You Never Get Over Your First Love

I am often told that I have a great face for radio.  This much is certain.

I am also often told that I have a great voice for radio.  Someone at work today told me that I missed my calling as a radio announcer and to a great degree, that’s the truth.  I missed my calling.  Or more correctly, I miss it.

I miss radio.  I miss it every time I listen which is at least every work day.

WFOB as it looks today. It's not changed much except that the studios are now downtown.

WFOB as it looks today. It’s not changed much except that the studios are now downtown.

My first awareness of the medium goes back further into my past than you’d think.  I know I was no older than five years old, though from memory my precise age is unclear.  My father took me out to rural Fostoria, Ohio where hometown station WFOB maintained its studios and transmitters.  It was in a little brick building behind which were three tall towers painted red and white.  He drove us up the long driveway and took me inside.

My first question of the man who greeted us was “Where do all the people sing?”  As a four or five year old, I was a little unclear on the concept of radio.  I recall being a little confused that there was no big studio for the musicians to perform in.  And no musicians.  If there was no studio, where was the music coming from?  Being too young to articulate this question, or perhaps too young to understand the explanation, I was whisked in to the announcers booth and told what to say while the Man who Greeted Us worked some equipment. After a couple of missteps, and an eventual “Great job!” from the Man who Greeted Us, I heard the sound of my own voice coming from the monitor in the booth:

“You’re listening to WFOB and WFOB-FM Fostoria with studios in Bowling Green.”

I had a slight speech impediment as a kidling* so “Fostoria” came out more like “Fos-tohweea.”  I might have said “full-time studios” but that may just be me remembering their long standing station ID that I heard for years every time I listened.

I remember little else of that visit other than being completely wowed by the experience. I felt like quite the celebrity when I got home and Dad turned on the radio in the house for me so I could hear myself doing the station ID a few times an hour.   I absolutely loved hearing my own voice on the radio!

That hasn’t changed a bit since.

A few years later, I saved my nickels and dimes and Dad took me downtown to the Montgomery Ward’s store on Main Street in Fostoria to help me buy a transistor radio. It was a little, red pocket model, a Zenith, I think, with a speaker in the front.  A small tuning dial allowed me free run of the AM radio band.  Included at no extra charge was an old-school earphone for listening without disturbing others.

If memory serves, it looked like this:

Vintage_Zenith_Royal_50_Transistor_Radio,_Made_in_USA_(8664443608)

Amazing what Google can find!

I’d remove it carefully from the box in which it came and once I was done listening, I even more carefully replace it in its box.  It was, after all, my most valued possession and I wasn’t about to leave anything to fate.

Anyway, I was just getting to the age when music meant something to me and I wanted to listen to the Friday night request show on WFOB (“We’re Full of Baloney,” as they came to be known.)  So Friday nights, once Mom sent me off to bed, I’d sneak out the box with my Zenith radio in it, carefully remove it, plug in the earphone and listen to rock ‘n roll until I either fell asleep or got caught.

That radio was with me for a long time.  I seem to remember having it quite a few years later at my grandparents’ house on Lincoln Avenue listening to a hockey game and trying to figure out what the hell was going on from the play-by-play.  That was mission impossible and I immediately and permanently lost any interest in hockey.

Other radios have come and gone but the love for the medium and the technology persisted.

When I was in Military School, my friend, Jeff Tobin expressed a similar interest in radio and armed with a cassette recorder and a little creativity, wrote, performed and recorded radio shows and skits.  Jeff had been a successful community theater actor and is an extraordinarily talented guy to this day.  But it was my interactions with him back in the day that made me realize that being on the radio wasn’t something that other people did.  Working in radio was within my grasp.

Jeff and I went to Westminster College together in 1976.  His Dad was the director of admissions there and me, as a “path of least resistance” kinda guy, applied there and was accepted.  Jeff and I performed live at Westminster’s annual newcomers talent show a radio skit that we’d written, performed and recorded the year before at military school.  We were a big hit.

The next day, Jeff and I went to the campus radio station, WKPS (now WWNW), to see about volunteering there.  We were greeted by one of the students who we’d later learn was Jim “Geem” Boyd who took one look at us, eyes widening, and said in a loud voice “Oh my God, they’re here!!!”  I checked with Jeff during his visit this weekend and he confirmed that this actually happened as I’ve described it.

Jeff and I worked at WKPS that year and throughout our respective tenures at Westminster.  So enamored with radio were we both that we got paying jobs at commercial stations the next year.  Jeff went to WGRP-AM/FM in Greenville, PA and Geem Boyd, now the news director at WHO Radio in Iowa, went to WFAR in Farrell.  Before trudging off to ROTC Advanced Camp that summer, I interviewed for an on-air job with WKST Program Director, Steve Mechling.  He told me that he’d write and let me know if I was hired before the summer was over.   I remember vividly receiving the letter at Fort Lewis and reading that I was hired.  And I probably still have that letter tucked away somewhere.

I had arrived.

Yes, there’s no doubt that I was unjustifiably impressed with myself.  I was a jackass kid who thought he had talent.  But Steve and others at the station tolerated me, taught me and let me make mistakes.  Folks like Bradley W. Baker, Gary West, Herb Morgan, Mike Grenci, Joey Macy, and many other talented broadcasters made that experience overwhelmingly positive in spite of myself and my over active ego.

After WKST, I went in the Army with the hope of working in Army broadcasting.  I weaseled my way into an assignment as the Radio and TV Officer at Fort Gordon’s WFG Radio.  Aside from my radio duties, the PAO, then Maj. Mike Miller handed me a 30-minute TV show to produce, write and anchor, so I had tons to learn. Maj. Miller also gave me the freedom to learn and make mistakes and I made more than my share of real whoppers at that job.

After my experience at Fort Gordon, I worked in radio at:

The American Forces Network, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

WCKJ Augusta, GA.  I only worked there two weekends.  It was a hideous experience.  You could play every record in the building in a six-hour air shift.  I’m not joking – literally every record.  On the upside, my sister got to hear me on the air for the first and only time.

KXDZ-FM and KABN-AM, Anchorage Alaska.  I did mostly voice over work for them producing 60-second “Good News” spots for the automated stations.  Though I was the morning man for a week or so when KXDZ went live from the Alaska State Fair in 1989.  I was told at the time that I earned the distinction of being the first on-air deejay to do a live, in-state radio show via satellite.  I have no way of verifying the truth in this statement but it’s fun to think about.

The American Forces Network, The Balkans, Tuzla Bosnia.  I led the radio and TV mission there, though I did no on-air work.

I did a ton of voice over stuff destined for radio broadcast over the years and of course, the on-camera stuff as well.  Plus the occasional acting gig.  But when I punch the “AM/FM/Sat” button on the Prius, it’s all about radio and I can’t help but sigh wistfully.

I’d love to get back into it but of course, it’s a very different industry far inferior to that of my formative years as a radio performer.  I know that if I were to go back, I’d be disappointed in what’s become of radio.  Still, I can’t help but miss it.

AT40Recirds

AT-40 used to be delivered on vinyl.

On weekends when I’m in the car and I punch the “Sat” button, I get a kick out of Sirius/XM’s weekend playbacks of old American Top 40 radio shows.  I used to engineer those shows on WKST.  As soon as I hear Casey Kasem’s voice and that familiar theme music, I’m right back in that dingy little studio at WKST playing the shows off of standard 33 1/3 records.

“And now, on with the countdown!”

* I’m not exaggerating about having a speech impediment.  It was bad enough that Mom and Dad sent me to speech therapy classes in elementary school for at least a year.  I had problems articulating “r” sounds.  I remember repeating the phrase “wed wabbits wun wappidly” until I was sick to death of it.  I finally mastered it but strangely enough, I never did see any wed wabbit wunning.


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