Leila Walsh, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science, is the morning news anchor for Syracuse radio station B104.7 FM and also works as a reporter for WSYR-570 AM.
Long before Leila Walsh ’00 began her studies at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, she had logged considerable hours on the radio airwaves. As an eighth-grader in Hanover, New Hampshire, she rose at dawn every Saturday and rode her bike to her part-time job at the local radio station. But Walsh wasn’t content with the typical student tasks of filing papers or fetching coffee. She wanted real work and was hired as a production assistant, writing copy and editing tapes for the news department. |
Walsh says her work at the radio station was a natural extension of her interest in broadcasting and current events. She briefly considered applying for a job in television, but decided radio would enable her to start at an earlier age. “I knew I couldn’t get a job on TV because I was young,” Walsh says. “But on the radio, my age was not an issue.”
A year later, Walsh was anchoring a weekday evening newscast for a station in Troy, New York, where she was attending prep school. Her love of radio broadcasting was now fully formed, and it has become the only medium in which Walsh wants to work. “A lot of people see radio as a gateway to television, but I don’t,” she says. “The ability to tell a story with sound fascinates me.”
Now a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science, Walsh has lost none of her enthusiasm for a radio career. As the morning news anchor for B104.7 FM, Walsh begins her weekdays at 4:30 a.m. In addition, she spends several hours a week working as a reporter at WSYR-570 AM.
In 1999, Walsh took first-place honors in two categories of the Hearst Journalism Awards competition, winning a $5,000 scholarship and a $1,000 award in the national competition for best use of radio for news coverage. “The competition was fierce, but the whole process was a great experience,” Walsh says.
Unlike many in her profession, Walsh foresees an emerging renaissance for local news sources, particularly radio. “Local reporting is only going to gain more importance in the next 10 years,” she says. “People can get national or international news from so many sources today, but they also want to know about things that affect them directly. They want to feel good about the community they live in.”
Walsh believes many young journalists are passing up opportunities to report good stories in a local market because they are drawn to the higher pay and recognition of national news organizations. She says many of her classmates view local radio stations as brief stops on the road to something bigger. “A lot of reporters are just looking for the best stories to put on their audition tapes,” Walsh says.
Walsh’s strong belief in the importance of local news was reinforced during the 1998 Labor Day storm in Central New York. After a fallen tree nearly disabled her car, she felt a real connection with people who called the station to share their stories. More importantly, she realized how many people relied on a local media source like WSYR. “In some cases we were people’s only source of information,” Walsh says. “People were trapped in their homes without electricity; sometimes all they had was a transistor radio.”
While WSYR is well known for its news-oriented programming, Walsh is pleasantly surprised by how much B104.7 listeners rely on her newscasts. “Sure, the atmosphere is lighter; we have a lot of fun. But it has been interesting to see how B104.7 listeners respond to the news,” she says. “Sometimes after people hear a story, they call and leave messages for me, looking for more information.”
With a radio career already established in Syracuse, Walsh is in no hurry to leave after graduation. Should opportunity take her elsewhere, however, she believes it will be to a place where she can become part of the community, just as she has in Syracuse. “I’ve really learned a lot in this market,” she says. “I think I could be happy wherever I go. After all, there are always new stories that need to be told.”