After 30+ Years in Radio, Townsquare Media’s Donovan Short Announces Retirement
Heading up that highway
Leaving you behind
Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do
Broke my heart in two
But baby, pay no mind
The price for finding me, was losing you
- WKRP in Cincinnati
After more than 30 years on the air, Townsquare Media’s Donovan Short is putting the microphone back on its stand and is retiring from the world of radio broadcasting.
In the business of radio, Short has seemingly done it all; which makes sense, because he entered ‘the biz’ at an age where most of us were flipping burgers or washing dishes.
Short’s first paid radio job came when he was 16 years old, working for a station called WRSM in Alabama. But his love for radio stretched back even further. As a child, he did voiceover work for his father’s advertising agency and, almost immediately, he was a boy enchanted. That enchantment has stayed with him throughout his entire life.
“The more I hung around, the more I knew I wanted to run away and join their circus,” Short said of his very early lessons in the radio biz.
Short worked alongside his dad in Birmingham, navigating sound boards, producing radio shows, even running the phone banks at public radio fundraisers. All of those experiences instilled a work ethic and, most importantly, a love for radio that never seemed to go away. It was, to him, the greatest show on earth.
When he began working for WRSM in 1989, Short already had a wealth of knowledge, but he was eager to learn more. He deejayed a ‘Classic Country’ station and also hosted a ‘trading post’ type radio show which, Short says, “was kind of the old radio predecessor to Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.”
And he did all of it as a teenager.
“My voice hadn’t changed yet, so it came with the side benefit of people calling me “ma’am” live on the air every day,” Short laughed. “It was old school, but ended up being a pretty good radio boot camp.”
There’s an old adage that says, ‘Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.’ Well, in radio, it’s kind of hard to keep one’s mouth shut, but Short did keep his eyes and ears open and, in doing so, he gained the experience and tools that would serve him throughout the entirety of his career.
Short worked for a variety of different stations in Alabama but it was the West that finally called to him, bringing him all the way to Wyoming. He answered an ad in 1998 and that move brought him to Casper.
“I took the job sight unseen and it ended up being the best move I ever made,” he revealed.
Short began working in Casper and immediately fell in love with the town. While you can take the boy out of Alabama, you can’t take the Alabama out of the boy. Short will always acknowledge and celebrate his roots (like with his love of southern food or his undying devotion to the Alabama Crimson Tide) but, for him, Casper very quickly became ‘home.’
For 23 years, Short has been working in and for Casper. His voice has become synonymous with this town and the reputation he has built within the community speaks not only to his talent, but to his character as well. Part of being in radio, some might argue the biggest part, is developing a relationship with the listeners. We don’t think about it in these terms a lot, but when we turn on the radio, we’re inviting somebody into our homes, or our jobs, or our cars. We’re inviting them into our lives and we’re entering into a conversation with them; however one-sided that conversation may be.
Short has taken part in many conversations over the last 23 years in Casper. He was there for 9/11. He was there for elections and impeachments and months-long court cases. He was there for the important things and many people learned of these stories through Short and the rest of his team.
“I’ve been on the air with listeners here and elsewhere breaking the news when we lost music legends - Kurt Cobain, Prince, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty and so many more,” Short offered. “Locally, when we lost our friend Brian Scott, and we all had to break the news to his audience while dealing with our own loss of a friend; that was the worst day. I was able to witness the fallout from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, where Casper rallied donations for people they’d never met down south, and we were able to follow the trucks down to the Gulf Coast and be with people in the worst time of their lives. Locally, when Casper stepped up for their own during the Cole Creek fires…the list just keeps going. There’s something special about connecting with people through the power of radio and having these communal ‘moments’, and it’s something I imagine I’ll miss greatly.”
Short has been a part of many memorable events throughout his career. He’s told a lot of stories and he’s made a lot of friends. In fact, one of the most important friendships he’s developed has been with radio legend Bob Price.
“Buffalo Bob and I were competitors when I first got to town,” Short reminisced. “Radio was a bit of a street fight back then; I’m still surprised he didn’t give the cocky 25-year-old me a pink slip for screwing with him after we eventually merged under the same ownership. He’s been a mentor, a friend, a father figure; he’s taught me so much about people, about the charitable obligations and public trust those of us that work with these platforms should keep sacred, and he also gave me the patience and grace to grow and learn as I found my way early on.
“Few in this business get the chance to work for a boss like Bob for 23 years, and I know I’m extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity, as most who have crossed his path will also tell you. I met my wife in our sales office, who gave me an incredible daughter, got to become part of an incredible community, and it all leads back to Bob - I owe him more than I’ll ever be able to repay.”
Price feels the same way about Donovan.
“My admiration for Donovan over the years has culminated in a deep respect for his ethic - which is simply to expect problems - Donovan would eat them for breakfast.” Price said. “In my 50 years, the key was to always keep company only with people who uplift you, whose very presence calls for your best. Donovan did that.”
Many people who have worked for, or under, or above, or alongside Donovan would agree. He brings the best out in people and, without uttering a word, challenges his colleagues to work harder, to think deeper, and to listen more.
"Donovan has been an incredible mentor to me since I began my career in radio almost 10 years ago," said Ian Delap, Short's heir apparent as Director of Content. "His drive to not only build our brands but the people behind the brands has been nothing short of exceptional. Donovan has been one of the most caring and supportive colleagues I have ever encountered, and I will always be grateful and cherish the time we got to work together."
Erik Hellum, the Chief Operating Officer of Townsquare Media, agrees.
“In addition to being a world class programmer and brand builder, Donovan was one of the early digital adopters, teaching his team (and the rest of us) how to extend great radio brands online, and by doing so, built an even larger audience online,” Hellum said. “With an impeccable eye for talent, Donovan coached his team every day, working to make them better, and developed a new generation of multi-platform talent. Combine that with the fact that he is also a great human being with a wicked, dry sense of humor, and you can see why he is one of the best, and one of my favorites, that I have worked with in my career.”
It's not just the people he’s led, or the moments he’s called that define Short’s career. He says that the biggest accomplishment of his career, the thing he’s most proud of, is being associated with so many individuals and organizations in Casper that exist to better the community, to impact people in a positive way.
Donovan initiated the Stuff the Van Toy and Food Drive, which he’s hosted every Christmas in Casper for the last 23. He’s partnered with the Wyoming Food for Thought Project. He’s the auctioneer for Thankful Thursdays at The Beacon, which raises money for local organizations that work tirelessly to better the community. He does all of this with a humble attitude and a heart for giving.
“Having a front row seat to the collective generosity has been an incredible experience, and is such a big part of what’s great about living in this city,” Short stated. “We’ve been at it long enough that it starts to get generational; parents come out to donate with their kids, and share stories about getting helped out of a tough time by Stuff the Van donations back when they were kids themselves. To see them doing well and bringing their own kids by every year to pay it forward and teach those lessons of generosity is the good stuff. I’m so proud of Jamie Purcell at the Wyoming Food for Thought Project and the work they’ve done to grow the effort and feed kids in need, and I’m thankful to have good-hearted folks like [Townsquare deejays] Drew Kirby & the ‘Prairie Wife in Heels’ at the ready to carry on the tradition.”
That tradition is something everybody at Townsquare Media takes seriously. Helping others, when we have something to give – be it our time, money, or even a simple smile – isn’t an obligation; it’s an honor. That’s one of the biggest lessons Short has passed on to his colleagues and it’s something that will continue, even in his absence.
“Donovan is one of those people who can't help but help,” said Tom McCarthy, the President and General Manager of Townsquare Casper. “Setting aside his numerous professional accomplishments in the world of radio and broadcast, there are very few people I know who have made a real difference in the world the way that he has. From his work helping thousands of children have gifts under the tree at Christmas through Stuff the Van, to his work helping thousands of children have food in their stomach -he can't help but help. I'm honored to call him a colleague and a friend.”
Many people are. In his time at Townsquare, Donovan has overseen a team of incredibly talented individuals. Many of those individuals have gone on to see incredible success and many of them would credit the guidance Short offered them as the pillars on which they built their careers. Now, as Short himself moves on to follow new adventures, he’s entrusting his team to take Townsquare Media to even greater heights. In fact, he’s not actually putting the microphone back on its stand - he’s passing it to his proteges.
“Ian Delap [who will be taking over as Townsquare Casper’s Director of Content] has got a lot of experience in our building with all that we do,” Short affirmed. “He has been an invaluable partner to me over the years and is next-level when it comes to our continued expansion into content on all platforms. He’s one of those driven guys that’s always moving things forward, and he is a Casper guy through and through - he and his family will be a part of this community for a long time to come. My former assistant Bill Schwamle, who is now our Operations Manager, will be as great of a partner to Ian as they both have been to me. Having the two of them in the saddle is a great situation for Townsquare.”
It’s not as though Short will be skipping town, however. Nor will he be any less busy. He will still very much be a pillar of the community, especially in certain circles. Short is the new owner of the Casper Cigar Company which is, quite literally, a dream come true for him.
“I have had a passion for cigars for quite a few years now, which led me on a trip to Nicaragua a few years ago to spend some time immersed in the culture and craft of it all,” Short stated. “It was one of those life-changing experiences and, instantly, I knew that I wanted to put ‘owning a cigar lounge’ on the bucket list. Early last year, the universe kind of tapped me on the shoulder - an opportunity came up to buy Casper Cigar Company from a friend who was ready for a change, and that’s been a fun challenge. I’m looking forward to slowing down a little, traveling a lot, and continuing to go down the rabbit hole of small business and cigars.”
Short started down another rabbit hole 30+ years ago, and it led him to a Wonderland that Alice herself would envy.
It's not often that somebody gets to spend their entire career doing something they love. It’s even less often that said person gets to do so in a community they have fallen in love with. Donovan Short has been able to do that for the last 23 years. He’s been a student and a teacher; a devotee and a mentor. More than anything, he has been a storyteller. He’s told stories about tragedies and triumphs, heroes and villains. He’s created relationships with thousands of listeners and he has provided a voice to some of the biggest happenings in Wyoming and beyond. He’s told stories and he’s helped people and he’s made a real, tangible difference in his community. What more could one ask for in a career?
“Radio life usually comes with a lot of moving around trying to climb the ladder, get to a bigger city, bigger paycheck - that old WKRP theme song lyric about ‘Town to town, up and down the dial’ has always been pretty spot on,” Short said. “When I took the job here in my 20’s, I assumed I’d be padding my resume and packing for the next stop a couple years later. Casper taught me that roots matter, that relationships built with a community over time matter, and that small town life has so much more to offer.
“I’ve been so, so fortunate to land in a place that took me in and made me feel like a native - to have the privilege of raising my daughter in a place like this. I’ve been threatening to get that whole “snowbird” thing figured out one of these days to cut down on the snow shoveling - but I know that this will always be home. I’m thankful to everyone over the last 23 years here that kept me around and the incredible team of friends at Townsquare that’s taking over from here.”
Donovan Short has earned his retirement. He’s earned a chance to rest, and he can rest assured knowing that his legacy, his first love, his microphone is in good hands.