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Local Interest

KETR's Dempsey Is New Morning Edition Local Host

John Mark Dempsey is KETR's host of Morning Edition from NPR News, the Blacklands Cafe community feature, and is the play-by-play voice of Commerce High School football.
Rick Parent
John Mark Dempsey is KETR's host of Morning Edition from NPR News, the Blacklands Cafe community feature, and is the play-by-play voice of Commerce High School football.

A familiar Northeast Texas radio voice now enjoys a new role. KETR’s John Mark Dempsey is the new local host for the station’s weekday broadcasts of Morning Edition from NPR News.

“It’s a challenge to monitor the news and happenings in all the communities in the KETR listening area – weather, traffic, sports - and to summarize all of those things in minute-and-a-half segments, three or four times an hour,” Dempsey said. “Hope I’m up to it.”

So far, so good. Dempsey took over the mornings in August, and can be heard during local breaks, 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., Monday through Friday.

KETR news director Mark Haslett moves to weekday afternoons and evenings. Haslett is the new host of All Things Considered from NPR News, heard weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on KETR. Dempsey will continue in his roles as host and producer of KETR’s community news segment, The Blacklands Café, and as the play-by-play announcer for Commerce Tigers football.

Dempsey to help improve KETR’s coverage of Commerce

Dempsey, a longtime professor of broadcasting at Texas A&M University-Commerce, recently retired from academia. When Dempsey asked Haslett about the possibility of using his newfound free time to host mornings on KETR, Haslett saw an opportunity to address two problems: a lack of a second news host and a need for more Commerce news.

Since the demise of the Commerce Journal, the city found itself at risk of becoming one of the rural “news deserts” that have resulted from the decline of print media.

“I’d define a ‘news desert’ as any town that doesn’t have at least one full-time reporter covering it,” Haslett said. “Even in the Journal’s waning months, they still had a full-time reporter. KETR doesn’t have a full-time reporter, but we can still help.”

Haslett added a weekday local talk program, North By Northeast, which runs Tuesdays at 9 a.m. Commerce city manager Howdy Lisenbee is a regular guest on the program, and other Commerce guests have appeared on the show. A decent addition, but not enough, Haslett said.

“John Mark has a passion for local content and knows these communities well,” Haslett said. “He knows what the local buzz is. There’s an awareness and a sensibility that comes from years of living in a place that can’t be taught or learned. One of the biggest struggles for rural media is that the local reporters and editors are often from somewhere else. That’s inevitable, to an extent. It’s true that a fresh set of eyes can see some things that locals might take for granted, so there could be advantages to being new to a community. But overall, you really want a journalist to have the local knowledge as well as the professional skill set.”

Dempsey likes to tell the stories that get people talking.

“To me, ‘news” is some bit of information that causes a person to turn to a friend and say, ‘Did you hear . . . ?’  I think that’s why people listen to news on radio, and other media," Dempsey said. "People know what’s important to them, but there’s also the need to call attention to things that may not be on their radar screen yet.”

KETR general manager Jerrod Knight gave Dempsey’s increased contributions a big thumbs-up.

“The expansion of Dr. John Mark Dempsey’s role just makes sense,” Knight said. “Dempsey’s personal passion for journalism and broadcasting have been apparent to everyone in his orbit for 46 years and counting, and he’s been teaching this craft at the collegiate level for decades. Having him at the helm during KETR’s broadcast of Morning Edition will connect his local and regional expertise with one of the most discerning morning radio audiences.”

Dempsey was the first student to broadcast on KETR, when the station was first licensed to East Texas State University in 1975.  Since 1998, Dempsey has served as a radio news anchor and producer for Dallas-based Texas State Networks, which distributes news to more than 100 commercial radio stations.

It’s possible to hear Dempsey bring you Tigers football Friday night on KETR, hear him over the weekend if you’re listening to a commercial station, and hear him again when you turn on KETR during your Monday morning drive to work.

“He’s not omnipresent, but he is just a few exits down the interstate from omnipresent,” Haslett said.  

All Things Considered gets a boost

KETR’s presentation of All Things Considered had not had a regular host since former host and reporter Scott Morgan, a part-time employee, left for full-time employment at South Carolina Public Radio. Haslett filled in most days, with some help from students here and there, but there wasn’t the consistency the program would have ideally.

“I’m sincerely glad to be hosting All Things Considered,” Haslett said. “The topics are fresh, but the format is old-school public radio. The stories are longer, and there are more stories that you don’t hear anywhere else. Morning Edition’s format treats stories more quickly because it’s a morning show; most listeners are in a hurry and might not listen for long. You want to make sure your audience has heard at least something about the day’s top stories. All Things Considered, most listeners are going home from work, it’s a more relaxed format, so the program can treat stories with more depth.”

Knight welcomes the regular presence of Haslett during the commute home.

“Under Mark’s leadership, the news operation at 88.9 KETR has accumulated countless awards and accolades, including a national Edward R. Murrow award in 2019,” Knight said. “His instinct for public media journalism is unparalleled in this region, and his move to afternoon news and All Things Considered will raise the KETR standard ever higher, all while leveraging this station’s limited resources toward the best possible news service to Northeast Texas.”

Haslett features local news as well as reports from The Texas Newsroom, a collaboration of public radio newsrooms led by KERA in Dallas, KUT in Austin, Houston Public Media and San Antonio-based Texas Public Radio. The Texas Newsroom covers more than state government, but it’s those stories that Haslett values most.

“State policy has always been a big deal for rural Texans, because we depend on county services more than urban communities,” Haslett said. “But now, with the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office and the legislature making big news almost daily, state policy’s as important as ever."