An Anniversary

It didn’t cross my mind until late in the day, but this past Saturday was the 35th anniversary of my first live radio show, on WSUP at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, three months into my freshman year.

(I have to specify “live radio show” because at some point in either 1976 or 1977, I paid $6.25 in a fund-raising auction at my high school to get 15 minutes of airtime on WEKZ in Monroe, a show that was taped with the help of one of the staff members there. The show, as best I can remember it, is so embarrassing to me now that I will take the details to the grave.)

I have written about my first morning on the air in scattered spots around this blog over the years. If I am recalling correctly, it wasn’t supposed to be my first shift—I had already signed up to work a double shift, noon to 6, during final exams on December 15, 1978, but I was later asked if I wanted to fill in for another guy who had an early final on the 14th. And I did. The station ran a Top 40 format, and the first song I played, at 6AM on Thursday the 14th was the first song in the bin for the first spot on the hot clock: an otherwise forgettable Stephen Bishop single called “Everybody Needs Love.”  I think “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells was in there someplace during the first segment, too.

The first newscast ran at 6:20. The newsman was Rich Cantu, an obviously talented but imposing figure who took pleasure in scaring the hell out of the freshmen, but who was gracious and helpful to me on that first day. (He later ended up in Milwaukee and Chicago, and as a national anchor for ABC News.) The rest of the details of the morning are largely gone in the haze of 35 years, although at one point the station’s program director came in and said to me, “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” It remains one of the highest compliments I have ever received as a broadcaster.

The show the next day is actually more memorable to me. With less to do on an afternoon show than in the morning, I could relax a bit and start getting comfortable, learning to work with the jingles and the other formatics. By the end of that day, I was positively exhilarated: no longer would I have to imagine what it would be like to be on the radio and what I would do when I got there. I made it. I was there, on my way, and it was going to be great.

And it was. WSUP made many things possible. I met The Mrs. there. This week, we’ll send Christmas cards to some of the friends we made there. Some of our favorite stories come from those days.

But radio would prove to be not so easy as it seemed in December 1978. I would learn that not everybody loves your work. Not everybody wants to be your friend. And in the end, as much as you love radio, radio will not necessarily love you back.

(Shameless self-promotion department: Continuing my fraught relationship with my wayward muse, I’ll be doing the Magic 98 Morning Show Tuesday through Friday of this week and a couple of days after Christmas, in addition to various shifts on the weekend and one on Christmas Eve, my favorite radio show of the year. Detailed schedule and how to stream here.)

3 thoughts on “An Anniversary

  1. Happy belated, sir, and thanks again for the tips and tidbits you’ve passed along to this novice of 17 years and change. I’ll be on the air myself for two of your Christmas Eve hours but I’ll have the Internet recorder programmed to capture every moment. (Advance empathy if Fogelberg winds up on your playlist.)

  2. Yah Shure

    Happy 35th! I’m always amazed by those radio folks who remember the first (or last) record they ever played on the air. Clouds make more lasting impressions than that Bish record ever did, so you are to be commended.

    Maybe two years ago, I was rummaging through old reel-to-reel tapes and came across what I’d thought was an old production work tape from my first pro gig at WJON. Instead, it was a portion of my very first airshift at the station in early January, 1978. It didn’t start off on the best footing: song ends, brief next-song tease, and… no legal ID going into the 3 A.M. newscast (clear skies, 16 degrees F) led off by a news sounder I didn’t recall at all. Had completely forgotten about reading the live hourly newscasts. No mispronunciations, fortunately. Volunteering for a bit of newscast duty at the college station seemed to have paid off.

    The station had only recently expanded to 24/7 operation, so it was surprising to hear a healthy spot load in the dead of night (Shakey’s Pizza! Long gone from MN. What I wouldn’t give for their spiced pepperoni right now.) The music was more AC than I thought it would be (“You Make Loving Fun,” Coolidge’s “Higher And Higher,” ” Here You Come Again,” “Love Will Keep Us Together,” Presley’s “My Way,” Pablo Cruise’s “Whatcha Gonna Do,” “Dreams” and a deep older track: Andrew Gold’s “Heartaches And Heartaches.”) Guess who got to pick the oldies?

    If there was an overall surprise, it was that I wasn’t “first shift horrible,” although the content was pretty thin. But the words came out in the proper order, the records all ran at the right speeds, the transmitter didn’t catch fire, the tower lights didn’t fail and the levels were all spot-on, as evidenced by the tape having been recorded straight off the board, sans processing.

    The discovery of the aircheck was a kick in itself, but the Wayback machine still wasn’t firing on all cylinders, I transferred the tape to digital, fired up my Part 15 AM transmitter with some big-market processing and listened as that virgin professional airshift unfolded once again on 1240 kHz, just as it had on WJON’s frequency. It isn’t often that you get to experience your first airshift just as the civilians heard it.

  3. Happy “1st radio show” Anniversary! It’s amazing how many of us from that little 420 watt FM college radio station are still close friends today after 35 yeasr or so. Maybe it was because we all shared the same hopes and dreams. I’m told that camaraderie doesn’t exist today at the campus radio station and hasn’t for sometime. The students today just aren’t interested in becoming jocks, newscasters, sportscasters, or production people. Of course, the industry has evolved and has made some of those jobs extinct. Still, I’m grateful for being there…at that time…with those same people…who would become some of my dearest friends.

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