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Former WBAL newsman now the voice of county government

RadioAmtrakKen UlmanNBC

With nearly 32 years in the news radio business, Mark Miller was reluctant to leave his post at WBAL Radio. He wasn't sure if he could enjoy another career as much as he did radio.

"When you've had one career and you've done it well, there is a little fear and apprehension of a new challenge," Miller said.

But 17 months after leaving the Baltimore station, Miller believes he has found something more enjoyable.

Instead of being the voice on the radio, Miller is now the voice of the Howard County Department of Communications, serving as the administrator of the Office of Public Information.

"This is being on the other side of issues, and I kind of like that. I find it to be exciting and challenging," said Miller, who began his new job in November.

Miller, 54, said a combination of things led him to leave his position in July 2011 as Director of News and Programming at WBAL.

His mother had recently died, he and his wife adopted a 14-month-old baby girl and he just felt it was the right time for a career change.

"It was a confluence of a lot of personal things going on for me that said if I'm going to have another career this is really the time to do it," he said.

A good opportunity

After leaving WBAL, Miller knew he would go back to work at some point, but wanted to take some time off.

"I think anybody who works more than 30 years for the same company deserves a couple of months to catch their breath and enjoy life for a little bit," he said, laughing.

Miller was introduced to Howard County Executive Ken Ulman through a mutual friend in 2011, and the timing of a job offer to work in Howard County came at a perfect time.

"This seemed like a great time for me to come on board with a guy who, in my mind, is a brilliant leader and a dynamic guy who has a vision for how he can make his county a better place. I can learn from a person like that," Miller said. "It was too good of an opportunity to pass up."

With longtime county government spokesman Kevin Enright leaving, Ulman said he was intrigued by Miller, who had a reputation as a "rock-solid newsman and a consummate professional."

"After talking to him several times and realizing his commitment to new media and his broad skill set, I was more convinced than ever that he would be a valuable member of our team," Ulman said.

Enright, a member of Ulman's staff since 2006, left in November to become the executive director of strategic initiatives with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Miller's job duties include disseminating news releases to the public and media through the county website and social media, responding to resident's phone calls or emails and accompanying the county executive for news conferences or other community events.

Although his work is still subject to deadlines, Miller said the new job is not as time sensitive and it's not the end of the world if something happens one minute late, unlike radio.

"It's not like you're facing a minute of silence on the air," he said. "It's a different kind of thing, it's a different kind of pressure."

In just a few weeks on the job, Ulman said Miller has fulfilled the potential he saw in him.

"I trust him implicitly to serve as the voice of the county, and the citizens of Howard County are fortunate that he is spending the next stage of his impressive career right here," Ulman said.

Covering history

As a reporter and news director at WBAL, Miller covered several interesting high-profile stories.

As he reflected on his career, the first story he mentions is when the Baltimore Colts snuck out of town and moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

"As a guy and a sports fan, that's a story that you cover where you instantly realize you're covering history," he said.

As exciting as covering the Colts move may have been, Miller also covered tragic events, such as the 1987 Amtrak crash in Chase that killed 16 people. At the time, it was the deadliest Amtrak accident ever.

Miller said the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., reminded him that it might have been the right time to leave the news business.

"You don't always want to be the conveyor of bad news," Miller said. "It wears you down."

Longtime WBAL reporter John Patti described Miller as very focused, intelligent and a very good lieutenant over the 27 years they worked together.

"He was always someone who knew exactly what had to be done," Patti said.

Now the co-host of WBAL's Maryland's News Now, Patti said Miller's retirement was a huge loss to the station, but he had trained the newsroom staff so well that it continued to run like a "well-oiled machine."

Specifically, Patti said Miller helped to guide and train newsroom staff through the evolution of the Internet and what it has become today.

"Mark had the vision to know that social media was the medium of the future," he said, referring to Facebook and Twitter.

Award-winning career

Miller started at WBAL during his senior year of college at Towson University (Towson State back then). After working for the station during the second semester of his senior year, he started fulltime at WBAL the day after graduation.

A Woodlawn native, Miller said a love of writing led him into the news business. With advice in 1979 that newspapers were being surpassed by television and radio, Miller chose radio.

Under Miller's leadership for 21 years, the WBAL news department garnered 21 National Edward R. Murrow Awards.

Miller is most proud of the three Overall Excellence Edward R. Murrow Awards, which designated WBAL Radio as the nation's best large-market radio news provider.

"It's never just about one person, it's about assembling a team and the team working well together," Miller said of the Murrow awards.

He added, WBAL " is probably one of the 10 to 15 most influential radio stations in the country. To be able to work at that place was great, and what really made it good, besides the ownership, was the people I worked with."

Pieter Bickford, a former WBAL reporter who earned a Murrow award working with Miller, said Miller was a boss who helped build confidence and knew what to look for in a story.

"I learned a heck of a lot from him," said Bickford, the executive producer and assistant news director at WHAG-TV, NBC's Hagerstown affiliate.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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