Stories, News and More: MTSU’s School of Journalism and Strategic Media Celebrates 50 Years of History

Apr 12, 2024 at 05:48 pm by WGNS News

Annie Carr, executive producer of WBIR, the NBC affiliate in Knoxville, led a session on television producing.


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Middle Tennessee State University's School of Journalism and Strategic Media is celebrating its 50th year of teaching students reporting, storytelling, breaking news and everything in between.  


Approved in 1972, the program began when Ed Kimbrell started the Department of Mass Communications, which included sequences in advertising and public relations, news-editorial, graphics and photography, and broadcasting. 

A Recording Industry major was added in 1973. The department became a school as it added radio and TV courses before becoming the College of Mass Communications in 1989 and later renamed the College of Media and Entertainment in 2015. 

The School of Journalism and Strategic Media in the John Bragg Media and Entertainment building now offers two degrees and 10 concentrations. It has more than two dozen faculty and 300 students. 

“I am so proud of the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, which is known throughout the nation for the education it has provided our students for 50 years,” said College of Media and Entertainment Dean Beverly Keel, an MTSU alumna and former award-winning music industry journalist. “What I really admire is that it continues to provide the foundation for journalism, advertising, public relations, sports media, and media design while constantly evolving to address the changes in the industry. No matter how technology changes, our graduates are prepared to communicate.”

MTSU's School of Journalism and Strategic Media equips students with professional knowledge and is focused on preparing the next generation of leaders in the ever-changing journalism and mass communication industries. 

"Our professors give students beyond-the-classroom experiences in any way they can – calling sports for ESPN+, going to the action to get stories and working with real clients in our Ad and PR agency. We involve students however we can," said School of Journalism Director Katie Foss. "Our curriculum offers interesting and unique courses, like data journalism, crime and media and election coverage."

Keel added, “Whether it’s traveling across the state to immerse themselves in a community and writing about its most colorful characters, to visiting Iowa to report on the presidential election, our students receive real-world, hands-on experience. It’s our faculty who truly make the difference. They are the most caring, dedicated and kind faculty that you will find anywhere. Indeed, they continue to mentor their students decades after graduation.”

The school’s anniversary events kicked off earlier this month with news executives from Knoxville’s NBC affiliate WBIR leading a day-long symposium on television producing and reporting for journalism students. 

To celebrate its 50th year, a fundraising and networking event will be held at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 12, on the second-floor atrium of Miller Education Center at 503 E. Bell Street.

"Our PR Event Planning class, taught by (lecturer) Angie Boyd-Chambers, led the planning of this 50th anniversary celebration week," Foss said. 

The event will connect some of MTSU's esteemed alumni with some of the school's most promising students. Tickets are $68 with proceeds funding student enrichment within the School of Journalism and Strategic Media. Attendees will be served heavy appetizers and desserts and receive a special edition 50th anniversary T-shirt. 

Alums from MTSU's School of Journalism and Strategic Media currently work as news reporters, anchors at major television and radio stations and newspapers, including WBIR-TV (Knoxville), WKRN-TV (Nashville), WVLT-TV (Knoxville), The Tennessean, NewsChannel 5 (Nashville), Main Street Media, the Associated Press, WSMV-TV (Nashville), Sirius XM Radio and more.

"We have grads working at ESPN, NBC, the Hallmark Channel, USA Today Network, The Predators, NASA, TikTok, Nissan, Delta Airlines and nonprofits," Foss said, adding, "Our graduates are sports editors and analysts, social media coordinators and graphic designers. They work in digital marketing, social media, recruiting, and more." 

Notable alumni include morning anchor Holly Thompson (WSMV), Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams (WTVF), Don Aaron (Associate Administrator/Public Affairs Director for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department), Tracey Rogers (Senior Vice President and Regional Manager for Nexstar Media Group), anchor Katie Inman (WBIR), among many others.

Williams returned to campus to reflect on his illustrious career during a special event Thursday, April 11, in the State Farm Lecture Hall of the Business and Aerospace Building. The event was sponsored by The Free Speech Center at MTSU and the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.


MTSU and WGNS Broadcasting Pre-1972: WGNS' very own Bart Walker, who built his first low-power radio station in his bedroom when he was in the 7th grade, is also a graduate of MTSU. Walker recalls, “I built a low-power AM station in 1957 and ran it as if it were a massive 100-thousand-watt radio station in a big city.” Radio was in his blood, and from a very early age, he knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. “I'll never forget the day we had a special visitor show up at our house,” he recalled. “It was someone from the FCC, and my mother was not pleased that her son could cost her a thousand-dollar fine.” Keep in mind a $1,000 fine in 1957 is equivalent to about $10,000 today.

Like many broadcasters today, radio was in his blood. "It was around 70 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday when I was invited by the manager of the Belle Meade Theater to interview celebrity guests like Pat Boone, Guy Lombardo, and others when they visited the theater in Nashville." With a passion that was perfectly tuned in, there was never any question as to what Walker wanted to do when he got older: radio.

During his high school years in the late 1950s, Walker worked part-time for WFMB. William O. Barry, who owned the station at the time, mentored and cultivated Walker's dream of becoming a DJ. In 1962, he was hired by WLAC-FM to work the morning shift. “The studios were in the Life and Casualty building in downtown Nashville, and for me, it was a dream job,” Walker said. Click the below photo to see pictures of Bart Walkers' early years in radio. 

Three years after graduating from high school, Walker realized that to further expand upon his radio career, he needed a college education. In the fall of 1965, he left WLAC-FM to study journalism and English at Middle Tennessee State University.

While a student at MTSU, he worked part-time for WMTS (FM) and WGNS (AM). It was during his time at the local university that he fell in love with the Good Neighbor Stations' (WGNS) history that dates back to 1947. But that love would have to wait, as Walker had more to do before taking over the airwaves in Rutherford County.

Throughout college, Walker also worked as the program director at WBJF (AM) in Woodbury until graduating from MTSU in 1968 (now WBRY). After receiving his BS degree, Walker returned to Nashville, where he needed to at least test the waters outside of radio. His exploration into the world away from radio landed him in the field of public relations with the Tennessee Department of Education as well as a Nashville advertising agency. However, it didn't last long. Three years later, Walker was back in radio.

From 1971 to 1983, Walker was a part of the Nashville broadcasting scene. It wasn't until 1984 that he felt the calling to return to Murfreesboro. His move came with the purchase of WGNS, the Good Neighbor Station. Forty years later, his love for radio and his passion for serving the community continues.


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