Archived Voice Articles
By Sally Jongsma
Mark Vogelzang (’79) figured that getting kicked out of Dordt after three semesters for poor grades would prevent him from ever being named a distinguished alumni. But he learned from that experience and has done what professors hope their students do: taken his Dordt College education and made an impact in the world—in broadcasting.
Vogelzang, the current president and general manager of Vermont Public Radio, got his start at KDCR, Dordt’s campus radio station. In fact, it was probably the reason he was dismissed—he enjoyed his work there so much that he didn’t spend enough time on his studies.
“I was too young at the time to handle the freedom that came with college,” he says today. But working construction through an Iowa winter and working as sports announcer at KDCR, along with encouragement from then-president B.J. Haan to re-enroll, convinced him to finish his degree with the goal of working in radio. He eventually was hired as music director of KDCR and settled into the Sioux Center community. Vogelzang says he learned so much at KDCR—classical music programming, weather, sports reporting. “I felt in touch with the world,” he says.
The birth and growth of public radio also caught his attention in those years. Vogelzang was fascinated by National Public Radio programming—especially a new show called Morning Edition—and began to think about what it would be like to work for such a station. He was hired by a public radio station in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In recalling that time, he does a good imitation of Haan telling him he needed to “Go-o-o” to learn and contribute to the world of broadcasting. Vogelzang and his wife, Rhonda (Huizenga, ’76), later moved to Philadelphia where he worked in public radio before he went to work for Vermont Public Radio. He continues to appreciate the way public radio combines quality journalism and commitment to local broadcasting. It leads to unique challenges, he believes. The varied and creative programming helps listeners hear many sides of issues.
Part of what Vogelzang loves about working in radio is the fact that things are always changing—every day is a little different. Another part is connecting with audiences.
“You soon learn that if you provide your audience with the kind of programming they want, they will be very loyal,” he says. When he was at WHYY in Philadelphia, he began a tradition of going on the air and taking phone calls from listeners. He found that donors and listeners appreciated access to someone who makes decisions.
“We’re working for them, and we’re only as valuable as they allow us to be,” Vogelzang says. He adds, “When you listen and treat people respectfully, they appreciate it, even if they sometimes disagree.”
In his work, Vogelzang has led musical tours to Europe for listeners and has introduced shows like “Sunday Bach” on Vermont Public Radio.
But like all media today, public radio is facing big changes. Its programming has a strong and loyal audience, but future challenges involve not only attracting new young audiences but also responding to how those audiences use and consume media in an internet-dominated world.
“It’s a daunting but interesting challenge,” Vogelzang says. “The craft has not changed—quality programming based on good writing and storytelling still lies at the heart of good broadcasting and journalism. But the tools and technology are changing dramatically.” And while radio faces some of the same challenges that print journalism does, its advantage is that audio translates to the web easily.
Some think that there is no role for government support of broadcasting, but Vogelzang believes that the limited amount does help build local financial support. Public radio provides access to areas where commercial radio will rarely go—classical music and in-depth examination of issues, for example. And it gives an opportunity for NPR programming to be heard across the country.
“I believe public radio is an important place for Christians to be,” Vogelzang says. He is currently on the board of National Public Radio, and he gives formative leadership to the eight stations of Vermont Public Radio. His work has truly given him an opportunity to have an impact on the culture around him.