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John Mercure: Mercurey Rising

Goodbye to my dear friend, Tom Land

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Today is a very sad day here at WTMJ Radio.  A very dear friend, and one of the most decent men I have ever met is no longer with us.  After a courageous battle with cancer, WTMJ Program Director and Vice President of Radio Programming for the Journal Broadcast Group Tom Land has died.

About a year ago, after being out of the media for almost two years, Tom and I began talking about a role for me at AM620 WTMJ.  To be honest with you, I wasn't so sure about the whole radio thing.  I was 'a TV guy'.  I met with Tom and has passion and enthusiasm were contagious.  He loved what he did.  And he loved all the people at Journal's stations across America that did it for him.  Tom and I continued to meet, and we continued to talk.  Not only did a I begin to realize that I really wanted the job... I began to realize that I really wanted to work with Tom.  Tom Land is the kind of man that you will follow into battle.  He was strong and brave.  He was compassionate and caring.  Tom Land was a leader.  And although Tom will no longer be in our building, he will continue to guide what I do every day.

My prayers go out to Tom's wife Glenda, and his daughter Melanie.

Below is Tom's obituary from today's newspaper.

Tom Land had plenty of titles with the Journal Broadcast Group - the last one was vice president of radio programming for the company's 32 radio stations - but that wasn't what people cared about when he was diagnosed with cancer last August.

They talked about how he cared about people. When one employee was always late, another manager said they'd probably have to let him go. Land didn't think that was the solution. He was trying to figure out how to help the man get a car, so he could get to work on time.

People realized that he could land at an airport, pick up a rental car and hit the radio button for the company station in that market. Within 20 minutes, he'd have a pretty good idea what was working and what wasn't - and the start of a plan, said Steve Wexler, executive vice president of the Journal Broadcast Group.

"We call it ears in our business," Wexler said. "He had great ears."

And people learned Land believed some things were more important than ratings. At the KSRZ station in Omaha, Neb., he organized an adopt-a-family program with the Salvation Army, matching descriptions of families in need with callers who wanted to help. Wexler admits that he raised a question about all that talk in a music format.

"He looked me straight in the eye," Wexler said.

"Wex, we're saving Christmas for 500 families," he said.

Land got his way.

He died of cancer Thursday in hospice care. He was 51.

The first clue that something was wrong came in Memphis as he was running through the airport during a business trip and felt a sudden stabbing pain in his lower back. Back in Milwaukee, his doctor said it was stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to his bones.

Land and wife, Glenda, shared what was happening on Through it all, he tried to remain positive.

"Lots of bad news in a Cancer diagnosis, but Glenda and I are making sure we don't miss THE GOOD that comes out of this.... Keep the prayers coming," he wrote in August.

His humor and his hope kept coming through, even as he joked about being back at his high school senior weight.

"The test today shows I have Cancer in the bones. Specifically, ribs, and the bones that surround the spinal canal at the base of my back," Land wrote in one entry. "So, it got in the blood and found another place to set up shop. Not what we wanted to hear, but we are STILL determined to do what it takes to fight this. Tomorrow, it's a brain scan (think they'll find anything?). Not Sure."

His wife sent the update to family and friends.

"Results from the brain MRI - Tom has a brain and IT'S CANCER FREE!!!!" Glenda wrote. "This is the best news we've had in the last couple of weeks."

The family found time for what was important. There were sunsets and good coffee to enjoy. Daughter Melanie's solo at church. Packers games (and those of his beloved Kansas City Chiefs). S'mores in front of the fireplace, if it was too cold to use the fire pit.

Land grew up in Smithville, Mo., first working at small-town radio stations as a teenager.

"His passion was for local radio, making that connection with people," Wexler said.

Other markets followed and all kinds of stations and formats. He joined the broadcast group in 2000. The broadcast group is part of Journal Communications, which publishes the Journal Sentinel.

As good as Land was at corporate planning, he was even more valuable at nurturing talent and listening to listeners.

"In our company, he initiated listener advisory boards," said Wexler. "He'd sit there and ask listeners questions, and he loved it."

What was important to Land shone through every part of his life.

"He had faith and family and radio," Wexler said. "And he'd say, 'Don't overcomplicate it.' That's his legacy."

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