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From WOUB to WOSU, Willis Parker started his public media career in Athens

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Willis graduated from Ohio University in 1967

ATHENS, OH – Willis Parker was a chemistry major when he came to Ohio University from Dayton, Ohio in the early 1960s. But, after a friend told him about the opportunities available for students to work at a professional public media radio and television station, everything changed.

“I went up to WOUB, got involved and fell in love with broadcasting,” said Willis. “I instantly changed my major.”

By his sophomore year, Willis was a student leader at WOUB, working as a special events coordinator at the station. He worked his way up through the program, doing some on-air work, but mostly working behind the scenes, as program director and student station manager.

“I did work as a camera operator and a TV director. When I stayed over the summer, I hosted on-air shifts on the radio. I tried to learn everything I could,” said Willis. “I interviewed Barry Goldwater’s son when he came through Athens supporting his father for president. I interviewed Jim Rhodes, who was the Ohio Governor at the time. WOUB taught me to be prepared for an interview and how to handle myself in all sorts of situations.”

When he graduated in 1967, Willis was ready to work in the industry. The WOUB station director at the time, Archie Greer, was impressed with Willis and called a friend at a TV station in Indianapolis where there were openings to recommend Willis for one of the positions. Willis was offered an interview and drove to Indianapolis. But when he got there, everything changed.

“I drove there and walked in the door and Archie’s friend saw that I was Black,” said Willis. “All of sudden they didn’t have any jobs open.”

Willis drove back to Athens and let Greer know what happened.

“Archie called his ex-friend and really let him have it,” said Willis. “It felt good to know that Archie supported me and would go to bat for me like that.”

Willis eventually got a job at the college radio station at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Central State is a historically Black university.

“It excited me to work where I could help other young minorities get employment in the broadcasting industry. I was able to prepare them for what it was going to take. I ran the station there as if it was WOUB.”

Eventually, Central State partnered with Wright State and Miami University to run a television station, which thrilled Willis.

“That partnership got me back into television and got me ready for my next opportunity.”

In 1986, Willis took a job as the program director at WOSU TV in Columbus.

“When I became program director in Columbus in 1986, every TV station in Columbus had a person from WOUB in a leadership position,” said Willis. “They all took me out to have a few drinks and welcome me to Columbus. The friendships you make during your time at WOUB last for the rest of your life.”

In addition to his leadership role at WOSU, Willis also served as president of the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), president of the American Wine Society and served with many other arts organizations in his community.

“WOUB radio and TV gave me a broad appreciation of people and the arts while giving me a broad understanding of what it takes to be a working professional,” said Willis.

Willis retired from WOSU in 2000 and credits his career to the foundation he got at WOUB.

“Having served in positions of responsibility at WOUB, I had to learn to prioritize and be a leader,” said Willis. “Those are things I would need to move forward in any profession, specifically broadcasting. It gave me the ability to become program director at a major market station.”