KOSU Director Kelly Burley To Retire In August

May 14, 2019

KOSU station director, Kelly Burley, announced Tuesday that he plans to retire from Oklahoma State University, effective August 1.

"What an incredible ride it has been to watch today’s news become tomorrow’s history – all from a catbird’s seat in public radio – and in partnership with so many wonderful and talented people, present and past," Burley said in a statement. "These friends will always be in my heart."

Burley's work with KOSU spans three decades, first as a reporter in 1990, then as the program director, and finally, as the station director. He's a three-time Edward R. Murrow award-winner and winner of the National Journalism Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation, two national awards from Public Radio News Directors, Inc., and several other journalism awards.

Over the past 12 years as station director, Burley has championed community-driven journalism, greater reporting collaborations, diverse programming offerings, local music awareness, and increased literacy.

He has overseen KOSU's transition from an all-classical music station to a news and music station and was integral to the formation of StateImpact Oklahoma, a news collaboration of NPR member stations in Oklahoma.

Burley has been at the helm during the move and expansion of KOSU's broadcast facility and newsroom in downtown Oklahoma City, the establishment of a satellite studio in The Tulsa Arts District, the restoring of greater radio service to Stillwater, and the return of KOSU to the airwaves in Ponca City.

Through these moves and more, KOSU has significantly increased audience size and nearly doubled yearly station revenue during Burley's tenure as station director.

"I look forward to hearing my colleagues’ work as the station’s future unfolds," Burley said. "They will need your financial support more than ever in order to connect you to the news and music at the heart of KOSU’s mission and deliver that content to all of the places where you expect to hear and see it."

KOSU's staff wishes Burley nothing but the best in his retirement and we're excited to see what he accomplishes in this new phase of life.

Make a donation in honor of Kelly Burley's three decades at KOSU.

Read his full letter to listeners below:

A Farewell Message from Kelly Burley

Dear KOSU listeners,

I have been thinking a lot lately about the quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” For me, the ever-present and ever-changing nature of life is a mash up of both truth and mystery. Yet the past feels more and more like a dream. In my fledgling practice to contemplate all of this, I’ve been imagining standing in the Barren Fork creek near Tahlequah, my favorite childhood swimming hole, and in the middle of the gently flowing stream I look down to see what experiences are reflecting back at me. A lot of those remembrances are about my life at KOSU and Oklahoma State University.

I have spent more than half of my life in Stillwater as a student and working professional. Yet in an odd twist of fate, I have had three “first days” on the job at KOSU. The first was August 6th, 1990. I was hired by then-KOSU General Manager Craig Beeby as a reporter in a three-person newsroom, just months removed from graduation. The studios were less than 100 feet from where I spent countless hours as a broadcast journalism student in the Paul Miller building, and that familiarity made the transition from aspiring student to responsible adult a little more bearable as I juggled the duties of a new job with the responsibilities of becoming a new parent.

In those days, sign-off was each night at midnight and sign-on was the following morning at five o’clock, and that required a person to turn the transmitter off and on each day. As the newest reporter, I drew the short straw - the early shift. I still remember pushing the limit on the number of times I could hit the alarm “snooze” and still make it from home to work before 5am to flip the switch to get KOSU on the air each weekday morning. After that daily “wake up” routine, I would turn my attention to preparing the morning’s local newscasts and pursuing the stories I would produce and leave for the afternoon news shift.

The technology to produce radio news was vastly different 30 years ago. KOSU reporters relied heavily on taped telephone interviews, and the equipment of the day - mainly reel-to-reels, cassette recorders and audio carts that were a lot like the old eight-track tapes. The technology to get sound from the field to the station was equally old-school, requiring a telephone and a pair of alligator clips. I would literally unscrew the phone handset to connect the alligator clips from my cassette recorder to the guts of the earpiece, call the station, and play taped interviews through the phone. A producer back at the station would get the sound ready to air either that evening or the following morning.

I’ll never forget some of the big stories from my early radio days – the first Gulf War, Oklahoma’s first inmate execution in nearly a quarter of a century and the rise of a deadly new virus. And of course the Oklahoma City bombing and the years-long coverage that followed as a city rebuilt and her people remembered.

I left KOSU in 1997 to pursue a master’s degree in mass communications, and after graduation, I returned to KOSU on December 14th, 1998, to serve as the station’s program director. During that time, I worked to strengthen KOSU by repositioning the station’s local newscasts in Morning Edition and devoting a full-time reporter to the state Capitol. KOSU launched its first website during this time and we adopted radio automation in order to improve efficiencies, thus reimagining the roles of the people who make radio. That allowed me to produce a few radio stories that sought to define our sense of place through the voices of Oklahomans past and present. And the news kept on coming. The May 3rd 1999 tornado outbreak scarred the Oklahoma landscape and the emotions of an entire state while the 9/11 attacks in 2001 brought an entire nation to its knees in grief and anger. And of course, as an OSU alum, the plane crash that killed 10 members of OSU’s men’s basketball program was among the most difficult stories I ever covered.

I left again after five years as program director to pursue an opportunity outside of public radio to meet the needs of a growing family. But when the opportunity arose to lead KOSU, I jumped back in because by then radio was in my DNA. So I walked through the station’s front doors yet again on September 17th, 2007, for my first day as station director.

During the past 11-plus years, I overcame numerous challenges in making the case that KOSU is worthy of support – with the station’s university owners, listeners, businesses and community collaborators. This task would have been impossible without an incredible team of professionals that I have been so very grateful to know as working partners.

Together, we demonstrated to the OSU administration that KOSU was a valuable asset that amplified OSU’s outreach mission. We experienced exponential increases in audience size and community support by creating new reasons to listen. We improved efficiencies in operations and strengthened community connections with our largest donor bases through new studios. We fixed weaknesses with our broadcast signals in places where KOSU had previously been strong. We embraced new technologies to reach people where they are consuming media. And we changed the narrative of the stations’ relationship with other public radio stations, holding firm to the belief that public radio is strongest when stations work together to increase reporting capacity. All the while, the news has kept on coming.

So much has changed since I walked through KOSU’s doors for the first time 29 years ago and I have been very fortunate to be part of this radio station. But now is the time for yet another first day – for KOSU and for me. As such, I have submitted to OSU leadership my letter of intent to retire as KOSU Director effective August 1. What an incredible ride it has been to watch today’s news become tomorrow’s history – all from a catbird’s seat in public radio – and in partnership with so many wonderful and talented people, present and past. These friends will always be in my heart. I look forward to hearing my colleagues’ work as the station’s future unfolds and they will need your financial support more than ever in order to connect you to the news and music at the heart of KOSU’s mission and deliver that content to all of the places where you expect to hear and see it.

While I’m tuning to KOSU, I will be working on several new initiatives, including the launch of a statewide collaboration, Save Lives Unite Oklahoma, in partnership with the Kirkpatrick Foundation and numerous animal welfare groups in the state. We will be working together to strengthening the human connection with animals. I will also be working with a small group in Tulsa to launch a new music show for public radio from historic Cain’s Ballroom, with the goal of national distribution by 2021, and I will work in the podcast realm as a producer and consultant.

So for the final time as KOSU station director, this is Kelly Burley, signing off with fond memories and best wishes for a better tomorrow.


Make a donation in honor of Kelly Burley's three decades at KOSU.

No definite plans have been announced regarding Burley's replacement. In the meantime, we are committed to continuing to provide quality programming to our dedicated listeners.