By Denise Gee Peacock
Legendary WTMJ broadcast engineer Gary E. Timm—who retired earlier this year after more than 30 years as Wisconsin’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) Chair—was recently honored for his pioneering work and public service volunteerism during a Missing Children’s Day event in Madison.
Timm was recognized May 25, 2023, as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) Chair Emeritus guest of honor during the Wisconsin Department of Justice Missing Persons Remembrance Ceremony.
Asked what he is most proud of accomplishing during his career, Timm has said, “I would say getting our Amber Alert program off the ground in 2003. This year we are celebrating the program’s 20th anniversary.”
AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program Manager Jenniffer Price-Lehmann, who served Wisconsin law enforcement for 24 years in key leadership roles—many of them focused on alerting the public to missing and endangered children and adults and investigating their disappearances—is honored to have benefitted from Timm’s EAS efforts. “Gary is a humble man who had a passion for AMBER Alerts,” she said. “He definitely will be missed—not only in the Wisconsin AMBER Alert program but in the larger emergency alerting community across the country.”
With Timm’s help, Wisconsin was the first state to file its required EAS plan with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1996 — a plan submitted on a floppy disk.
Timm would then work tirelessly to enhance the state’s EAS by making it more than a daisy chain of cobbled-together radio stations. His primary focus was ensuring the EAS was able to work perfectly when needed—and helping other states do the same.
“Gary’s biggest contribution in my mind is that he connected broadcasters to the public,” said Steve Wexler, Vice President of Radio, EW Scripps Company. “Gary made those [EAS] tones really mean something. That they’re dependable. And consistent.”
Michelle Vetterkind, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, praised Timm for having “the ability to bring many different people and agencies together” and for being “tremendously passionate about keeping Wisconsin children safe.”
In March 2010, Timm retired from full-time broadcast engineering after 37 years at Journal Broadcast Group in Milwaukee, WTMJ and WKTI Radio. He then worked in a part-time capacity as an alerts and warnings consultant for SRA International for five years, where his work supported the Department of Homeland Security.
Following his second retirement in 2015, Timm continued to devote time to EAS volunteer efforts such as membership on the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council, emergency-alerting advocacy with other EAS experts through the Broadcast Warning Working Group and outreach to Wisconsin emergency managers.
Timm is recognized nationwide as an EAS expert who has authored numerous articles and handbook chapters on the subject—garnering respect for his ability to explain technical issues to a non-technical audience.
Timm received the inaugural Service Award from Wisconsin Emergency Management in 2022, was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2018, and in 2005, received a Certificate of Commendation from the Wisconsin Governor.
“How can you thank someone who has given what he has given? He’s saved lives. He’s kept people safe,” Vetterkind said. “He is a very special man.”
Timm’s humble take on his career will no doubt endure. “I think engineers as a class are probably unsung heroes. At times we feel like we’re just part of the equipment. You kind of melt into the background—until something doesn’t work,” he said with smile.
Overall, however, “It’s been a privilege to volunteer my service all these years for the people of Wisconsin, and for [EAS advances] on a national basis,” he said. “I will truly miss my EAS colleagues and friends, and thank them for their support and rewarding relationships.”
The Wisconsin State Emergency Communications Committee has named Christopher Tarr, Group Director of Engineering for Magnum Media, as Timm’s successor.