(First published in the January 17, 2019 issue of City Pages)
Diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Glen Moberg lays out his life and career
Glen Moberg (right) greets friends and supporters after his program Sunday at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in Wausau.
With guitar in hand, Glen Moberg looked out at a sea of faces Sunday morning, Jan. 13. He opened without words; instead, he launched into a song he wrote ten years ago, called “When the Darkness Sets In.” The crowd at Wausau’s First Universalist Unitarian Church, of which Moberg and his wife, Mary Beth are members, was filled with congregants and community members who soaked in every word silently, only making noise to applaud.
The song choice was poignant. Moberg, 66, a familiar face and voice for 15 years with Wisconsin Public Radio and previously with both WAOW Ch. 9 and WSAW Ch. 7, has terminal stomach cancer. Doctors give him maybe three months, or possibly as much as a year. Moberg’s last WPR program was in September. He has been on leave since then.
Moberg on Sunday was afforded a rare opportunity, one that of course nobody wishes was necessary in the first place: to highlight one’s own life and work.
Moberg started as a disc jockey at a progressive rock station in Chicago in the 1970s, then created and directed a regional news department for Centel cable television in the 1980s. Pressure from a series of stories helped lead to the cleanup of radioactive waste in West Chicago.
He then was hired by John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel and famed weatherman on Good Morning America, to be the news director for a 24-hour cable channel located at Fox News headquarters. It didn’t last, but led to a TV reporting job, where he covered crime, politics and the statehouse in Springfield, Ill. Day after day Moberg filmed shooting victims, interviewed their families, took video of grim bloody crime scenes, and “packaged it all for the 9 o’clock news,” Moberg told the congregation. “Every night I would go home and feel a little dirty, and I would wake up the next day and go back and do it again.”
Rained out on a planned camping trip up north one day, Moberg toured the Wausau area TV stations and befriended legendary local broadcaster Mark Zelich, who two years later called and interviewed Moberg. He accepted. “We made the frightening decision to leave family and friends and two good jobs behind and move from America’s third largest television market to one of the smallest,” Moberg says.
Moberg worked for Channel 7, then Channel 9 before landing with what Moberg called “Wausau’s own little bastion of sanity, Wisconsin Public Radio.”
His WPR career begin in 2004 and quickly led to the creation of Moberg’s regional talk show, Route 51. Moberg highlighted several of his favorite, award winning stories with WPR. The Sky Cries in Crandon, a story following the aftermath one year after a shooting in Crandon in which a police officer shot and killed six friends and wounded a seventh before ending his own life left the audience rapt in silence. In highlighting a story about bear collaring, he pointed out how easily one could access the DNR, before then Gov. Scott Walker’s administration limited who could speak to the press. Moberg railed against the demonization of science and of the press in his 80-minute program.
Moberg also highlighted his musical career, playing several original songs as well as recorded clips from Route 51 where he sat in with the likes of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Stevens Point based bluegrass powerhouse band Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.
The packed house gave Moberg a standing ovation as he closed the service, the only point in which tears found Moberg’s cheeks. He could only smile through teary eyes as everyone clapped — overcome with emotion at the swell of support before the darkness sets in.
Being from Wausau, I had grown accustomed to hearing Moberg’s booming, deep voice long. I was always struck by his penchant for boiling down a very complicated story into something short enough to fit on the radio. In an age where too much radio “news” is just rehashing newspaper headlines, Moberg was the real deal: a workhorse, gumshoe reporter who covered the story like a journalist should: boots on the ground, microphone in hand.
I had heard Glen Moberg long before I first met him while covering a court case in Portage County together. It’s no radio trickery; Moberg sounds the same in real life as he does on air. Sitting in the courtroom together, Moberg occasionally asked me context questions (I’d been covering the particular court case for months), and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d really made it. I was sitting next to theGlen Moberg, covering the same story.
Another time I remember him in a panic, trying to arrange a last-minute guest for his Route 51 show. By now I’m very familiar with that same panic of trying to pin down a source on deadline, and understand that it’s just part of journalism. But at the time, seeing someone as revered as Moberg face the same challenges helped put me at ease as a young journalist.
I ran into Moberg several times since then, and almost inevitably I would hear him before I would see him. Some voices are so distinctive that they have a character of their own. And I’d always run into Moberg at Stoney Acres Farm’s annual Barn Dance in Athens. Moberg almost always had a camera slung around his shoulders at this event.
I felt a mix of emotions listening to Moberg this past Sunday. His career was what most of us could hope for: A long one, honored by those who appreciate a fair, accurate approach to journalism. Moberg made a name for himself by being fair, honest, straightforward, fearless, and yet always connected to the community.
Plenty of Moberg’s stories won awards, but seeing the audience that packed the church Sunday morning, Moberg achieved what every professional should care about far beyond awards: the respect and trust of the community.