Campus Closeup: Bruce Turner
Bruce Turner (WNMU-TV) is celebrating a milestone few ever reach: 50 years of service to a single employer. To give it some perspective, he has worked with nine NMU presidents. He has witnessed the station’s conversion from closed circuit to broadcast, black and white to color, mono to stereo and analog to digital HD. Turner is a familiar fixture to regional television audiences, appearing regularly on camera to solicit viewer support during station fundraisers. His presence also is detected behind the scenes, with recorded audio breaks that feature his unmistakable deep, velvety voice and polished delivery. He is pictured with students from Public Eye News.
Colleagues honored Turner’s half-century with a brunch Thursday on the High School Bowl set (below) and he was the lone recipient of a 50-year pin at last month’s employee recognition luncheon.
“I approached Gavin [Leach] afterward and suggested that employees who reach 55 years of service—not that I’m shooting for that—should get an NMU-engraved Life Alert to hang around their necks instead of a pin. He just smiled. I do view 50 years as an anomaly, especially in this day and age. I enjoy the work, but the work wouldn’t be meaningful if I wasn’t surrounded by good people.”
Through a high school business class in his hometown of Sturgis, Mich., Turner interned at a jewelry store that advertised on local station WSTR. The station owner spoke with a Southern drawl and used to record the commercials himself. But Turner’s boss, impressed with his young charge’s voice, said, “Bruce could do better.” He did, and a broadcaster was born.
Turner’s broadcasting career has coexisted with his volunteer work as a Jehovah’s Witness minister, which includes making home visits, conducting Bible studies and giving talks to the congregation. He bypassed college after high school graduation in 1956 to work at WRSW-FM and assist the congregation in Warsaw, Ind. Two years later, after his marriage to Mary, the couple moved to Menominee for a similar dual purpose. Turner was able to fulfill a request to assist the Marquette congregation when station WMAM’s parent company purchased TV6 in Marquette. He traded positions with a TV6 announcer who wanted to head south.
Turner became a weatherman at TV6 in its former studios above the Mining Journal and transitioned to news with the station’s move to its current location. A 1963 interview with NMU President Edgar L. Harden sealed his future.
“We usually had coffee after the Sunday night broadcasts. A few of us were interested in buying a local radio station, so I asked Dr. Harden if we could get a loan from the bank he was on the board of. Dr. Harden asked how serious I was and said, ‘Before you make a decision, stop down and talk with Northern’s instructional communications head, Dr. Ken Bergsma.’ He and John Major Sr., the only full timers, filled me in on plans to eventually start a TV station on campus and asked if I’d like to be a part of it. I didn’t look back after that.”
Turner helped to build the original studios in the former Lee Hall ballroom. WNMR, as it was first called, was at one time the largest closed-circuit TV system in the nation, used primarily to televise recorded courses to 33 communities connected by microwave and community antenna systems. It made the switch to broadcast television, where any correctly tuned receiver could pick up the signal over the airwaves, in 1972 as WNPB (for Northern Public Broadcasting). Both the radio and television stations later became WNMU.
“I scheduled programming and helped to create the sets for the televised common learning program. We produced short features called Univiews—short for university views—and a 30-minute program titled Northern Dimensions. I also did booth announcing and supervised public radio. A lot of students worked for both radio and TV. It was a great time. Some of those students have become lifelong acquaintances.
“Dealing with FCC issues and requirements also falls under my role as station manager. The most challenging aspect is raising funds. Congress recently sequestered the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides us with a sizable amount of money. We lost $37,000 in funding and you can only ask the public for so much support. I’ve thought about retiring, but I haven’t set a date yet. I’m really trying to see what direction Congress is going. They could make my retirement come quicker.”
A past recipient of the Pioneer Award from the Michigan Association of Public Broadcasters, Turner embraces long-term commitments, both professionally and personally. His marriage to Mary has outlived his career at NMU (she is pictured far left). They will celebrate their 55th anniversary in June with friends in a Van Riper cabin on the Peshekee River. It is a fitting celebration for a couple who likes to hike and kayak. He and Mary have five adult children in the area (a sixth died of pancreatitis). Their eight grandchildren live nearby.
In reflecting on the changing NMU leadership during his tenure, Turner recalls John X. Jamrich suggesting a quiz bowl-style program that would pit teams against each other, testing their knowledge. High School Bowl begins its 36th year this fall. But Turner did not heed all of the advice of the NMU presidents he served under, including the one who instigated his hire.
“Edgar Harden pulled me aside at his goodbye reception to explain his decision to leave the university. He said, ‘Bruce, 10 years at any place is long enough.’ Obviously I did not take that to heart.”