PRESS RELEASE. – It is with great sadness that Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) announces the death of our friend and former director, Phil Corriveau. His leadership, optimism and commitment to WPR’s mission will continue to benefit listeners for years to come.
Current WPR Director Mike Crane embraced that optimism when Corriveau hired him as chief operating officer in 2008. “There are so many positive things that started with Phil,” Crane said. “He set the stage for expanding our radio networks. He believed in growing our Major and Planned Giving effort. He had a vision for us reaching new audiences across the state. He was an incredibly positive force, I’m really going to miss him.” Crane said.
Corriveau was a Wisconsin native who received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UW-Madison. As he told the Isthmus weekly in 2010, he discovered his love of radio as a freshman board operator working a summer job in 1971 at WPR’s flagship station, WHA. That summer job turned into a career.
In 1974, Corriveau was hired as an engineer at WHA, where he continued to build his resume. From engineering, he moved into production and, by the end of the decade, he was serving as programming and production manager. In 1980, he was hired as the first general manager of what is now called Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. While there he expanded the network from one to four stations.
He spent 16 years in California before being named general manager of KUT-FM and the Longhorn Radio Network in Austin, Texas in 1996. With more than two decades of public radio leadership experience under his belt, Corriveau returned to Wisconsin in 2000 to be deputy director of the state’s Educational Communications Board (ECB).
“He was very involved in the transition to the new digital television standards while he was here,” said current ECB Director Marta Bechtol. “And, he was an advocate for new broadcast technologies that could serve the state – including both HD television and HD radio,” she added.
In 2004, he became director of WPR, which he called his “dream job.” Corriveau served as WPR director for six years. It was a time of significant changes in technology, media and politics. “He rejoined WPR at a critical time which saw competition from new technologies – which caused some to question the need for public radio,” said Gene Purcell, a longtime associate and current head of Wisconsin Public Media. “Phil never stopped believing in the mission of public radio and, despite those new competitors, always believed in a bright future for WPR,” he concluded.
During his time as director, Corriveau made investments in wpr.org, marketing and fundraising that helped position the station for years to come. “As long as we really provide something that nobody else can, I see a bright future for WPR,” he told the Isthmus. Colleagues remembered him as a thoughtful leader, a good listener and a passionate scuba diver who also happened to have a sweet tooth.
“Phil loved telling stories about the ‘old days’ with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in his eye. He was inquisitive and engaged especially when it came to listeners. And, like a true public radio guy, that curiosity extended to his colleagues and all aspects of his work,” “Morning Classics” Host Stephanie Elkins recalled.
“I am sure many will remember his wonderful laugh,” noted retired talk show host Joy Cardin. “But I will also remember Phil as the boss who gave me permission to become the radio talk show host I didn’t think I could be. I was doing two jobs at the time – and he encouraged me to put my heart into exclusively leading and hosting ‘The Joy Cardin Show’,” she concluded.
Unfortunately, his time at the helm of WPR was cut short by a stroke suffered during heart surgery in 2008. In 2010, he officially stepped down from his role as director and became director emeritus.
WPR Senior Regional Manager Dean Kallenbach remembered Corriveau’s commitment to community engagement and producing content that served local audiences. “Phil said, ‘Radio is best when it’s live and local,’ I’ll never forget that. His dedication to public radio was strongly felt in Wisconsin and throughout the country,” Kallenbach concluded.
Photo Credit: “WPR/J. Gill”