Forging a path

Part of Patty Cahill's inspirational mentoring includes humor. Here, she and Kara Caldwell share a laugh at KCUR.
Part of Patty Cahill's inspirational mentoring includes humor. Here, she and Kara Caldwell share a laugh at KCUR.

KCUR 89.3 FM general manager and UMKC professor inspires students

Throughout her 44 years in the Radio-TV-Film industry, Patricia Deal Cahill — general manager of KCUR 89.3 FM and assistant professor of Communication Studies, UMKC College of Arts and Sciences — has been a pioneer.

She pursued a Radio-TV-Film education even though a communications professor advised her to become a nurse or teacher. In August, she became the first active public radio station manager to be named to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s (CPB) Board of Directors. And now she’s helping students navigate an ever-changing media landscape and create a student-operated radio station.

A National Honor

An estimated 500 buttons make up an eclectic collection that covers a large part of Cahill's office wall.

An estimated 500 buttons make up an eclectic collection that covers a large part of Cahill’s office wall.

Established by the U.S. Congress in 1967 and primarily funded through the federal government, the CPB provides federal money to public and independent television and radio stations across the county. CPB’s Board is composed of nine members who serve six-year terms.

After President Barack Obama nominated Cahill, the FBI questioned her for an hour and requested various reports and records. FBI agents also contacted more than 20 of Cahill’s friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances as part of the required background check.

“The FBI agent asked me what I could tell him about her,” said John Whiteman, director of UMKC’s Creative Services Department. “I told him she was the most honest person I knew, and that if you want to know something, just ask her.”

Having successfully passed the first stage of the process, Cahill headed to Washington, D.C. on July 29 to present testimony to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

On Aug. 7, the U.S. Senate officially confirmed Cahill to the Board.

“Upon hearing I was confirmed, I was elated, scared, humbled and nervous,” Cahill said. “I hope that public radio will feel as if it’s represented well. Too many times, people think of TV when they see the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But radio is an important aspect of the media, too.”

Cahill and the other eight members are responsible for attending quarterly Board meetings, setting CPB policy and priorities and allocating more than $400 million annually in federal funding to noncommercial radio and television stations across the U.S.

An Inspirational Mentor

In addition to achieving these milestones, Cahill recently helped her UMKC Broadcast Management students create a business plan for a student-operated radio station that will be housed in the UMKC New Student Union.

Derek Greer, a construction liaison for the New Student Union and a senior in the UMKC Bloch School of Business and Public Administration is leading the project, which has interested more than 20 students.

“Patty has given me the wisdom and knowledge that I need to move in the right direction with this project,” Greer said. “Her knowledge and experience of radio and running a radio station has helped me follow through with starting a radio station myself.”

Since becoming general manager of KCUR and assistant professor of Communication Studies in 1987, Cahill has mentored several Communications Studies student-interns who eventually became full-time KCUR employees.

Kara Caldwell, associate producer for “Up To Date with Steve Kraske” launched her career after hearing about a KCUR internship opportunity through Cahill’s Broadcast Management class. The internship involved writing for “Up to Date with Steve Kraske” and learning how to produce the program.

“My experience at KCUR has been so hands-on and has really taught me what respectable news reporting is,” Caldwell said. “Patty is amazing. She’s giving me a great outlook for the future and my prospects with public radio.”

Cahill made such an impression that even students from decades ago cite her as a major inspiration.

Mike Taylor, Director of Public Relations for Unified Government of Wyandotte County, remembers taking journalism classes from Cahill at Wichita State University in the 1970s.

“She was a major mentor in those early years of my college education,” Taylor said. “I think the biggest thing Patty did for her students was to create an environment where you were challenged and supported to be bold and try innovative approaches.”

In her 22 years as KCUR general manager, Cahill has helped the station grow from 48,000 weekly listeners to 192,000 weekly listeners. She’s also seen computers replace typewriters, CDs replace records and cassette tapes and digital cameras become a necessity for reporters. The station has gone from providing strictly audio content to providing audio and online content that includes multimedia.

Cahill has worked in public radio as a receptionist, record/tape librarian, continuity director, Audio Reader director, news reporter/producer, news director, program director and general manager.

Cahill holds a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications (Radio-TV-Film) and Geography and a master’s degree in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Kansas.

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