Joe Tlustos, director of radio for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, speaks during a recent journalist panel at Black Hills State University.
With limited resources,  two time zones, a demographic that spans from the CEOs of international companies to ranch families, and a coverage area of 77,000 square miles, the state’s public broadcasting system must get creative with its programing, according to Joe Tlustos, director of radio.

“It is really a challenge to program this network,” Tlustos said during a recent South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) journalist panel hosted by Black Hills State University.  With 11 FM stations, one in Spearfish, and nine television stations, SDPB is the largest communication company in the state.

Tlustos, along with Charles Michael Ray, West River radio producer and reporter, and Amy Varland, BHSU mass communication student and SDPB intern, discussed the operations and new pieces produced by SDPB.

Tlustos said SDPB has 75 full-and part-time employees; however, Ray is the only one that lives and operates west of Minnehaha County. Ray began working for SDPB Radio as a reporter in 1992 at the age of 19. Being the only West River reporter, Ray said that it is vital to stay in constant communication with SDPB supervisors and colleagues in eastern South Dakota.

With no future plans of hiring additional personnel, especially reporters, SDPB has to look at different ways of bringing high-quality programing to its audiences, Tlustos said.

Two freelance reporters as well as the SDPB internship program provide additional resources, he said noting that when he first came to SDPB six years ago, they had one intern who was filing papers. SDPB now has five interns, including Varland, who produce quality radio content.

“I think part of our mission as public broadcasting is not only getting the news out there but also teaching,” Ray said. “I really enjoy reaching out to the interns and helping to develop better journalists going into the future.”

Amy Varland, BHSU student and SDPB intern, listens to an audience question during a recent journalist panel at BHSU.
Varland, who began interning with SDPB last spring after BHSU associate professor Dr. Mary Caton-Rosser encouraged her to apply, has written and produced radio coverage of some of the region’s top news stories. Varland, who spent several years in television production at KOTA, said she has enjoyed learning how to write and produce for radio as well as all the technology that accompanies putting a story together.

“This on-the-job experience is going to be absolutely priceless after I go out into the world after BHSU,” she said.

Aside from freelance reporters and interns, Tlustos said SDPB audience members provide valuable resources on what’s going on in their communities. He noted that they are working on ways to bring the music and art scene so prominent in areas such as Rapid City to public radio and television, and are always interested in hearing additional ideas from the community.