Trainer, Coach, Teacher, Friend: Meet this year’s Leo C. Lee winner George Bodarky

PMJA News,

When you ask many journalists why they chose their career, you might hear words like “calling” or “news junkie.” They might tell you how they grew up in a household that was always talking about the news of the day. Not so with this year’s Leo C. Lee winner, George Bodarky. Instead, George admits, “Everything in my life has been an accident.” When attending college at Fordham University, he got a work-study job at its music and news format public radio station, WFUV. Hired as the music librarian to alphabetize records, George was pulled into service one election night when the news director needed extra help. Hearing George’s reports that night, the news director suggested he get involved with the newsroom.  George has never looked back.

George’s contributions to public media spans decades and includes directing news, coaching, teaching and leading this organization.

After spending time in commercial radio and television, George returned to WFUV as the assistant news director. He’s been the news director there for 15 years.  WFUV only has two full-time news staff, George and his assistant news director, but they train dozens of student journalists every year through a robust internship and work-study program.  While George still finds great joy in interviewing and reporting, he says working with young journalists at WFUV is what really changed his life.  “I realized it wasn’t just about me and building my own career,” Bodarky said. “That was a passion that I didn’t realize I had…it became less about me.  I still like doing journalism, but it’s not as important to me as it is helping others to succeed.”

George credits others for helping him along the way. Julianne Welby was news director when he returned to WFUV, and he says she taught him so much. After he was elected to the PRNDI Board, George says he had the great ‘luxury’ of serving as the chair of the PRNDI training committee.  At that time, the organization was hosting regional training sessions around the country. George traveled with PRNDI trainers Tanya Ott and Michael Marcotte, who he considers great mentors. He says he learned about training by watching them. 

After serving as a board member for a few years, George was elected president of the organization, and he is credited with taking PRNDI’s sponsorship program to a whole new level. Staff and board members still quote George (and his grandmother) when talking sponsorships: “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”  During his tenure as president, George also built numerous relationships within the public media system.

Over the years, George has developed his own reputation as a vocal coach and trainer. It started with simply figuring out what sounded good and what didn’t – both in his own delivery and in the delivery of others.  He took a few training sessions to improve his own voice, but says his vocal coaching grew from working with the young journalists at WFUV. A number of years ago, he designed his first training session for a PRNDI conference, and through word-of-mouth, that training took off. Besides training sessions at PRNDI and coaching individuals in newsrooms around the country, George has led training sessions at the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) annual conference and the Midwest Journalism Conference.

Working with the students at WFUV and providing vocal coaching helped open the world of teaching to George.  He’s taught hundreds of students at Columbia, then Fordham and most recently at the City University of New York (CUNY) graduate school of journalism. He continues to teach at least a couple of classes every semester.

Personally, George is a runner (marathons, even), a risk-taker (jump out of a plane?  Why not?), loves to dance and sing karaoke, and is one of the most genuine friends you could ask for (yes, that’s an editorial comment).

In discussing who should receive the Leo C. Lee award for 2022, the PMJA board talked about the impact George has had on others.  It’s what he characterizes as his greatest accomplishment. “Someone once told me, success is being present when you’re not present,” George said.  “I’m most proud when young journalists come back to me and say ‘thank you for what you taught me – I’m where I am because of you.”  He says that will be his legacy. “The Leo C. Lee to me is mind-blowing. I spent a lot of my life and career second-guessing myself, and getting to the point where ‘you make a difference,’ or ‘you have an impact’ means the world to me.”

Named in honor of the founder of Western Public Radio, a San Francisco-based public radio training program, the Leo C. Lee Award is presented each year to an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to public radio journalism. See the list of past recipients HERE.

George will be presented with the award at the annual PMJA Conference this June in Seattle.