisma were a perfect fit for the new medium. Schermerhorn’s sports coverage included the Badgers, Braves and Packers until 1967. He produced and emceed the annual March of Dimes telethon for 13 years and hosted more than 600 episodes of Dairyland Jubilee, which also aired on WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WAOW-TV in Wausau. As an executive for the Wisconsin Television Network, he served as sales promotions and public relations director and was general manager of WXOW-TV from 1970 until his death in 1974.