Alan Ross, host of Wisconsin Public Radio’s regional arts and culture program, Spectrum West, died Friday at the age of 73. The cause of death was cancer.
Ross joined WPR in 2008, providing local news breaks and announcements during The Joy Cardin Show and NPR’s Morning Edition from WPR’s studios in Eau Claire. He began hosting Spectrum West, a role well suited to his skills as a producer and interviewer, in 2009.
“We are all saddened by this news,” said interim WPR Director Tom Luljak. “Al was a beacon for the arts and humanities in western Wisconsin and an outstanding example of our commitment to serving local communities across the state.”
On air and in the community, Ross was a champion for the arts and served as moderator in the public forums that launched the Pablo Center for the Arts, a performance venue with rehearsal and teaching spaces for the arts in downtown Eau Claire.
Born and raised in eastern Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, Ross enjoyed a 53-year career in radio, including 14 years at WPR. He worked on air and in management at commercial stations in Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin before launching his own business as an independent producer in the 1990s.
“Al was a consummate professional who was always eager to lend an ear and advice to young broadcasters who came his way,” said Dean Kallenbach, who worked at WPR as senior regional manager before his retirement.
Ross “could have retired years ago but told me hosting Spectrum West was more fun than any gig of his career,” Kallenbach added. “I’ll miss him on the air, and I’ll miss him as a friend.”
In addition to his work on Spectrum West, Ross co-created and co-hosted a variety show with musician Mac Cherry called The Big River Radio Wave. The show was recorded live at the Big River Theatre in Alma, Wisc., and celebrated the culture of the Mississippi River with comedians, musicians and storytellers. It ran during the summers for eight years on WPR stations in western and southwestern Wisconsin. Select episodes aired statewide.
Ross won multiple awards for his work, including “Best Interview” and “Best Radio Show” from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.
Rich Kremer, WPR’s Eau Claire-based reporter, remembered Ross as a true believer in the power of the arts to transform lives and communities. “For years I watched authors, artists and musicians walk into the studio with Al and would sometimes hear their muffled laughter from my office next door,” he said. “By showtime, he had meticulously transformed those moments into award-winning shows delivered with a smoothness that belied the effort that went into them. Al was a generous colleague, mentor and friend who I will deeply miss.”
His survivors include three children, John Ross, Lindsay Ross and Cassie Weyker; siblings Leland Ross, Marla Fries, Amy Annen and Susanne Ciurro; and five grandchildren.
The family has planned two memorial services: Saturday, Nov. 5, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Heyde Center for the Arts, 3 South High Street in Chippewa Falls, Wisc.; and Thursday, Nov. 10, 5 to 8 p.m., at the Whiting Boathouse, 98 5th St. Neenah, Wis.