Remembering Bruce Turner
Local broadcasting legend leaves behind lasting legacy
Bruce Turner passed away peacefully at the age of 82 on Jan. 9. Turner is best known for his work as WNMU-TV’s original station manager, a career that spanned 56 years before his retirement in 2019.
Turner was born on Feb. 7, 1938, in downstate Sturgis, where he also graduated high school. After stints as a disc jockey for Sturgis-area radio station WSTR-FM and an announcer for Marinette, Wisconsin-area radio station WMAM, Turner moved to Marquette in 1959 to join WDMJ-TV, better known today as WLUC-TV.
WDMJ signed onto the airwaves for the first time three years prior on April 28, 1956. With limited resources and personnel, Turner wore many hats at the station, including news, weather and sports assignments along with other duties. According to Turner’s obituary which ran in the weekend edition of The Mining Journal, he became one of the most well-known voices in early local television.
Turner accepted the station manager position at WNMU in the 1960s and helped propel the station into the largest closed-circuit television system in the United States. Due in large part to Turner’s efforts, the Northern Michigan University-owned station continues to serve as a stepping stone for aspiring student journalists and broadcasters today.
Eric Smith, general manager for WNMU-TV, remembered Turner as a broadcaster for the people, serving the best interests of the station’s audience.
“Bruce was what I considered to be a broadcaster’s broadcaster,” he said. “He embodied all things someone hoping to be a broadcaster aspires to be. Integrity, honesty, developing and scheduling great programs and serving the needs of the public. The licenses granted to broadcasters by the Federal Communications Commission are done so to serve the public’s interest, and Bruce took that to heart. It was the core of all of his work. Decisions made at the station were made in the way Bruce served.
“The programs he searched for were in response to questions and comments that came in from the viewers. He took great pride into putting things on the air to educate and best inform the cultural interests of the Upper Peninsula community.”
While pleasing an audience was important to Turner, he ultimately knew the station was meant to serve NMU students in a hands-on learning environment through student-produced programs such as Public Eye News, High School Quiz Bowl, Media Meet and more.
“Bruce understood that WNMU-TV fundamentally exists to provide to the students of the university and help young broadcasters hone and develop their careers,” Smith said. “Bruce had a passion for experiential learning. He launched Public Eye News, which is directed, staffed and operated by students at NMU.
“Students would come down, volunteer their time and Bruce spent his time sharing information with them about good journalism, writing and also critiquing their performances to get the best out of students who were going to graduate and launch their careers in broadcasting.”
Todd Rose, an NMU alumnus, was one of Turner’s students. Rose graduated with a degree in communication studies in December 2019 and double minored in writing and media production and new technology.
Rose worked with WNMU from his first semester of school in 2016 all the way up to graduation, serving in various roles at the station during his time, including lead producer of Public Eye News. He remembered Turner as a man who wanted the best out of his students.
“Bruce was really just a wonderful person,” he said. “He was always willing to lend a hand with advice or an ear to listen, especially when it came to bettering students in the Public Eye News program. There were countless times where Bruce would come in after the show to tell us how great of a show we did and give us advice on how to get even better.
“I think my favorite thing was just how personable he was. For awhile, I always called him ‘Mr. Turner’ when I’d see him. He would always chuckle at that. It wasn’t long until I was simply calling him ‘Bruce.'”
Smith added that Turner played a key role in developing the current studios WNMU operates out of at Harden Hall in the basement of the Lydia M. Olson Library on campus, as well as working to get the station’s transmitter installed in Ely Township.
Turner also served as the chairman of the Michigan Public Broadcaster’s programming committee for several years.
“There were five other public television stations in the state at the time,” Smith said. “Bruce was the one everybody went to with questions about underwriting, language, procedural items and clarification on FCC rules and regulations. He was a storehouse of knowledge, and other broadcasters in the state respected his time, service and everything he knew about this industry.”
Asked for his favorite memory of Turner, Smith mentioned the way he would always recognize those who contributed to the station.
“I have a lot of memories, but I think my favorite was during one of our fundraising periods,” he said. “Bruce was adamant that we put a map up behind the (on-air) talent and put a pin in every location of every contributor. The map was literally polluted with yellow pins, and each represented a contributor to the station. Bruce took great pride in personal relationships with the people who watched the station. He knew many by name, and he knew them by name.
“If they liked the program, they would let Bruce know. If there was something they wanted to see changed, they would let him know. At some points, he would spend hours on the phone with viewers talking about things they enjoyed when it came to station programming.”
A celebration of life for Turner will be announced at a later date. His full obituary can be read online at www.miningjournal.net or at fassbenderswansonhansen.com.