Madison's Air America affiliate, The Mic 92.1, is in better shape today than it was when he began as its program director. Brian Turany takes pride in that.
"I think the last four years on a whole were pretty successful," says Turany. "I'm happy we got the station to where it is now, which I think is stronger than it was two years ago, and definitely stronger than where it was when it started."
Moreover, it wasn't all work: "We got to do some really fun things. I met a lot of amazing people. One of my favorite memories is of having Al Franken's show on the air, and him coming to Madison twice."
Coming on the heels local host Lee Rayburn's departure and the swapping in of a show featuring conservative financial advisor Dave Ramsey, the loss of Turany -- who Rayburn dubbed the "patron saint of progressive radio in Madison" -- came as a major blow to fans of The Mic.
Turany was instrumental in helping shape the station when it went on the air in 2004, and again in carving out its course during upheavals two years ago. He was one of two representatives, along with station manager Mike Ferris, who spoke in defense of The Mic in front of a crowd of nearly 50 concerned radio listeners last week at the Dardanelles restaurant.
Turany says he's sure the layoff was based soled on financial reasons, and not ideologically motivated. But he expresses some frustration about not being able to communicate how he felt about changes at the station.
"At the meeting last week, I couldn't think of a way to convince people that what's happening isn't all bad. I really think that, though the station is not as strong as it will be, it's still very progressive and very good."
Turany spoke about the future of broadcasting and media in general, about moving shows online as Rayburn has done with his new project, Roots Up Radio. It's unclear how new media will evolve, and how to forge a sustainable model that will allow people to do it full-time. The Internet and other digital media have the potential to be a broadly democratizing force in terms of the dissemination of news and ideas -- but hardly anyone seems to yet know the magic formula for making that work.
Turany, with his experience and communications degree, is looking ahead to see if he can find a way back into radio, or try something different and new. Finding jobs in broadcasting is tough right now.
Clear Channel and other major media outlets are cutting costs to ride out the recession. But Turany is optimistic that Air America can survive.
"I think Air America, at least, has the opportunity to be at the leading edge of this new wave of media and marketing," he says. "Right now, they've got one online-only show, and it could give them the chance to play around with what's possible, what works."
He points to companies like The Capital Times, which he contends have moved to being predominantly online. "I don't think their content has gone downhill because of it, and it allows them to get a wider range of topics posted more quickly."
Every community should have access to relevant, local news and opinions, but how possible is that when one company owns most of the market and begins to nationalize the content in order to save money? How can radio outlets maintain a decent level of quality and quantity with fewer boots hitting the pavement?
Turany is moved by the dismay expressed in the listening community over his departure.
"I guess I didn't really realize exactly what people thought of my role at the station," he says. "One of the other eye opening things about all of this, though, has been seeing that, even with a line-up of national hosts brought in via satellite, these people felt very connected. Which is amazing."
He adds that working at The Mic got him involved and riding for ACT 6 (the Wisconsin AIDS Ride). Turany recorded "ACTcasts" for the station's website and plugged the event on-air. He called the experience "one of the most important and enjoyable things" he'd done in his life. Now, despite "not having the Mic's megaphone strapped to my back," he intends to keep riding and fundraising.
It is that sense of community connectedness that drove Turany during his tenure and drew many of the fans to The Mic. And though Turany is confident that the station will continue to present progressive programming, many dedicated listeners can't help but worry about the future. It's a worry shared, in one way or another, by everyone from DJs and reporters to station managers and CEOs.