WCSR owner and longtime radio host Jamie McKibbin was declared dead at the age of 43 on Monday, Nov. 16, after his body was found at Clendening Lake in Ohio. He and his friend James “Bud” Miller are believed to have died in a boating accident, according to his wife, Katina McKibbin.
Clendening Lake is a reservoir in Harrison County, Ohio, about halfway between Columbus and Pittsburgh. The two men were on a hunting trip.
Everyone who knew McKibbin knew his smile, said Sue Goldsen, longtime friend and previous co-owner of Jackson Works Media radio station, which McKibbin acquired in 2019. He was also on the board of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.
His positivity was hard to miss and his humor always made an appearance, whether out hunting with his friends, at his son’s basketball games, or at his radio stations.
“I can’t even believe I’m talking about him in the past tense,” Goldsen said.
A native of Hillsdale, McKibbin is survived by his wife, Katina, and their 14-year-old son, Walker.
McKibbin’s career as a radio host started when he was just 18 years old. McKibbin always knew he wanted to stay in Michigan, said friend Tom Knutsons.
He arrived at Jackson Radio Works, which owns three radio stations in Jackson, Michigan, when he was 18, and set his sights on becoming the owner, his wife said. After working for Jackson Radio Works for 23 years, and just 11 months before his death, McKibbin achieved his dream by purchasing Jackson Radio Works, now known as McKibbin Media Group, in 2019, as well as Hillsdale’s WCSR 99.5 and 92.1 in February.
“Jamie knew that he wanted to have a career in radio since 4th grade,” Katina McKibbin said. “He worked so hard and was so determined. Our dream together had always been to own a radio station. In the past year, we acquired six. I am heartbroken that he can’t live out his dream any longer.”
Hillsdale College senior and WCSR employee Martin Petersen said McKibbin always knew how to rally people toward a common goal.
“Whether he was hitting a sales quota or making sure our production and on-air presentation was up to standards, he was always looking to impact a community,” Petersen said.
Goldsen, previous co-owner of Jackson Radio Works, described how McKibbin started off as a part-time DJ at the station, later became the operations manager, then general manager, and, finally, owner.
“You can teach someone the mechanics of being on the air. You can’t teach someone to have the personality or the passion,” Goldsen said. “You have to have it. This is what he wanted to do and there was no question in his mind. We saw that in him from a young age. He took that passion and the knowledge that he gained over the years turned into something magical.”
McKibbin was creative and professional, Greg Green, his longtime friend and co-worker, said — and he was everyone’s friend.
“I’ve been thinking back about just literally hundreds of conversations we’ve had in his office, and they were all sorts of topics — personal, professional, good, bad, ugly, music. Our kids. And, you could confide in him. He was a loyal and trustworthy friend, and regardless of the conversation and the topic of it, you knew that it was between us. He was a loyal friend.”
The community knew McKibbin, too, his wife said, and McKibbin knew them.
“Jamie loved community events, I think because he loved running into people and talking to them so much,” Katina McKibbin said. “He would get so excited when new businesses or events would open up in the Jackson area, as well as his native hometown and area of Hillsdale.”
It wasn’t hard to want to be Jamie’s friend, said Tom Knutsons, owner of Knutsons’ Sporting Goods in Brooklyn, Michigan, and a longtime friend of McKibbin’s. The two met when McKibbin solicited the shop for advertisements on the Jackson radio station.
Though they started off as professional acquaintances, the two became friends, going on several hunting and fishing trips together. The two even had an outdoor-themed radio show together. The show was Jamie’s “baby,” Knutson said.
“Every Saturday I’d look at my clock, and I thought, ‘holy smokes, the radio show is going to come on,’” Knutson said. “He would call me and we would talk. It could be as long as five minutes or almost 40. Jamie was very good at drawing that stuff out of people. His interview styles were very simple. He didn’t have to worry about each word, it just came out natural.”
Ice fishing, hunting, and fly fishing were all on the to-do list for the show.
Though busy, managing family was always number one on McKibbin’s life list, Goldsen said. He talked to everyone about his son Walker — on the show, to his co-workers, to his friends, and to the Hillsdale students who worked at the station, she said. He was Walker’s baseball and basketball coach, but also his dad.
“When he talked about his son and his wife, his eyes just twinkled,” Goldsen said. “He was so busy at the radio stations and had so many responsibilities, but he had a way of balancing business and family. He went to all of Walker’s ball games. He coached many of those games. He and his wife, they built an incredible home together, and they built an incredible life together.”
Goldsen’s favorite memory of McKibbin was watching him build this life with his family. He met his wife at the radio station 20 years ago. As a teacher, Katina McKibbin was placed at the station for her junior externship so she could share her experience in a different workplace to her students. The two would eventually become partners, both in their marriage and the radio station.
“We both knew immediately that something special was happening,” Katina McKibbin said. “He really is the best husband and man I know.”
Some weekends, instead of working at the station, McKibbin worked parties or weddings as a “mobile DJ.”
Green was his concert buddy. McKibbin’s favorite artist of all time was Garth Brooks, Green said.
“We saw Garth Brooks at the Palace in Detroit,” Green said. “He sang every single word to every single song, it was like Garth Brooks was standing right next to me.”
Though McKibbin only acquired Hillsdale’s stations in February, he immediately sought to integrate the community at the station.
When the pandemic hit Hillsdale, WCSR partnered with local businesses on a new campaign. All customers that ate or shopped locally could send their receipts to WCSR radio and be entered into a drawing for $921 — after the station number, 92.1. That was McKibbin’s idea, and though he’s gone, Petersen said, the campaign will still go on.
The knowledge McKibbin passed on to Petersen will also remain.
“He gave me opportunities to broadcast on the air, gave me the chance to sell advertisements and radio spots in the community,” Petersen said. “For someone that’s really young, it just meant the world that he had confidence in me to do that. His tips and pointers on the air and off the air, it’s stuff that I’m going to take with me for the rest of my life, and I owe a lot of credit to Jamie for teaching me that.”
As far as his radio stations, Goldsen said they don’t know what will happen yet. His friends and family are mourning. But his legacy, Goldsen said, will live on.
“He got to live his dream, and he did get to be an owner, and now it will be up to the team in Hillsdale and in Jackson and his wife and his son Walker to carry his legacy forward,” Goldsen said. “And we are all committed to doing that right now.”