SPRINGFIELD — As a journalist for nearly 40 years, Jim Madigan has won two Emmys and interviewed renowned authors and polarizing political candidates, but what he has loved most is interviewing people about the issues affecting Western Massachusetts residents.
“I love talking to people and letting them talk to me, and tell me their stories,” said Madigan, who will retire from WGBY, where he spent nearly 27 years as a senior producer of public affairs and later as the director of public affairs.
“I have worked with some incredible people over the years who understand the importance of informing our viewers, it’s been a blessing,” Madigan said during an interview at his home in Westfield.
He is leaving the station at age 65 because he suffers from terminal lung disease, he said.
“Driving is difficult, and I really can’t do a full day now,” he said.
Madigan has always loved politics. Born in Chelsea and raised in Schenectady, New York, Madigan attended Mount Saint Mary’s College in Maryland, where he earned a degree in history.
“My first job out of college was as an aide for the New York state senate. I loved politics, but I always had an interest in radio and TV,” he said.
Madigan worked for a couple of radio stations in New York until 1979, when he was hired to work at WLDM, which later became WNNZ, in Westfield. He was a news director there for three years before spending eight years at abc40 as a general assignment and politics reporter.
In 1990, he joined public television and PBS station WGBY.
“At that time, commercial news was changing. Soundbites were getting shorter and shorter, and the chance to let someone sit and talk, and express a full idea, was just greater in public TV,” he said. “I think it is still that way today.”
In addition to hosting WGBY’s “Connecting Point,” a local public affairs series, Madigan is also producer of “The State We’re In,” a weekly segment focusing on regional, state and national politics. When he started at the station, he worked on a variety of shows.
“We did a magazine show called ‘Page 57,’ which morphed into ‘Our Home Town.’ We did town meetings,” he said. “I even did a live show for 15 years called ‘Doctors on Call.’ We had one or two doctors come in, and people would call in and ask them about health concerns. It was surprisingly a very popular show.”
Madigan also partnered regularly with the Springfield Public Forum to bring on nationally and internationally known authors.
“One that was really memorable for me was Doris Kearns Goodwin who came on the show and talked about her books on Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson,” he said. “I also got the opportunity to sit down with Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the film ‘Hotel Rwanda.’ Such a fascinating man, it was a gift to meet him and interview him.”
Madigan has gained a reputation for being a skilled moderator of political debates. He moderated seven gubernatorial debates over the last 20 years, a 1996 debate in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. John Kerry and Gov. William Weld and an October 2012 U.S. Senate debate between Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren.
“The secret to good moderating is that there is always a producer in your ear helping you keep on track, it’s not something I do alone,” he said. “I love covering politics because it affects us all. Whether we like it or not, it’s important.”
Madigan said he enjoyed interviewing local politicians about issues that affect viewers.
“I especially enjoyed doing programs with Congressman Richard Neal. His tremendous knowledge of politics and history make him such a great guest,” he said.
Madigan said his goal has always been to reach the viewers and inform them about what is going on in their community whether it’s politics, community events or social issues affecting the region.
In 1992, Madigan won both a New England Regional Emmy and a National Public Service Emmy as a co-producer of the documentary “Out of Work,” a co-production with WGBH-Boston, WGBY-Springfield and WHYY-Philadelphia.
“It was a program we did about unemployment. I was a co-producer, and went to New York City for the ceremony,” he said, too humble to add much more about the prestigious award.
In November 2015, Madigan was inducted into the Silver Circle Award of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Boston/New England Chapter. The Gold and Silver Circle Awards are a special recognition to honor television professionals who have “made significant contributions to their community and to the vitality of the television industry,” according to the academy.
Longtime friend and colleague Lynn Page, WGBY’s deputy general manager, said Madigan’s wisdom and guidance will be missed at the station.
“Of course we’ll miss Jim’s wisdom and guidance here at the station, but the viewers at home are really going to miss him, too,” she said. “Jim wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions and really work on behalf of the public at getting the information we need to keep us informed. He’s been in our homes for 27-plus years.”
WGBY General Manager Anthony V. Hayes said Madigan has had a profound impact on local news and politics.
“For nearly three decades, Jim Madigan connected western New England,” Hayes said. “A man of Jim’s caliber is valuable in any field, but especially valuable in journalism and public media.”
Madigan will be spending his days with his wife of 34 years, Lena Madigan, his son Jim Madigan IV and their dog, a rescue Shih Tzu from the Dakin Humane Society they named Jefferson.
“I felt like Hamilton was getting a lot of attention and I have always been fascinated by Thomas Jefferson,” he said jokingly.
Madigan said he is grateful for his family, friends, colleagues and viewers, including those who have stopped him to chat about a novel or cornered him at an event to discuss something they liked or didn’t like about his shows.
“They welcome us into their home, they give us time to bring them helpful ideas, information that I hope makes their life better, it has been a privilege,” Madigan said.