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Jeff Wilson ’85 builds bridges towards social change

Jeff Wilson ’85 builds bridges towards social change

Radio and service are in the blood of Jeff Wilson ’85. More than three decades into his career, Wilson uses his position with Radio One to work toward social change in the communities he serves.

Otterbein — with its television and radio stations and a strong commitment to standing for what’s right — was a perfect match for Wilson’s career interests and personal values.

“The curriculum and culture at Otterbein weaves diversity into its DNA,” Wilson said. “At Otterbein we are taught — and then go on to teach — that we learn from, grow from and celebrate that which makes us different. We are called to build bridges, and honored to do so, especially over the deepest chasms.”   

In the years after graduating from Otterbein, Wilson’s career spanned a wide variety of positions — on-air personality, controller, sales manager, director, vice president and general manager — for companies in markets across the country.

The radio veteran began his employment with Radio One in 2003 as vice president and general manager of the Columbus market. Today, Wilson directs all daily operations for Radio One properties in Washington, D.C., and oversees the Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis and Indianapolis markets.

“As senior regional vice president for Radio One, I supervise our urban radio stations in St. Louis. We have a creed that goes way beyond ‘radio,’ and takes the leadership of the communities we serve to heart,” Wilson said.

It was this position that brought Wilson into one of the most significant social issues facing America today — perceived racism in law enforcement.

On Aug. 9, 2014, in the town of Ferguson, MO, just outside St. Louis, an 18-year-old African American man, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a police officer. The community plunged into civil unrest.

“As violence erupted in Ferguson, we immediately broke format to become a conduit between government officials and the community leaders to provide neutral and peaceful channels of communication,” Wilson said.

“It gave them an honest and unfiltered voice under the umbrella of neutrality and peace. Through our microphones and via our talent, the people of Ferguson knew they were being heard by government officials, and vice versa. It was humbling to see how both sides utilized our medium and our resources for the common good in the face of tremendous crisis.”

Michael Brown Sr. even recorded a personal plea for peace at the Radio One facility, which was echoed by President Obama.

According to Wilson, frustration and distrust with authorities began before the shooting, but citizens wanted to work toward a solution. “Much of what you saw on television was the result of outsiders. Citizens of Ferguson tried desperately to restore peace.”

“I will never forget walking through the riot zone late one afternoon, watching everybody getting along wonderfully. It was like a block party,” Wilson recalled.

“Police officers were providing a safe zone for families barbequing and socializing, while persons of all ethnicities and ages were mingling with no tension at all. Everybody wanted peace. Yet, everybody knew that when the sun set, others would emerge — largely gang members and outsiders — and a whole different scene would take place.”

“It was a very visible and vocal minority, most of which came from elsewhere, who kept the trouble brewing,” Wilson added.

“Despite what you might have seen on television, key stakeholders generally wanted the same things. The Brown family, the citizens of Ferguson, the citizens of St. Louis, and almost all government officials wanted a constructive solution and immediate peace. Therefore bringing different parties together was usually easy,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he and Radio One remain available to the people of Ferguson, if the need arises again.

Their response to the events in Ferguson led Wilson and Radio One to take a similar community leadership role in the midst of civil unrest in Baltimore and Cleveland. “The mayor and police chief of Cleveland formed a close alliance with us to open communication channels before and during a trial of alleged police brutality and the Tamir Rice incident. That conduit was credited with helping keep peace in northeast Ohio,” Wilson said.


Read other alumni stories and find more ‘hidden lives’ of Otterbein in the latest issue of Towers Magazine.