Matt Ambrose recently sat down with Mark Maben, WSOU General Manager. The student-run radio station has been inducted into the Radio Rock Hall of Fame in 2018 and was awarded the Marconi Award in 2016 for the best Non-Commercial Radio Station of the Year. Maben oversees the program and discussed notable moments throughout his tenure and focused on WSOU’s sports reporting.
Matt Ambrose: How long have you been working at WSOU?
Mark Maben: Almost 16 years now. It’s the longest gig I’ve ever had by far.
MA: Why did you decide to begin working at WSOU?
MM: I had a long career in radio, and the last thing I had done in radio was build and run a radio station in Pennsylvania. At that point, I had felt I had accomplished everything I wanted to do in radio. My wife and I had a family at that time, and I was being offered jobs at a couple of other places around the country, but I decided I didn’t want to keep up the radio life where you move every couple years. I thought I would go into something educationally related, and a former boss of mine alerted me that the job at Seton Hall was open to become their General Manager. I saw that as an opportunity to be more involved in radio, but also to mentor and guide students and help them through their college journey and launch their careers.
MA: How long have sports been a part of WSOU’s programming?
MM: At least back to the early 1960’s, the station has been broadcasting Seton Hall sports in some capacity. It is possible that it could be even earlier than that, but it’s easy to say since the early 1960’s. By the mid-60’s, the station was quite actively covering Seton Hall sports, particularly men’s basketball.
MA: Hall Line has been on the air for over 50 years. How impressive is it that a show that is run by students has stayed on the air for so long?
MM: It’s very impressive, for three reasons. One is that it’s difficult to find a show in radio broadcasting that lasts that long. There’s very few shows that are around for 50-plus years. Two, there is the student-hosted element to it.
To maintain that, despite the constant turnover of students, that’s remarkable. The third thing is a more recent phenomenon. We are in an era in which the ability for students to cover their schools own teams has greatly curtailed. The fact that Hall Line is still there and still able to have a real meaningful and insightful conversation about each men’s basketball game is also impressive.
MA: Besides men’s basketball, what other sports does WSOU cover?
MM: We cover women’s basketball, and I think it’s worth noting that when I got here in 2004, we basically only covered women’s basketball when they played at home. I saw that as something that needed to be corrected. We of course have covered baseball for a long time. There was a small amount of soccer when I arrived, but that has expanded now with the ability to do games online. We also do volleyball, and we even did a swim meet once.
MA: What is your role in setting up road trips for sports staff members?
MM: We have built a relationship with athletics over the last five years that allow us to send two of our sports staff members with the women’s team at their cost. That has helped us to better cover the team as their flagship station. In terms of men’s travel for basketball, I work with the sports director to make all of those travel arrangements. We just figure out who’s going, figure out the logistics, pay those bills.
MA: How satisfied are you with what you hear from sports programming on WSOU?
MM: This year in particular, I have been very pleased. We have had a much more junior staff in the sports department this year, and folks have really stepped up. It has sounded better this year than I was anticipating. I think that we put out one of the best sports play-by-play and color products of any college station in the country. I used to be a judge for a national student award in the sports area, so I have heard a lot. There are a lot of good ones, but we compete with the best of them and I think we are one of the best of them.
MA: How often do you tune in to WSOU sports broadcasts?
MM: I listen to this radio station much more than I think the students here realize. I listen to at least a portion of, and sometimes in its entirety, just about every men’s basketball game and most of the women’s games. I will check in on Sunday nights and check in on sports talk.
MA: What is your fondest memory at WSOU?
MM: To this day, it is a former staff member who probably holds the record for the number of times he was suspended from the station. He never bothered to get a parking permit, and one day public safety booted his car.
Given this individual’s background, they knew how to remove the boot. So they did so, threw it into his trunk and drove off. When the individual refused to give the boot back, I got a call from Public Safety and they asked me to be the intermediary to negotiate the return of this boot. We worked it out that the boot was returned and that a formal written apology was issued to Public Safety.
MA: In your eyes, how driven are the students that work here to succeed in an on-air career?
MM: On the sports side, I think it’s fair to say 50-60 percent are highly driven and would like some sports media career or something athletic related. We have had student here that have gone on to become Sports Information Directors at several colleges and universities. Some have gone on to have careers at ESPN and FOX Sports. I think if you take the group that has the most drive, I think it would be the kids who join sports staff.
You can come here and be a DJ and have no interest in a career in radio.
You don’t get that as much with sports staff.
Matt Ambrose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.