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Terry Conrad: Founding father of Montana Public Radio

We've declared today Terry Conrad Day! Terry co-founded Montana Public Radio (along with Phil Hess) in 1973. He served as the station's Program Director from 1973-1995, and as Station Manager/Program Director from 1995-2001. Terry received the Montana Governor's Award for Media Arts in 2008.

Among his countless contributions to public radio in the state, he brought Jazz to the airwaves and has been spinning it ever since. You can hear him as the host of Jazz Sessions — a program he started in 1973 — every Thursday at 2 p.m.

Tune in to MTPR tonight at 8 p.m. to hear a live Terry Conrad Night broadcast from Jazzoula Spring '23.

We asked his longtime coworkers to share their thoughts about Terry. Here's what they said.

A radio station that survives without gobs of commercial advertising? The concept of “listener-supported radio” was still new when Terry Conrad joined on with what I think was the first such station in the state of Montana – KUFM, then serving just the Missoula area.

Presenting Jazz on Montana radio was also seen as risky, daring. But Terry was committed. He loved the music, viewed it as one of America’s great cultural contributions, and saw no reason why Montanans, if exposed to it, wouldn’t become as passionate about it as he has been all his adult life.

Thank you Terry, for your quiet leadership and your commitment to both public broadcasting and to America’s original classical music.
Larry Garde, MTPR host and producer
As chair of the University of Montana Radio-TV Department, Phil Hess oversaw a student training radio station (KUFM) that was on the air a few hours a week during the school year. The station gave R-TV students in the Journalism School a chance to produce live newscasts and special programs.

In 1973 Phil decided to seek funding from the recently created Corporation for Public Broadcast to expand the station into a full-time, regional, public radio service. His first hire was a fellow Chicagoan, Terry Conrad, who was traveling west with his family, looking for employment. They hit if off immediately, bonding over their identical “Workers of the World Arise with Wally Phillips” coffee mugs - a trademark for Chicago radio station WGN. Terry had grown up listening to Wally as well as WFMT, the eclectic fine arts station, and jazz station WCFL. He also studied music and trumpet at the Sherwood School of Music.

As the new program director for KUFM, Terry was given free rein to create his ideal of a multi-faceted radio service. What he created has endured for 50 years and still reflects his inclusive approach to discovery and engagement. Jazz programming was new for the western Montana audience. Classical music wasn’t available elsewhere. Children’s programs were unheard of - in Missoula or elsewhere. Remembering his enjoyment of WFMT’s “Midnight Special,” a music and spoken word program created by theater director and comedian Mike Nichols, Terry added genre music programs with local hosts who were knowledgeable and eager to share their collections. The schedule was rounded out with news programming from NPR and a small local news staff.

Terry Conrad’s vision and his determination to create a unique jewel that would beguile and delight and enlighten, made MTPR a beloved and indispensable part of life in Montana. We are all lucky that a coffee cup sparked a friendship and a job offer 50 years ago.
William Marcus, MTPR director emeritus
When I first started at MTPR in 1980, one of my earliest memories is walking into master control on the 3rd floor of the old journalism building, and Terry telling me to walk carefully so the record on the turntable (yes turntable!) wouldn’t skip…..The floors were so uneven…

Terry always had a kind authority and an easy laugh, that made him so easy to work with and for. You knew he had your back.

Great guy. Period.

Sally Mauk, Senior News Analyst & News Director Emeritus
Terry Conrad is the very first person I ever met at Montana Public Radio. I showed up at the studio while he was hosting Jazz Sessions and handed him a demo CD from KKUP. Within a couple of months Terry invited me to host Jazz Sessions in his absence. It was September of 2008 and I've been here ever since.

Terry's contributions to jazz in Montana have been enormous. I've learned many things from him but if there is something that stands out it is that jazz is inherently a recorded music. The musical scores are not timeless like classical compositions but timeless in the sense that the recorded performances, like those of Charlie Parker, are as fresh today as they were years ago.

Terry, Jon [Jackson] and I have been pitching for fundraisers since Spring of 2009. Whenever I make a mistake in my math while announcing the pledge amount, Terry likes to joke with me about my being a particle physicist. It's all in good fun and it has always been a pleasure to hear him and to work with him.

Terry is absolutely the best and I will always consider it a pleasure and an honor to be able to work with him.

Tom Engelmann, MTPR host and producer
[Terry] said yes to children's programming 49 years ago and was so instrumental in designing a service that to this day remains eclectic, Montana focused and has such a broad appeal.
Michael Marsolek, MTPR program director

Some time in the early 1990s, my sister Annie - then the host of a one-hour Friday evening program on what was KUFM/KGPR called Let the Good Times Roll that followed Pazz n’ Jop - introduced me to Terry Conrad. The conversation immediately turned to music. I told him of my love of the medium of radio, and how it had introduced me to much of the music I love - including jazz. I’m sure I rambled about favorite radio personalities, musicians, singers, guitarists, etc. I don’t remember clearly what happened next, except that I think Annie was feeling a little hemmed in by the implied format of exclusively playing “oldies”; and based on my sister’s ringing endorsement, my youthful enthusiasm and obvious passion for music, Terry took a chance on me. And so this music-loving guy with no prior radio experience became a DJ. Terry guided me through the process of acquiring my written FCC Authorization, and then pretty much left me to my own devices.

I can’t recall the exact sequence of events, but I asked Terry if I could broaden the format of the show to a more open-ended one similar to Free Forms and Pazz n’ Jop. Terry kept asking me to rename the program; and when I procrastinated week-after-week, he finally suggested On Garde.

Soon after, the station decided to drop the one-hour syndicated jazz program hosted by Ed Love that aired from 11 p.m. to midnight Friday; and my time slot was now two-hours. A name-change was in order and I am ever thankful to Rigel Bankshot for suggesting Muse’s Jukebox.

Terry’s guidance was always given sparingly and with a light touch. He reminded me a few times not to “pop my ‘P’s’ ” ; but mostly he encouraged me by putting his faith in my own instincts, abilities, and commitment.

I have learned so much about jazz - and about how to comport oneself on air - from listening to Terry’s Thursday afternoon Jazz Sessions program. His love of family, his loyalty to friends, his concern for our beloved state of Montana, the high standards he brings to broadcasting, and the dignity with which Terry carries himself in all things are inspirational to me.

Thanks Terry,

Larry Garde

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