Profile by Robby Griswold
Most Detroiters know Jerome Vaughn as a radio personality on 101.9 WDET where he is the News Director. His voice imparts an ease and approachability that invite thoughtful conversations with his on-air guests ranging from neighborhood residents to entrepreneurs to politicians. He is particularly qualified to cover news in Detroit, having grown up in the city and having lived there most of his life. Jerome attended the University of Detroit Jesuit High School before coming to the Residential College where he majored in Creative Writing and Psychology through LSA. He graduated from U-M in 1987 and spent some time in San Francisco before realizing that he felt compelled to showcase the Detroit that he knew. His a-ha moment was the earthquake of 1989. “People were reacting by helping one another, doing everything from carrying firehoses to staying at each other’s houses. People do that in Detroit all the time.” He moved back to his hometown and enrolled at Wayne State University for a Masters in Radio, TV, and Film, and he got an internship at WDET.
His passion for chronicling Detroit’s comeback and letting people around the world know the truth about his hometown drives his long career at the station. “I’ve been working hard for the last 27 years to show southeast Michigan and the rest of the country the truth about Detroit instead of tired stereotypes.” He has worked as a producer, writer, and assistant news director before landing the role of News Director in 2007. His radio work includes a series called “Crossing the Lines” which explores dynamics between Detroit and its suburbs and specific challenges and successes in uniting them. Jerome also runs the news internship program which provides opportunities for future public radio producers. He has served as a mentor for NPR’s Next Generation Radio project, and as well as U-M Semester in Detroit (SiD) since their very first cohort in 2009. His involvement with SiD gives him the chance to tie together his “love for the RC” with his outstanding work experience. Jerome has helped WDET garner numerous awards including Public Radio Station of the Year in 2014 by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2018.
Looking back at his experience at U-M, he realizes that the dialectic approach to learning he experienced in the Residential College helped prepare him for his career. “The ability to have great conversations/discussions about topics large and small and then synthesize that information is a skill I use just about every day. Psychology [one of my majors] is an important tool for me because people are at the heart of every news story. And I write every day,” referring to the utility he gained from his RC Creative Writing major. He encourages current RC students to “listen, work together, express your ideas, be creative, be yourself.” These resonate with the values he sees in Detroiters who work together to make the city a great place to live - and have for generations. “Take it all in. Learn as much as you can, not just book-wise, but also about life and other people. Have some fun while learning. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.”
When I asked him about some of his memories from the RC - fun, odd, or otherwise - he says, “A memorable Halloween party in 1984 with my roommate dressed as Boy George. Aerobics led by Beth Darmstadter. Dance parties in the alcove. Meeting and falling in love with my future wife (Leslie Bodden).” He and Leslie have 8 children, and if that weren’t enough, Jerome coaches children in his Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood. “I like knowing the kids in the neighborhood. It’s great getting to know them and watching them come out to play soccer year after year. Some of the kids I coached are now twice as tall as I am.”
Congratulations, Jerome, on your successes in public radio, and here’s to many more. Thank you for your service to the city of Detroit, to those in your local community, and to Semester in Detroit students. We’re proud to call you an RC alum!
Thanks to Kathy Garrett and her 2015 article on Jerome Vaughn for the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, which was excerpted above.