Broadcast muse: Michelle Vetterkind helps clear the air for WBA

Michelle Vetterkind, 46, grew up in the small town of Osseo, Wis., home of the Norske Nook, the famous Scandinavian restaurant renowned for its pies. Years ago, as the Nook was putting Osseo on the national map, a young Vetterkind was serving other treats and sweets across town as a carhop at the local A&W. “That was my first taste of customer service,” she said.

The former Miss Osseo 1984 now serves the state broadcasting industry, but she’s taken a few detours on the way to her current job. She eventually left her hometown to attend UW-Madison for a couple of years before transferring to MATC, but it was a job at a Boston Store cosmetics counter that led to her first successful career — with Estee Lauder — and precipitated a move to Chicago. 

“I was a young manager,” she recalled. “I managed so many people, which gave me great experience, but I couldn’t fraternize with them. So there I was in Chicago, but it was also kind of lonely.” 

The outgoing Vetterkind, once a drummer in the Osseo High School marching band, yearned to return to Madison. She ran a Madison travel agency, then joined the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association as an administrative assistant in 1997. She’s been marching to a different drummer ever since.

Vetterkind became president of the WBA in 2007, the same year she finally earned her diploma from UW-Madison after going back to complete her degree. It took four years of trudging up and down Bascom Hill as a part-time adult student, but her efforts were life-changing. “To walk across that stage and see my daughter in the audience was priceless,” she said of her graduation. 

Last year, Vetterkind took over as president and CEO of the WBA — where membership is at an all-time high and includes 98% of the state’s 400 free, over-the-air radio and television stations — and the WBA Foundation. 

Local, free, over-the-air television and radio were once the only options for broadcast entertainment until satellite and cable changed the marketplace. Nowadays, despite the rise in other options for information and entertainment, Vetterkind said broadcast TV and radio remain hugely popular. What local stations continue to offer that national and worldwide channels cannot is a commitment to the local markets. “[Localism] is the hallmark of broadcasting and the key reason why local radio and TV will continue to be relevant in the future,” she said.

Surprisingly, Wisconsin has one of the country’s highest percentages of households that rely solely on free, over-the-air television, according to Vetterkind. (Free, but in most cases an antenna or converter box must be purchased.) “There’s been an increase in the number of consumers dropping cable or satellite because there are so many free options with all the digital subchannels now.”

As an industry, radio and television broadcasting continues to evolve as it strives to remain relevant in a world competing for eyes and ears. Being available across multiple platforms (e.g., mobile devices, mobile TV) is one key strategy, Vetterkind acknowledged, as is broadcasting’s role in continuing to deliver local news and emergency information. 



Most important to WBA’s constituency are issues such as retransmission consent — where television broadcast networks or station groups receive payment from cable and satellite providers for the right to retransmit their TV programming. Radio broadcasters, meanwhile, are fighting a law that would impose a performance fee on radio stations for airing and promoting artists’ music.  

There also is an industry-wide push in radio to have active FM analog radio chips installed in every mobile device in the country, which would provide radio access through smartphones, for example. The industry is also examining challenges (and opportunities) related to the connected car, “and how the automobile dashboard, now and in the future, will contain more audio entertainment choices for consumers than ever before,” she noted.

2014 promises to be an exciting year for Vetterkind as she assumes a one-year post as president of the National Alliance of State Broadcasting Associations. She’s also extremely excited about the WBA’s initiative to partner with all of the state’s Honor Flight chapters in a promotional effort to find and send more World War II vets to Washington, D.C.

Vetterkind enjoys the job’s variety and challenges. “On almost any given day, 80% of what I do has nothing to do with what I set out to do that day.” 

And she wouldn’t want it any other way.

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