February 2015 – For thousands of commuters in Northern California and beyond, his is one of the first voices heard each morning.
Every weekday at 6 a.m., reporter and anchor Steve Milne stands in a small soundproof booth in the Capital Public Radio studios on the Sacramento State campus, reviewing flickering audio equipment and transcripts of the morning's broadcast. At 6:04, he leans into a microphone, his steady intonation cresting smoothly over the region's airwaves. Capital Public Radio, the regional affiliate of National Public Radio, is licensed to and headquartered at Sacramento State, and Milne's listenership spans four stations from the Sacramento area south to Merced and as far east as western Nevada.
Milne is one of the station's most recognizable and prominent voices: As anchor of "Morning Edition," he reaches nearly 100,000 listeners each week - the largest audience of any of the station's programs.
But before he became one of the most widely heard personalities on local radio, Milne got his start in journalism close to where he stands in the booth this very day - 30 years ago in a Sac State classroom.
"I got into journalism because I wanted to try to make a difference, to tell stories about people who don't really have voices," Milne says. "My experience at Sacramento State really drove me in that direction."
A Sacramento native, Milne says he always "felt at home" on the campus and never doubted that he would become a Hornet.
In elementary school, he would tag along to Sacramento State with his father, Pete, who was earning his liberal arts degree. Pete was active in theater, and a 13-year-old Steve was even featured alongside his father in a small role in a 1976 production of "Fiddler on the Roof."
"I always just figured: Sacramento State, why would I want to go anywhere else?" Milne says.
He graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in government/journalism, the only hybrid major of its kind offered in the nation. The University offers the unique interdisciplinary degree due to its proximity to the state Capitol and opportunities including internships and career connections. Notable government/journalism alumni include five-term Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully.
While at Sac State, Milne worked on the State Hornet newspaper, and he fondly remembers two professors - William Dorman and Joe Serna Jr. - who were especially influential. Dorman, now retired, taught in the government department, as did Serna, who also served as Sacramento's mayor from 1993 until he died in office in 1999.
Milne says that of his many great professors, Dorman and Serna had the most profound impact on his career. Their passion and knowledge inspired him to serve a higher cause with his work.
"For both William Dorman and Joe Serna, there was passion but also the high ideals of what journalism could do to change society (and) make the public aware of injustices in the world . . . instilling in the students that we had a great future ahead of us and that we could make a difference," Milne says.
While still a student, Milne broke into broadcasting in 1983 with Capital Public Radio. He originally envisioned working at a newspaper but "jumped at the chance to intern at the radio station." Milne says he always listened to and found radio appealing: Audio journalism can use ambient sound, background noise and sources' actual voices to set scenes in a way writing alone cannot.
In his early years at the station, Milne did a little of everything - from rewriting Associated Press stories to editing audio for art reviews and mining sound clips - before settling into writing stories full time.
In 1988, Milne, a lifelong music lover, pitched the idea for and subsequently became the host of "Global Beat," the immensely popular world music showcase. "I figured there was a void where I could get my foot in the door and, in addition to news, do some other things at the station," he says.
His passion for music shone as "Global Beat" became a pillar of the station's music programming, with world music joining classical and jazz as the "Big Three" of Capital Public Radio music shows.
For more than a decade, Milne split his time between music and news programs before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led the radio station to convert to an all-day news cycle, catapulting Milne into full-time news broadcasting. "That's when the station switched gears," Milne says. "Where they needed me most was in news, so I drifted away from music. It seemed appropriate at the time because people wanted information and there was a high demand for it." The shift was a turning point for Milne.
He spent two years as a permanent news broadcaster before Capital Public Radio asked him to co-anchor "Morning Edition," the station's most popular program. Over time he became a fan favorite, as evidenced by listener support voiced on the station's Facebook page.
"There is a trustworthy quality in both his voice and presentation," Christine Pollard says in a post.
"He keeps it simple, has good diction and recovers well from mistakes," Phil Thielen Jr. writes in another.
In contrast to his delivery, Milne's transition from reporter to news anchor was not always smooth.
"With broadcasting, you have to write more conversationally," he says. "You have to engage the listeners so that you're drawing people in."
Milne's vocal style has changed over the years as well, as he has drawn on the influence of other National Public Radio broadcasters. "If you're doing the music program, it's more down-to-earth as opposed to news, where you have to be more authoritative," Milne says. "I think my original style was too laid-back for news, so I got a little bit more training on how to be a little bit more aggressive and more urgent in my delivery."
During his more than 30-year career, Milne has worked in almost every capacity in public radio.
In addition to broadcasting and writing, he contributed to numerous installments of Capital Public Radio's widely acclaimed "The View from Here," a California-based multimedia documentary series that focuses on a range of issues, including elementary school lunch programs, autism, in-home caregivers and high school dropout rates.
The series earned honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Education Writers of America, the Association for Healthcare Journalists and the Edward R. Murrow Awards.
He also has garnered numerous personal awards and recognitions, including the Sacramento American Women in Radio and Television's Good News award in 2006 and 2007 for newswriting, which included a feature on revitalization efforts in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood.
For all the accolades and achievements, Milne's greatest payoff is found in his daily work. His passion for music, journalism and storytelling continues to fuel him each day and is reflected each morning on the air.
His drive to make a difference and use his voice to inform, educate and inspire has produced a long, illustrious career, and he still glows when he speaks about the time at Sac State that shaped him professionally and personally. "(My favorite memory) was just being inspired by the professors here," he says. "They were really good."
Drawing on his years in virtually every phase of the industry, Milne urges aspiring writers, producers, reporters and anchors alike to get into the business for the right reasons.
To Milne, those reasons are as clear today as they were when his passion for journalism first ignited at Sacramento State - telling stories that inspire people, giving a voice to the voiceless, and contributing to an informed electorate as a part of the public media that truly is the fourth branch of government.
"Just be willing to pay your dues," Milne says. "It's not a money-making thing - but it is really rewarding. If you're really passionate about journalism and you want to tell stories, it's a great career to get into." - John BlomsterLast Updated: January 2015