At my first paying radio gig, in Dubuque over 30 years ago, I worked Sundays from noon to 6. There was a lengthy noon newscast to engineer and a public affairs program to play (“The KDTH Voice in Dubuque” with Gordon Kilgore), but my main job was to run a syndicated program called Sunday at the Memories. It was a nostalgia show featuring music, oldtime radio clips, and other broadcasting ephemera hosted by a veteran Denver jock named Ray Durkee. When I first started running the show, it focused mainly on music from maybe 1945 to 1965, although as time passed, the focus moved forward. One of my favorite moments in broadcasting happened after Sunday at the Memories had moved to a Sunday morning slot, when Ray opened the show with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” Five thousand watts of biker rock on staid old KDTH, and at 9:00 on a Sunday morning, was a beautiful thing to me. By the time I stopped hearing the show regularly in the mid 80s, Ray was playing Tom Petty and even Madonna—an uneasy mix with the other nostalgia elements, to be sure.
I met Ray, who died last summer at age 70, when KDTH brought him to Dubuque to MC a listener party and do his show live from our studios the next day. He never knew it, but he was indirectly responsible for getting me fired for industrial espionage. The supposed “meeting in Dubuque,” which made the idiots who employed me in Illinois think I was conniving to steal their corporate secrets, was actually a second listener party, which I’d gone back to attend. (It was, against all odds, such a rager that it was worth getting fired over.)
Later in my career, when I became a program director, I didn’t have to work Sunday mornings anymore, not exactly, although the nature of the program director’s gig is that you’re on call for emergencies 24/7. At WKAI, we hired a new guy to work Sunday mornings, and he was a little shaky on the equipment. His first Sunday soloing, my telephone rang at 5:45, and the conversation went something like this:
Me (groggily): “Hello?”
Bob: “It’s Bob.”
Bob: “At the station?”
Me: “What’s up?”
Bob: “I can’t get the transmitter on.”
After a brief pause, because I wasn’t awake quite enough to process a complete sentence, I ran him through the checklist for getting the transmitter on. “I did that,” he said. “I did that. I did that.” At this point, I dragged myself out of bed and turned on my own stereo, where I could hear the dead carrier wave and see the little stereo light ablaze. “It’s on, Bob.” “Really? OK, thanks,” he said. It was no big deal. I had told him to call if he had any problems, and I was half-expecting it.
The next Sunday morning, however, he called again with the same problem. And so we ran the checklist again. During the week, I got in touch with Bob to make sure he understood what he was doing on Sundays—and then I’ll be damned if he didn’t call me a third Sunday in a row. So the following week, I took precautions. I didn’t want to unplug the phone entirely, so we turned off the one in the bedroom and buried the main extension underneath the couch cushions so there was no way for us to hear it. I don’t know if he called or not, but when we got up at a more civilized hour, the station was on, and all was well that ended well.
I did a regular Sunday morning airshift as recently as 2008. Just as there’s something special about being alone in the station at night, Sunday mornings have a particular vibe as well, although it’s difficult for me to describe it. It’s an incipient sense of possibility, maybe—the promise of a whole day with which we can do whatever we like, even if it’s nothing at all. As busy as we are, we don’t get many of them.