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Remembering Nicole Sawaya

Update: A public memorial was held for Nicole Sawaya on Tuesday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m.
Friends and family gathered at Z Space, the theatre at Project Artaud, in San Francisco to celebrate and remember Nicole's life. Former KALW General Manager Matt Martin spoke about her commitment to and passion for community and public radio. His remarks can be found at this link.

The KALW community lost one of its own on Thursday, October 11th. Nicole Sawaya, champion of public service media, innovative programmer, and beloved leader died from complications due to cancer. Nicole served as KALW’s General Manager from 2001 to 2006. 

During that time, she was instrumental in shaping the station’s sound, helping transition KALW to its current focus on locally produced programming with a national impact. Nicole's respect for listeners was foundational in her work first as a reporter and later as a manager, where her natural ability to inspire and greenlight original and impactful programs became evident. She described KALW's audience as a “questioning, curious people who don't take mass media at its word.”

We strive to honor Nicole's spirit every day on our airwaves and extend our deepest condolences to her family. For more on her legacy in life and in radio, see here.


She was a bundle of wise energy and a great leader who gave me the green light to start a public service newsroom at KALW in 2004. She was a visionary builder and she will be missed. Holly Kernan, News Director 2004 - 2014

I’ve never met anyone so driven by the mission and spirit of public broadcasting. She was never the boring and staid caricature of public radio. She thought the nonprofit, commercial-free, public service mission mandated that we be bold and daring. Roman Mars, 99% Invisible

She gave the green light to Out in the Bay - Gay Radio from San Francisco. Beyond just taking that chance, Nicole was a firm and kind adviser whose counsel I sought and whom I considered a friend. Eric Jansen, Out in the Bay

When we first tried to get Philosophy Talk on the air, we shopped it to many of the bigwigs in pubic radio, but hardly anybody would give us a chance to prove ourselves. That was kind of understandable, it wasn’t like some market research had shown that audiences were clamoring to hear more philosophy on the radio. It’s a testament to Nicole’s visionary nature and propensity to think outside of the box that she instantly saw the potential in our little experiment. She agreed, without hesitation to give our show a try. And she stood by us as we experimented with the format and sound of the show, before we attempted to bring it to a wider national audience. We are eternally grateful to her for the opportunity. Ken Taylor, Philosophy Talk

She really wanted diverse voices on the air and was fiercely committed to a radio station that reflected the Bay Area, and the worlds that lived in our backyards. Sandip Roy, Dispatch from Kolkata

Nicole was a fiery and unforgettable individual. In a world of people who claim to be independent thinkers, she was the real thing, speaking her truth freely even when she knew there would be backlash. Nicole hoed her own row in life, and brought passion and laughter to everything she took on. I feel deeply privileged to have known Nicole, and to have had her as a mentor and friend. Matt Martin, General Manager 2006 - 2018