It’s four AM, Wednesday, November 16, 2005 and I’m sitting at the word processor to begin what I hope will be a look back at twenty-five years in talk radio. I went to bed last night at eight and have not slept a wink thinking about this undertaking.
The trail in radio actually goes back to radio station WALE in Fall River, Massachusetts (the call letters are now on a station in Providence, Rhode Island). The talk action begins on January 19, 1980 at eight-thirty in the morning on WSAR, a Fall River station with studios in Somerset, Massachusetts.
My experiences at WALE in 1958-59 were eye opening. I was a junior at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River. An average student, my primary interests were baseball and football. Oh yes, girls too. I had taken a job at WALE at the beginning of the summer. For all intents and purposes I was an intern at the station though my actual title was “gofor”, you know, go for this, go for that…. I was injured for my junior year in football so I continued at WALE after the summer ended.
During the time there I worked with a truly wonderful human being, Pat Donahue. I became his “helper” on his evening program. He played records, collected and wrote the news, did almost all commercials. He was the evening engineer too. You get the idea. In those days and with a 500 watt station you needed to be a jack of all trades.
It was my responsibility to visit the police station a few blocks from our cellar studios to get whatever was on the police blotter. (Really, the studios were in the cellar, complete with a pool room next door). On the blotter was always an assortment of notes; dog bites, kids making too much noise, an occasional fight or two, domestic disputes, and what not. I would then do the initial write up of the stories and Pat would edit on the fly as he read the news on the air.
Pat would take a nap in the evening, usually about fifteen minutes or so. I then got my opportunity to operate the turntables and actually play music on the air from those early records. All were quite well scratched.
One night Pat stepped out and was not back in time for the news so I took it upon myself to read the copy I had written for him on the on air. Boy was I afraid. Not just for doing the news on air for the first time, but for what the boss, J. Roger Sisson, would say. Roger was a good man who likely was not listening that night.
I also had the opportunity to work with James Christopher Barnhorst, aka Chris Barnes. Chris was the day news director and sports director, which meant he did all the news all day and was the voice of Durfee football and basketball. I got to help him as a spotter for Durfee football because I was a player and understood what was happening.
Chris was very good at his work, a true professional. Shortly after I left WALE for a job that paid more than 25 cents an hour, Chris left for Florida, not to be heard from by me again until around 1975. During a business trip I was in a hotel room somewhere in the South. There for the weekend, I decided to watch the Florida State University Seminole game against Florida on television. There he was, Chris the radio and TV voice of the Seminoles. (Yup, he did both at the same time.)
The thought flashed across my mind, I could be doing that had I stayed in radio.
It was that period of time I was impregnated with the love of radio. The gestation period lasted until 1979.
I called the Steve Cass Show one morning on WSAR. After the call I was asked if I’d like to be Steve’s guest in the future. I said yes. The call was about the textile industry and whether it collapsed here in the North or the companies simply moved South.
A few days later I was scheduled to be his guest from 8:30 to 9 AM (his show ran from 8:30 to Noon). I wound up there for the full three and an half hours. On conclusion of the show I was asked by the program director whether I’d like to fill in for Steve from time to time.
I furrowed my brow and made it appear I was thinking through on his offer (my mind was made up the moment he asked).
That was the beginning of twenty-five years of living a dream I thought would never materialize. Now, about a half million calls later, I feel it’s time to step back and review some pretty incredible things. They ranged from an interview with Bob Hope, in studio in Somerset, to my start at WRKO in 1983, the twelve great years in Providence, to today.
I wound up on radio full time and left a fairly successful career as a textile machinery salesman in 1980 because of a disaster which occurred to our family home.
On March 19, 1979, our home was broken into and it had a fire which gutted most of the interior. To this day we are not certain whether the fire was arson or some other cause. The thought someone would do something so hateful to us at the time was very hard to take. Helen was in her eighth month with our daughter Helene. We had three other children who ranged in age from two to seventeen.
It was the lowest point in our life together.
I tried to continue to work but the home front was so unsettled it was nearly impossible. I was vice-president of Norkon, Inc., a company based in New Hampshire. My employer was more than understanding. Company founder Paul Weise gave me all the time I needed to get our affairs straight.
Our homeowners insurance agent told me when we were through with all this we would have wished the home burnt to the foundation rather than go through the rebuilding process. He had seen it many times. He said in a total loss we settle right away and it’s over. This mess lasted for more than six months.
Have you ever tried to find temporary housing with three children and one on the way? After a couple of days we decided hotel living was not for us. As a result we wound up renting a fully furnished trailer and lived in our own back yard while our home was rebuilt. During this time our fourth daughter was born and she can call the trailer her first home.
While this was a low point in our lives it became a time when we learned to overcome adversity and became a very tightly knit family something that has never changed.
It also gave me an opportunity to know Helen and our family as at no other time.
As a salesman who spent most of his time on the road, away from home sometimes for weeks, I became very comfortable being a full time dad and husband.
The opportunity arose that I could stay home 24/7 and I jumped at it. Two problems were corrected at once. I finally became a “family man” and I got into the work where my heart had really been since 1958.
What follows is an amazing ride. I couldn’t have imagined where that first program sitting in for Steve Cass (who recently retired from radio from WPRO Radio in Providence) on WSAR on that frigid January 19th morning more than a quarter of a century ago was going to take me.
There have been some uproariously funny and sometimes very embarrassing moments. Have you ever pronounced a friend dead on radio when in fact she was not?
You get the idea.
I hope you enjoy the adventure as much as I am enjoying revisiting some of the highs and lows during this period of my life.