On a June night several years ago, I sat in a hotel room in Iowa City, where The Mrs. and I had lived for a couple of years at the turn of the century, and wrote a post about the road I’d taken to get there—literally, as in that day, and metaphorically, as in the path of years. It originally appeared on June 14, 2006, and part of it seems worth repeating, with some minor edits.
I’m looking out my fifth-floor hotel room window at the lights of downtown, to the north up Linn Street toward the edge of the University of Iowa campus, where I was a student for a couple of years in the mid 90s. This place is a very important part of my personal history. None of my radio history happened here. Plenty of it happened at other stops along the way on this trip, though. . . .
Cruising down U.S. 151 for about an hour [from Madison], you reach Platteville. I was program director of the campus station, WSUP, for three semesters. I met The Mrs. at the station—she was a comely newscaster who already had a boyfriend, I was a horndog DJ, one thing led to another. Today, WSUP is one of the best-equipped radio stations I’ve ever seen. Back in the day, we all wanted to get real paying radio jobs so we could work with equipment that was reasonably well-maintained, instead of the creaky hand-me-downs we had at WSUP. Many of today’s graduates are going from the Cadillac that is WSUP to real-world stations held together with Kleenex and spit—and that’s a harder transition to learn your way through than the other way around.
Digression: I suspect it may not be true anymore about graduates going to radio stations “held together with Kleenex and spit.” Even the smallest stations are likely to use some sort of digital technology rather than soldier on with a lot of clunky analog machinery full of moving parts. Digital technology can still go wrong in various spectacular ways, but I suspect today’s graduates don’t often find themselves having to wiggle a wire to make something work or apply a piece of electrical tape to keep it going.
Farther on down Highway 151, you eventually reach Dubuque, which is where I worked my first paying radio gig, at KDTH and what was then KFMD, the legendary D93. On this June day, I found myself thinking about one of the more ill-fated promotions I was ever involved in.
June is Dairy Month in the Upper Midwest—with the dwindling number of dairy farms nowadays, it’s not as big a deal as it used to be, but when I was a little baby DJ, it was still very important. In 1982, the KDTH morning crew was doing live cut-ins from a Dairy Month cow-milking contest during my afternoon show. At one point in the broadcast, I made a throwaway remark to the morning man that I, the son of a dairy farmer, would certainly be able to stomp him, a child of the Chicago suburbs, if we were ever to meet in a cow-milking contest.
Flash forward one year. The studio phone rings one afternoon and a listener asks me, “So when are you and Don going to have that cow-milking contest you challenged him to last year?”
Did I mention that despite growing up on a dairy farm, I had never actually milked a cow by hand?
We eventually had the contest, and it went about as poorly for me as you’d expect. By the time Dairy Month rolled around again, we lived in a part of Illinois where there were no cows. It was safer for me to be on the radio down there.