From Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond magazine
By Timi Eckes
The headlines are full of movers and shakers – CEOs, celebrities and philanthropists who are bent on changing the world. But there are legions of anonymous people working toward the same goal, and Pete Rondello gives these unsung heroes a lot of credit.
“The real essence of people-to-people work – the important stuff – happens at the volunteer level,” he says. “Volunteers make good things happen locally.” Throughout his adult life, Pete himself has given an abundance of his time and energy to a variety of organizations and has found doing so to be very rewarding.
“I’ve always tried to be involved in three ‘extracurricular’ volunteer activities since I was 19 years old,” says Pete, who is the general manager of WXPR Public Radio in Rhinelander. “I’ve met wonderful people and have done my life’s best work when I have worked for free.”
Between his volunteer work and his paying careers, he has worn many hats. He enjoys a number of outdoor activities throughout the year, among them bicycling, and has been involved with the Boulder Junction Bike Trail Upshift Group and the Heart of Vilas County bike trail system. In addition, he’s a member of the Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and served on the Community Church of Boulder Junction Board of Elders.
In addition to volunteering, Pete has long enjoyed working in radio, and his affinity for it goes back to the time when, as a Cub Scout, he toured a radio station. “I was mesmerized by the meters, machines and the magic of it all,” he recalls. It was a fascination that would continue. “Our high school offered a ‘radio club,’ a chance to write and record a weekly show on the local station,” he says. His on-air experience in high school led to a part-time job as an announcer. From WERL in Eagle River he later moved on to other stations around the area. In the course of his career, he became general manager of the former WWMH, now known as WMQA, in Minocqua.
Then, after a number of years in radio, Pete realized he was ready for a change. “I tend to be restless,” he says, “and I had gotten as far as I could or wanted to in radio in the late 1980s.” He changed paths and went into the real estate business, where, he says, “Brokerage turned out to be a good fit for almost 25 years.”
During that time, Pete put his real estate experience and expertise to good use. “I was helping people buy homes worth quite a bit of money,” he recalls. “It seemed a natural tie for me to help families get a good, solid, affordable home that they could love just as much.” Wanting to help deserving families who couldn’t get mortgages, Pete and a group of other like-minded people founded the Habitat for Humanity Northwoods Wisconsin chapter in the 1990s. Pete served as the chapter president and as the site selection chair, helping to obtain 15 land parcels, most of them donated, on which homes were built.
After a lengthy career in real estate, Pete decided it was time to take a different path. “The excitement that once attended my work in real estate had begun to fade,” he says. “I always want to be at the top of my game, and I knew brokerage had gone in a new direction.”
Pete hadn’t lost his interest in radio and served at WXPR as a volunteer on-air host and as a member of the WXPR Community Advisory Board.
“The station manager position came open at a perfect time, and I decided to apply,” he recalls. “Happily, I was chosen to serve the station, and have been with WXPR for one year now.”
Pete feels WXPR’s role in the area is very important. “More than ever,” he says, “our community needs to have a voice that it can call its own. Years ago, when radio and TV stations were licensed to communities, they were charged with ‘serving the public as a public trustee.’”
The relationship between stations and the communities they serve has changed. Today, Pete notes, most radio and television stations are owned by entities that aren’t local. “The more we have global technology,” he says, “and a myriad of choices for our time, eyes and ears, the more comfort we take in the relationships with people we know and respect. That is the ideal role for public radio, and especially a community supported and operated station like WXPR.”
Community support is crucial to the station. The largest share of the station’s funding comes from listener contributions. To help out the station’s paid staff, 137 volunteers lend their time and talent to WXPR, according to Pete.
Managing a public radio station seems like a perfect fit for someone who places such a high premium on community involvement. As he points out some of the renovations going at WXPR’s offices in downtown Rhinelander, it’s apparent that Pete enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for his job. Having started out in radio, he seems happy to have come full circle.
“I actually love taking young people on station tours,” he says, “and watching kids look at all the technology and lights just like I used to 50 years ago.”
In his work with Habitat for Humanity and his volunteer work with WXPR, Pete has successfully dovetailed his careers in real estate and radio with his enjoyment of volunteering. But that’s not a requirement for making a positive impact.
“You can make a difference in your community, your church, the school, a civic group,” he says. “The difference you make will ripple out and benefit many more people. But you have to start. There’s no shame or worry in doing your best.”