Radio Host Q&A: Susan Giles Wantuck

By Beth Tyne

Susan Giles Wantuck has been delivering news to the Tampa Bay Area since she was in college. Her career path may have changed, but her employer didn’t.

At the time, Wantuck was a student at the University of South Florida student volunteering at the local radio station. After receiving her B.A. in Mass Communication from USF, she continued on her career at WUSF Public Media, Tampa’s NPR affiliate station for over 20 years. She started as a board operator but is now heard on the radio across the state.

Her work can be found on the WUSF News website.

What do you do at WUSF?

I am a news host and producer, and I do reporting and I also do classical music on our WSMR.

How did you get into journalism?

How did I get into journalism? Well, I wanted to be a dentist or a lawyer and when I came to USF to complete my 4-year degree, I started working at the radio station as a student. And then when I graduated they offered me a job as a classical music host and I said “oh I’ll just be here for six months,” because I wanted to do TV. But in the interim, I had interned in TV and I realized that wasn’t my cup of tea.

How did you get started at WUSF?

I was a board operator when I was a student at USF and so back then board operators were allowed to talk on the radio, they don’t do that so much anymore. I did classical music and jazz, and I did the breaks in the newscast.

How long have you been at WUSF?

Oh God, longer than I want to say! More than twenty years, a very long time.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I mean everybody says this, but it’s not the same thing every day, and it’s fun and I love the fact that I can go places and be like a nosey parker and ask all these questions and find out the answers to my questions, but it’s not just for me, it’s for representing the public.

I just love learning about things, and it’s great.

So what’s the favorite thing that you’ve learned?

Oh gosh, I don’t know, everything I think.

I’ve learned not just on the outside doing reporting, but also from my colleagues because there’s so much depth of experience here. I just remember it being so much smaller when there were like five or six people in the news department, and you’d say “hey, Bobbie what about this?” or “hey, Steve remember when this happened?” and people could just recall it like that and tell you exactly what happened. So to have that sense of history and the depth of knowledge is really beneficial because there’s a saying

“people sharpen other people like iron sharpens iron”

and I really believe it’s true.

If you were to give one piece of advice to someone graduating and going into the industry, what would that be?

I’d say, I think it’s very competitive now because there are so few, because of the contraction of journalism.

I’d say learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. And I’d say be yourself, whatever that is, be exactly who you are, because you want that to shine through, that’s going to make you stand out.

And also, especially when you’re first starting, don’t disdain minor things, because that’s going to give you a step up on the ladder. If you have to go to a small town where it’s cold for a while, you’re only going to be there for a little while, so learn as much as you can from that.

Even when I interned in TV, I worked from 3:30 in the morning to 8:30 in the morning before I came to work at the radio station as my part-time job. I learned how to cut video there, they let me do, on set, a five-minute newscast, the weather guy volunteered to be on there and the makeup guy volunteered to do my makeup. I don’t know how common it is now, but it was unheard of back then, but it’s because I was working so early in the morning and there weren’t that many people there.

I just really think that no experience is a bad experience. Learn as much as you can about everything. Travel as much as you can, learn as much as you can.

Were there any challenges that you faced when you were just starting out in the industry or any that you continue to face today?

I think that you have to learn how to advocate for yourself. You have to know what’s fair and you say this is how much I am going to put up with and I am not going to deal with that. No matter where you are there is always going to be a challenge, but you have to have the attitude that I am going to learn from this no matter what happens.

I was talking with someone the other day, who is moving on to another job and they were talking about the situation. They said I want to keep that bridge open because you never know you might come back or need a reference.

Was there anything else you wanted to add about just getting into the industry? Or anything, in general, you have learned?

Something that really struck me some years ago when we had an intern, is the rise of social media. It’s new territory and I think I am fortunate in that I grew up in a time when everything wasn’t everywhere, out there. We had an intern one time and I googled her and there was a drunken video of her online, and she didn’t know about it. And I just think that’s terrible for you. So, it’s hard when you’re young and there’s so much stuff out there that’s potentially dangerous, as far as your reputation.

Reputation, your good name, is everything so remember that. With whatever social media is being used, I think it is important to really stop yourself and think. I’ve had that issue with email, but I think you just have to stop yourself and say, “Who is my audience for this? Do I really have to say this? Let me be wise here about what I do.”