My University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumni magazine came in the mail the other day. Like everybody else who gets an alumni magazine, I always scan the class notes in the back to see if there’s anything in there about anybody I used to know. Every once in a while, somebody’s had a baby, gotten a new job, you know the drill. This time, however, somebody I used to know was listed under “In Memoriam.”
Bob Carnes, or BC as he was sometimes known, was older than the rest of us. He’d enrolled in the broadcasting program at Platteville after attending community college and spending four years in the military. By the time I met him, he was chief announcer at the campus station. I zeroed in on him pretty quickly as the kind of jock I wanted to be—affable, professional, technically excellent—and he set an excellent example for the on-air people. It fell to him to approve the audition tapes of new jocks. In December 1978, he approved mine. At that time, the station had a rule that you needed at least one semester’s experience on the air before you could do a morning show. However, Bob needed somebody to cover his Thursday show one day during finals, so he bent the rule and allowed me to fill in for him.
By the next summer, I had snagged a job at KDTH in Dubuque. Bob and his roommate, another Platteville classmate, both worked at the other station in town, WDBQ. They took me in on the weekends that summer, letting me sleep on their couch between my weekend shifts. We spent a lot of Saturday nights hanging out together. Since both of them were older than me and had more experience in radio, I followed them around like a little brother. I learned a lot just watching Bob in the production studio recording commercials—he patiently explained what he was doing and why, and he cracked wise on his production reel whenever he messed up a take, a habit I soon adopted.
One night in the production studio, we started messing around with the extended version of “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, a monster hit that summer, dubbing various animal noises and other sound effects over the last several minutes of the song. The guy on the air came in to see what we were doing, so we played it for him. You can guess what happened next—later that night, the next time “We Are Family” was scheduled to play, WDBQ’s listeners were treated to our adulterated version.
It was one of the great disappointments of my college career that I didn’t get to follow in Bob’s footsteps as chief announcer when I sought the post in 1981. (Those who were there will tell you that the assholitude I displayed much of the time in those years reached toxic levels and cost me the opportunity, and they’d be right.) And after he graduated, I lost track of Bob, although I always thought of him whenever I remembered that first memorable morning on the air. He stayed in radio for at least a few years afterward. After that, I don’t know. From his obit, I learned that the end of his life he worked in his family’s appliance business in his hometown of Elkader, Iowa. Also from his obit, I found out for the first time just how much older he was than the rest of us—10 years. He was 57 when he died last November.
Nobody in the radio biz is self-made. We all had people along the way who helped us become whatever it is we are. BC was one of mine.
There are passages in life you’re ready for, and passages that you don’t see coming until they’re past, and then you think, “Damn, I wasn’t ready for that.” This is one of mine.