Susan Stephens

Reporter, All Things Considered Host

Susan’s parents should have known she’d end up in radio: her favorite toys were tape recorders, cameras, notepads, and books. Many years later, she’s an award-winning reporter at her favorite radio station. Formerly WNIJ’s News Director, she asked to return to the role of full-time reporter/anchor/utility player in 2010 (less paperwork, more reporting!). Her #1 goal is to tell the most compelling stories in the fewest words possible…all the better if a little humor can be thrown into the mix.  It should come as no surprise, then, that she can whip up a haiku for any occasion. She also enjoys the Detroit Tigers, learning pioneer skills (Gardening, canning, and the like. Just in case.), traveling with friends, and pretending she’s going to get around to playing her theremin.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded fell for ten straight days nationally, but is up a few cents in Illinois. 

The average price in the state is $2.35 a gallon, up a little more than a penny from a week ago. 

Springfield has the cheapest gas in the state, at $2.19. Rockford's average is $2.24, down a penny from last week. A year ago this week, prices in Rockford were below the $2.00 mark, at $1.97. 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Update, 3/16/17 12:30 pm: This morning, the district released Wednesday's student attendance totals for all grade levels.  The official average attendance across the district was 77%. That's down from 92% the previous Wednesday. 

School attendance was down in Rockford on the first day of a three-day strike by school support workers.

Elementary school attendance in Rockford Public Schools was at 81%. That's down 12% from last Wednesday. Some parents had a hard time getting their children to class without school bus service.

rps205.com

Hundreds of Rockford School District employees are picketing at schools throughout the city as a three-day strike gets underway.

Google Maps

Illinois has joined a group of states supporting a temporary restraining order against President Trump’s revised travel ban.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined colleagues in twelve other states and the District of Columbia in filing an amicus brief Monday supporting the state of Hawaii in its case against the revised Executive Order on immigration. They argue that the latest travel ban still contains unconstitutional parts of the original order.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Back in 2005, a young lawyer running as an Independent shocked the establishment by beating the Democratic incumbent in the Rockford mayor’s race. Now, 12 years later, he’s ready to hand the keys to his 8th floor city hall office to the next mayor. In today’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens sat down with Larry Morrissey to talk about his three terms as mayor and his plans for the future. 

A Winnebago County jury delivered a "guilty" verdict Wednesday night in the 2008 murder of Rockford attorney Gregory Clark.

Clark was shot in the back while he used a snow blower in front of his home during a snowstorm in February 2008. Witnesses said they saw a blue van speeding away from the scene.

A program designed to get more minority teachers into Illinois classrooms is turning directly to the public for support. 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Brian Leaf will be remembered by many as the talented business reporter for the Rockford Register Star. But those who knew him also are sharing stories of his talents as a friend, father, spin-class instructor, musician, local music supporter, hunter, nature-lover, and all-around good guy.

Leaf died Wednesday at the age of 57. He had a heart attack while teaching a spin class at the YMCA in Rockford.

The man who kidnapped and murdered a Rockford newspaper boy in 1975 has died in prison at the age of 78. Now the family of Joey Didier will no longer have to circulate petitions to keep his killer, Robert Lower, from being paroled.

Lower’s 20th attempt for release from his life sentence was set for 2019: he was last denied parole in February 2014.

The disappearance and murder of the 15-year-old in March 1975 affected the community deeply. Thousands of Rockford residents have signed petitions over the decades asking the state's parole board to keep Lower in prison. 

pritchardstaterep.org

Today on WNIJ’s Friday Forum, we take on education in Illinois. 

State Rep. Bob Pritchard (R-Hinckley) is a member of the bipartisan bicameral commission tasked with reforming school funding in Illinois. The commission's recent report set a goal of increasing state funding for education from 26% to 50%. Pritchard says they also came up with 27 factors to help identify, then close, funding gaps between the wealthiest and poorest districts. 

Your Best Voice

Feb 6, 2017
Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Did you know??? The most compelling sound to a human is another human’s voice. (No pressure)

Your Best Voice

Your best voice is natural.

Your best voice sounds like you.

Your best voice is calm and authoritative.

Your best voice matches the tone of your story.

Graphic Design by Teresa Chin/Youth Radio

Recording Your Interview

Wear headphones!

Ideally, your mic should be about four inches away from your subject’s mouth: that’s about a fist-width away. Keep it in roughly the same place throughout the interview. Angle the mic slightly so they are not speaking straight down it.

Never ever ever give up the mic. Do not let them hold the mic. Ever.

Keep the mic as steady as possible to avoid handling noise. Or use a mic stand or mic boom.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

We live in uncivil times: There are more ways than ever to insult and be insulted by people with different views. That’s why a national initiative called “Choose Civility” was started. Rockford kicked off its own take on the movement Tuesday night.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

A DeKalb County judge has set dates for hearings in two cases involving Jack McCullough, the Seattle resident who was convicted of the 1957 kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph of Sycamore. That conviction was vacated after a review last year showed he could not have committed the crime. 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

More than 1,000 people marched through downtown Rockford today as part of the national Women's March movement. Women, men, and children carried signs, shouted slogans, and stuck to the sidewalks in the peaceful gathering. 

Organizers say the purpose of the march was to support women's rights, as well as specific issues such as equal pay, access to health care, and uniting a diverse city like Rockford.

whitehouse.gov

President Obama holds what the White House bills as his final news conference this afternoon. NPR and WNIJ will bring it to you live beginning at 1:00. 

A spokesman for Obama told CBS News the president has called this press conference because he wants to say farewell to the White House press corps and "show them the respect they've earned." 

You can listen to WNIJ's coverage on 89.5 FM and WNIJ.org

U.S. Congress

We kick off a new series on WNIJ this morning: the Friday Forum. Today, we catch up with two members of the U.S. House from northern Illinois, just as the 115th Congress is getting underway. 

Republican Adam Kinzinger represents the 16th district, which stretches from the Wisconsin state line to the Indiana state line. It includes portions of Rockford, DeKalb, and Dixon. Democrat Cheri Bustos represents the 17th district. She just started her third term representing the western Illinois area that runs along the Mississippi River and reaches into portions of Rockford and Peoria.

Services for a long-time Rockford radio personality are being held Saturday. Mark Mayhew died Tuesday, one week before his 61st birthday. He had suffered a heart attack last week. 

Mayhew was a reporter and a talk show host with WNTA for 20 years, where he earned the nickname “Mr. Know-It-All.” Most recently, he was an assignment editor at WREX television.

U.S. Congress

 

U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos is one of a handful of Democrats considering a run for Illinois governor. She says although she was just sworn in for her third term in Congress, she'd give it up to run for governor – if she's the person most likely to beat incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner.  

 

Flickr user Edward Simpson / cc by 2.0

It’s the one night of the year Winnebago County residents are happy to find themselves in the back of a squad car – it’s the Sheriff’s department’s annual New Year’s Eve Ride Home program.

If you’re out at the bar, had a few too many drinks, and your designated driver has ditched you, calling the Sheriff’s department for a ride is not usually your first instinct.

Winnebago County Sheriff's Department

Winnebago County Sheriff’s deputies are guarding a man in a Rockford hospital. He’s suspected of killing a 16-year-old Machesney Park's Rebecca Finkenhofer and shooting her grandmother Tuesday night.

Michael Mernack, 36, was shot by Winnebago County sheriff’s deputies after they were called to a Machesney Park home. They say he was armed.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

It’s the shortest day and the longest night of the year. To advocates in Rockford, the Winter Solstice symbolizes the harshest challenges for the homeless in their city. Wednesday, they held their annual memorial for homeless people who died this year.

Richard Reed was there to remember his friend Humberto, who was just 31 when he died in April. He recalled that he was “a good pool shooter, a good friend, a nice and kind person. And I’m thankful that I knew him.”

Department of Justice / whitehouse.gov

President Barack Obama has pardoned one Illinois resident and shortened the sentences of seven other Illinoisans convicted of federal crimes.

Great Lakes Basin Transportation / greatlakesbasin.net

What’s the Great Lakes Basin Railroad and why should I care?

The GLBR is a proposed railway that, if you live in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, or northwest Indiana, you’ve either never heard of or have spent a lot of time learning about over the last year.

Under the current route proposal, the Great Lakes Basin Railroad would enter Kankakee County, Illinois, just below the Will County line, traveling west-southwest to enter Grundy County a couple of miles above its southern boundary.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Over the past year, through three iterations of route proposals, many landowners were outraged when they learned their homes and farms were in the path of a railroad that would divert freight traffic around the Chicago area. They took that anger to a series of sometimes raucous public hearings.

But it’s easy to lose sight of the individuals in a crowd. This isn’t just a gang of rabble-rousers; these are real people. So we met with opponents of the Great Lakes Basin Railroad on their own turf: turf that the rail company would like to sink its tracks into.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Two Wisconsin lawmakers say they are looking into changing state law to prevent a proposed railroad project from forcing people to sell their land. The Great Lakes Basin Railroad would swing 261 miles through Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin in an attempt to relieve train congestion in the Chicago area.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The Northern Illinois University campus community got a look Monday at the next phase of a plan that will shape the campus for years to come. It’s called Program Prioritization, and it’s a review of all academic and administrative programs at NIU.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Imagine an object that could help some students improve their attendance. Other students will learn leadership skills. Still others will discover how to become valuable employees some day. And everyone smells better.

That object? A basket of laundry. A humble chore is changing lives in one high school.

Beloit Memorial High School looks a lot like the old factories that sprawl across this city just north of  the Illinois/Wisconsin border. It’s huge.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

About 100 people packed a meeting room this weekend at Midway Village Museum in Rockford to talk about the realities of racism in their community. It’s part of a year-long collaboration between the Rockford Register Star and WNIJ. The Register Star’s executive editor Mark Baldwin says the idea behind the discussion is to bring people together for a thoughtful, productive conversation. People can look each other in the eye, not just type at each other on social media.

Rockford Register Star

Assembling a police force that “looks like the community” is an important goal for many American cities. But it can be a slow process. 11% of Rockford’s police force is black, compared to 21% of the overall population.

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