Don Backus has announced his retirement.
He is well known in broadcasting for his equipment sales and marketing roles at companies like Rohde & Schwarz, ENCO, BE and Audio Broadcast Group. And for two decades before that, he came up through the station side, in management, on-air, news, sales and ownership.
Throughout his career, he has maintained close ties to the state of Michigan.
Backus attended Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he worked at the carrier current radio station. His early career included programming, production and on-air positions at WVIC in East Lansing, doing mornings and middays; WITL in Lansing doing afternoons; and WSJM in St. Joseph doing middays and FM programming.
From 1983 to 1993, he was co-owner, president and general manager of FM station WDBI in Tawas City, Mich., where he also worked on-air and as chief engineer. His final station role was as general sales manager of the Williams Communications stations in Longview and Tyler, Texas.
His career in technology sales started at Audio Broadcast Group, another Michigan firm, which he joined in 1994 and where he was a sales engineer and digital systems manager.
“I moved into the technology side when I realized that my passion for broadcasting could be channeled into enabling broadcasters to use the newer technology coming onto the market to both improve programming and profitability,” he told me. “I felt then, and still feel, that my experience as a station manager provided me with an empathy all too rare in equipment sales.”
He later joined radio automation provider ENCO Systems in 1999 and held the position of VP of sales and marketing. A highlight of his time there was winning a contract with National Public Radio as part of its ContentDepot rollout to provide 125 automation systems to affiliate stations.
After that he became the eastern U.S. sales manager for Broadcast Electronics, where he sold automation systems, broadcast transmitters and mobile and social media platforms.
And for the past four years Backus has been North American Account Manager, Radio Transmitters for Rohde & Schwarz, where a key responsibility has been to be that company’s face to the U.S. market for its liquid-cooled solid-state FM transmitters.
He estimates he has traveled a half million miles in that position. “The R&S people are great and were a dream to work with,” he said.
Backus has been part of the fabric of the radio technology side of our biz. He has been a member of the National Radio Systems Committee, active in several of its subcommittees and working groups. He also has been a member of the NAB Radio Technology Committee, working on its Next Generation Architecture Digital Radio Working Group.
He’s a director of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Foundation and he served two terms as associate director of the MAB itself. For 25 years he has helped plan the engineering content of the MAB’s annual Great Lakes Broadcast Conference.
“Since Michigan State college radio in the fall of 1972, I’ve always considered myself a broadcaster,” he told me. “I have never had a job that wasn’t interesting, challenging or fun, and most of the time, all three.”
He and his wife of 48 years, Nancy, live in Grand Rapids. They plan to travel and spend time with their five grandchildren.
“The technology, however powerful, isn’t the point,” he told me in a career summary. “The point is the benefit that you, your people and your listeners get out of it.”