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Michigan Engineer Honored With Carl E. Lee Engineering Excellence Award

Walker Sisson supported Michigan radio for four decades

Contract engineer Walker Sisson has been posthumously awarded the 2023 Carl E. Lee Broadcast Engineering Excellence Award for radio.

Nominated in both 2020 and again in 2021, Sisson has been recognized by his former colleagues for serving radio listeners in southwestern Michigan for more than four decades. According to Peter Tanz, senior vice president of Midwest Communications who nominated Sisson in 2021, Sisson learned the engineering trade directly from early AM, FM and TV pioneers, including the award’s namesake Carl E. Lee.

“They instilled in Walker a love and devotion to AM and FM radio,” Tanz said. “His decades of experience and understanding were freely shared with other engineers, managers, on air talent and even salespeople.

“Although hundreds of thousands of radio listeners would never know the name Walker Sisson, hundreds of broadcasters not only knew him but continuously depended upon him,” Tanz said. “Not just to keep their station up to date and on the air, but to be a teacher, counselor, inventor, program advisor and friend.”

Sisson passed away in September 2019 at the age of 71.

Photo montage courtesy of Betzler Funeral Homes

Bitten by the engineering bug early on, Sisson managed to build his first transistor radio with his dad when he was only six years old. During his adolescent years, he spent untold hours working on his ham radio. After graduating in 1966 from Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, Mich., he attended Michigan Technological University and Western Michigan University.

Years later, Sisson led his own engineering company and was instrumental in the design, construction and maintenance of many radio stations, offering to help nonprofit broadcasters as well as owners and engineers of stations who weren’t even his clients.

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“Across Michigan and Indiana, Walker Sisson went from radio station to radio station, keeping the electronic equipment working,” Tanz said in his nomination letter. “More than likely, the audio emanating from your favorite southwest Michigan radio station reached your ears because of Walker Sisson’s quiet behind-the-scenes work. Even if Walker was not your favorite station’s engineer, he was everybody’s extra set of hands and the man other engineers could turn to when a problem needed more than one brain to solve.”

In his nomination letter, Tanz wrote that the award committee’s decision to bestow this honor on Walker Sisson “would be a well‐deserved tribute to a lifetime dedicated to providing superior service to Michigan broadcasters and listeners.”

“Walker’s quiet work made people’s lives better,” Tanz said. “Radio touches almost everyone and in southwest Michigan, Kalamazoo’s Walker Sisson was one of the greatest ‘behind-the-scenes’ broadcasters, ensuring the correct sound always came out of the radio.”

Sisson and the winner of the 2023 Carl E. Lee Broadcast Engineering Excellence Award for television — retired engineer John Azar — will be honored during the Great Lakes Media Show on March 14-15. The Carl E. Lee Broadcast Engineering Excellence Award was named after Carl E. Lee, a Michigan broadcast engineer and station owner recognized for innovation in the fields of radio and TV broadcast engineering.

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