Life Story Service
Life Story Reception
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
5:00 PM to 7:00 PM EDT
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
Where food, drinks, and stories will be shared.
At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.
Life Story / Obituary
Stephen C. Trivers passed away peacefully on April 10, 2023 at Rose Arbor Hospice in Kalamazoo, Michigan after a lengthy and courageous battle with Lewy body disease.
Stephen was born on September 17, 1939 in New York City. The eldest of five children, he quickly developed the traits of a natural, inspirational leader which would serve him well for a lifetime. Stephen was well known for speaking in superlatives, so it must be noted that he was quite possibly the most optimistic human being who ever lived. He put forth enormous efforts to cultivate a warm, loving environment for his family, company, and community. His other great love was radio.
Stephen knew he wanted to be in the radio business from the age of six. During his childhood, his family moved from New York to Detroit, and then to Buffalo, before landing in Atlanta. He left the South to attend Phillips Academy, graduating in 1957. He returned home the summer before college to work at WAGA-AM in Atlanta under the direction of Bill Drake, who is known for being a seminal participant in creating the Top 40 radio format.
Stephen then headed north to attend Harvard College, graduating in 1961. At Harvard, he continued to pursue his love of radio and spent most of his time at WHRB-FM, which was not just a typical “college” radio station: it sold air time! It was also pretty high up the dial: 95.3. He honed his craft of selling radio advertising and operating radio stations. In addition to becoming the sales manager and later the station manager of WHRB, Stephen jumped at the opportunity to be the play-by-play announcer for the Crimson hockey and football teams and fully embraced the role.
After graduating, Stephen sold advertising for WCOP in Boston. A year later, he enlisted in the United States Air Force. After basic training, he was shipped back to Boston—to Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford—to complete six months of active duty. During this period, he worked for the Air Force by day, and was on-air at night. From midnight until dawn, he sat behind the mic at WCOP under his radio name: Mike McKey. His lack of regular sleep explains why he impressed his Air Force peers with his uncanny ability to sleep through drills.
As he had planned, Airman Trivers shifted to reserve status and worked as a civilian at WCOP as program director. His heroic military career culminated with the Cuban Missile Crisis, when he was called to active duty. His unit was on the runway at Hanscom AFB ready to take off for Miami…when the engines turned off. In Stephen’s words, “Thank God Khrushchev turned those ships around.”
He went back to WCOP, then moved to WPAT in New York City. Continuing his practice of working round the clock in one-of-a-kind Stephen (“with a ph” as he would inform everyone) Trivers fashion, he moonlighted as a stand-up comedian and became known for his spot-on impressions. It has been said by many who knew him in the ‘60s that he did an amazing John F. Kennedy, and a particularly funny Eleanor Roosevelt, which most likely would get him canceled by today’s standards.
1968 proved to be a pivotal year. While working at a WICE-AM in Providence, Stephen met Irene Babarskas and the two were married a year later. For the rest of his life, he would hail her as the most intelligent person he had ever had the honor of knowing. After their 1969 wedding, they immediately moved to York, Pennsylvania, where Stephen managed WSBA-FM, owned by Susquehanna Broadcasting. As general manager, Stephen worked with Bill Wertz to successfully relaunch the station with a new music format, achieving unprecedented success in ratings. This was the beginning of the Trivers/Wertz partnership. In 1972 they founded their own company, Fairfield Broadcasting, and bought WSEO-FM in Kalamazoo.
On June 26 of that year, after changing the station’s call letters to signal a new format, WQLR-FM—Clear 106.5—began broadcasting with seven employees. The rest is not just history, but the exponential growth of Stephen’s sharing his positive spirit, great big heart, work ethic, and sense of humor. His boundless generosity included intermittent unsolicited sales advice to unsuspecting waiters and political phone-call solicitors who “needed” it.
Throughout the next four decades, Fairfield Broadcasting changed in shape and size. It expanded to include Kalamusic, which produced programming for radio stations worldwide, and operated a handful of AM and FM radio stations in Fort Wayne, IN, and Lexington, KY. Fairfield ultimately focused on four stations in Kalamazoo: WQLR-FM, WQSN-AM, WKLZ-AM, and WKZO-AM. Stephen dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the company. His deep love of radio and commitment to his employees was remarkable by all accounts. He was a loyal, honorable, and hilarious leader who worked hard at cultivating a joyful atmosphere. These sentiments were reciprocated, as more than a dozen people worked for him for more than two decades. Today, 17 years after the sale of the company, many of the Fairfield “family” remain friends, a testament to the camaraderie Stephen helped foster in his time working there.
Throughout his career, Stephen mentored countless broadcasters who went on to establish successful careers for themselves across the country. He served on the board of the National Association of Broadcasters and as president of the Kalamazoo Ad Club and Michigan Association of Broadcasters. In 2007, Stephen was inducted to the MAB Hall of Fame with a lifetime achievement award.
It is clear Stephen followed through on his intentions and core values of being loyal, kind, honest, and joyful. He and Irene were married for 54 years. Although they held contrasting views about politics and religion, they treated each other's opinions with the utmost respect. A typical family dinner during election season was full of feisty and often uproarious political debates—truly a sight to behold. Stephen championed his daughters’ achievements and supported their passions and interests by assiduously learning about whatever field or industry they were involved in as if it were his own. He was always open for a phone conversation with Andrea or Juliana when they needed advice or help. And he was always prepared! His support for them was never ending.
He showed his gratitude for the education he received by participating in alumni affairs at Andover for many decades, by serving on the Board of Trustees of WHRB, and by working as a member and president of the Harvard Club of West Michigan. He very much wanted students from the Midwest to be represented out East. In addition to his many broadcasting awards, Harvard honored him with the Hiram Hunn Award for longstanding volunteer work in 2012.
Stephen loved Kalamazoo and cared deeply about the health and prosperity of the city. An avid supporter of the arts, he often remarked how lucky he felt to live in a city of its size with a wonderful symphony, art museum, theater, and visiting world-class musicians at music festivals. He served on the boards of many arts and music organizations, including the Kalamazoo Symphony and Kalamazoo Junior Symphony.
Sports were more than a pastime for Stephen: he always found ways to weave his favorite teams into his radio stations. Indeed, he lobbied Major League Baseball to change its regulations about broadcasting out-of-state teams so WQSN and WKLZ could broadcast Chicago sports from Kalamazoo. WKLZ was the first station in the country to air an out-of-state baseball game inside a baseball-team-protected territory. Stephen could be found in Kalamazoo on any given day at a Broncos, Hornets, or K-Wings game, and could probably be heard cheering from miles away at a Spartans football game, a Cubs or Tigers game, or a Harvard Crimson game. While traveling, he often scheduled trips to the rink or stadium, and he loved keeping score at baseball games.
When it came to enthusiasm, Stephen always delivered. He made every concert, play or sporting event the most “fabulous” place on earth. As his daughters’ AYSO soccer coach for more than 10 years, he made the players feel as important and valued as if they were Olympians. He always had a hug for the seven-year-old goalkeeper who punted an own-goal (or two). Stephen took his coaching very seriously, as evidenced by his game-day dress: pressed white trousers, blue blazer, and tie to match the team’s colors—no matter the weather. He held a clipboard, paced the sidelines, and fired up the team in a manner that predated soccer moms.
Stephen never missed an opportunity to acknowledge the kindness and warmth of others. He remembered all family birthdays. He had such enthusiasm for those of his siblings that he called them first thing in the morning Eastern Time, even though some of them lived in L.A. He also had a contagious smile. A magnanimous nature shined in every aspect of his life. No matter the circumstances, he loved it. Or if he didn’t, he willed it to be better. He had the ability to make anyone and everyone feel as if they were the most important person in the world.
Raised a Catholic, he had strong faith and very much enjoyed being a part of the community at St. Thomas More.
Stephen C. Trivers is survived by his wife, Irene; his daughters: Andrea Nieto (Edward) and Juliana; his grandchildren: Ella, Ana, and Mia; his siblings: John (Elizabeth Myers), James, and Mollie (Shelly Cohen); his nephews: Beau and Julian; and his niece, Tori. His brother Timothy (Helen) preceded him in death in 2010.
At the family’s request, memorial contributions may be made to organizations near to his heart: Farmers Alley Theatre , Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Michigan Association of Broadcasters Foundation - to support the next generation of broadcasters.
Please join us for a Life Story Service on Wednesday, May 10 at 4 PM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. A reception will follow in the Life Story Center where food, drinks, and stories can be shared. Visit Stephen’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos, or to sign his guestbook.