WCSR owner Jamie McK­ibbin died in a boating accident on Monday. He is pic­tured alongside his wife Katina and son, Walker. Courtesy | Sue Goldsen

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.”