When Queens, N.Y., native Ed Garsten ’73 enrolled at SUNY Oswego, he thought he wanted to study acting in the theatre/speech program. But one visit to WOCR, the student-run campus radio station at the time, changed his path. He incorporated his love of theatrical characters and music with his news-junky tendencies into a passion for broadcast radio.
He worked his way up through the ranks at the station, serving as program director his senior year for up-and-coming talent like Al Roker ’76, who was a freshman.
Throughout his Oswego experience, the radio station played a leading role, even connecting him to his future wife, Susan Russell (now Garsten) ’73, who listened to Garsten’s shows and called in requests. They were engaged before graduation.
After graduation, the couple moved throughout Central New York as Ed hopped from smaller to larger radio markets. They eventually moved to Tucson, Ariz. Ed worked several jobs in radio while he earned a master’s in journalism, and Susan earned a master’s in library science at the University of Arizona.
While still in school, he moved into television as weather caster, then a reporter, and eventually a producer in Tucson. In 1981, CNN recruited him to be one of 10 producers to launch its second network, Headline News.
“That was a really, really intense time,” he said. “The building for Headline News hadn’t even been built yet and we had three days until we were broadcasting live. I remember seeing colleagues—professional journalists—leaving the building crying from the stress and workload of getting this new 24-hour station on the air.”
During his 20-year career with CNN, including 12 years in Detroit as the bureau chief and correspondent, Garsten covered a range of big stories, including the 1998 General Motors strike, the Dr. Jack Kevorkian case, Pete Rose’s dismissal from baseball and CNN’s Emmy award-winning Oklahoma City bombing coverage. He has interviewed a wide range of newsmakers—from auto executive Lee Iacocca to the voice of Bugs Bunny, Mel Blanc.
He predicted in a 2000 interview that the future of news would move from television toward “multi-media coverage and news on demand” and that news organizations would be delivering news on “whatever gadgets are available in 20 years.”
Indeed, he was right, and he shared news on those emerging media. After CNN closed its Detroit Bureau in 2001, Garsten decided to stay in the city and covered the automotive industry for the Associated Press and the Detroit News, breaking news in online stories. In 2005, he created a very successful corporate blog for Chrysler, TheFirehouse.biz. He retired from Chrysler in summer 2016, but he now works part time in his semi-retirement with a multimedia and video team for Automotive News.
“I am hoping that traditional news will re-align their business models to match what’s happening in society without sacrificing accuracy,” he said. “Doing journalism right can cost more money, but news stories affect everything—consumer confidence, the stock market, relations between people. We can’t sacrifice accuracy for speed’s sake.”