Northern Public Radio General Manager Tim Emmons, a passionate pubradio advocate and mentor, and a driving force behind the Morning Edition Grad School, died Feb. 18 at home after a long battle with cancer. He was 53. He headed the five stations in DeKalb, Ill., for 15 years.
The NPR Board observed a moment of silence for Emmons at its Feb. 24 meeting in Washington, D.C., and adopted a resolution marking his passing. “The words used to describe Tim by colleagues across the country,” it reads in part, “are ‘genuine,’ ‘inspirational,’ ‘wise,’ ‘modest,’ ‘intelligent,’ ‘tireless,’ a ‘quiet giant,’ a ‘champion for public radio’ and — over and over again — ‘courageous,’ in his career, in his life, and facing death.”
Emmons arrived in 1988 as program director at WNIU, licensed to Northern Illinois University, and was instrumental in the creation of WNIJ in 1991. As p.d., he hired and supervised a WNIJ news team that won 32 national, regional and state news awards. He left to be program director at St. Louis Public Radio; during his three years there, that news team won nearly 20 awards. Emmons returned to Northern Public Radio in 1995 as station manager. Two years later, he became director and general manager. “Over that time,” the station said in a statement, “the stations experienced unprecedented growth in audience, membership and underwriting revenue.”
He was a co-founder of Morning Edition Grad School (MEGS), a national best-practice effort “aimed at assuring peak performance for Morning Edition on local stations,” funded by NPR’s Local News Initiative.
In 2009, Emmons received the Don Otto Award from the Public Radio Program Directors Association and Audience Research Analysis, honoring “public radio originals.” In a university press release about the honor, Emmons said: “Really, the best thing for me is when I see the light go on in somebody else. It’s a big thing for me when I can pass on something that I’ve learned.”
Emmons was a vocal advocate for the pubradio system, and wrote several Thinking pieces for Current over the years. In 1999, he noted the need for a program director at NPR (published Jan. 25, 1999); 10 years later, he was still tenaciously pushing the point (Feb. 2, 2009). He also wrote about what Morning Edition needed after host Bob Edwards’ departure (April 12, 2004).
In May 2005, he presented a resolution at NPR’s annual Members Meeting regarding CPB’s journalistic firewall, in the wake of the news coverage about CPB activities promoting conservative programming on public TV.
Over the past year Emmons formulated a succession plan for the stations. Staci Hoste, development director, will serve as interim general manager. “He and I prepared for this transition and feel strongly that we will preserve Tim’s legacy at Northern Public Radio, its mission, and its service to the community,” Hoste said in a statement.
Peter Dominowski and Scott Williams, longtime friends of Emmons and business associates with him in Strategic Programming Partners, which developed MEGS, are planning the Tim Emmons Memorial Mentoring Scholarship for “a fairly new program director, or someone aspiring to that position,” Dominowski told Current. The two envision selecting one candidate to mentor each year, and will provide their personal expertise to serve as a resource for the up-and-coming p.d. They expect to have an announcement with details on the national scholarship program by mid-March.
Emmons was born June 18, 1958, in Champaign, to Robert and Peggy Emmons. He graduated in 1976 from University High School in Normal, Ill., where he was a state finalist in forensics his senior year in radio speaking. He attended Moody Bible Institute for two years, and graduated from Illinois State University in Normal.
He was a past-president of the Illinois Public Broadcasting Council, and served on several advisory committees for NPR.
Emmons is survived by his wife of 33 years, Charlene, son Daniel and daughter Jordan, as well as his mother, sister Amy Bradford, in-laws Joyce Theobald and George and Mona Lohnes, three nephews and and two great-nephews.
A memorial service took place Feb. 25 at Christ Community Church in DeKalb; it was recorded and will be posted at youtube.com/user/charleneemmons.
Emmons asked that in lieu of flowers, donations benefit his children’s education. Checks may be made to Timothy Emmons Memorial and mailed to P.O. Box 66, Elburn, Ill., 60119.