What We Gear Up For

This week one of the biggest blizzards in a couple of years (if not longer) hit southern Wisconsin—heavy snow followed by high winds, whiteout conditions, and brutally cold temperatures.  I spent much of it at the radio station, and as I watched the snow pile up outside, I started thinking about other blizzard days at other radio stations.

In small-town Iowa 20 years ago, I lived about 30 miles from where I worked, so in the winter, I kept a bag packed and in my car just in case I got stranded up there. The station owner/GM and his wife owned a big house with lots of extra bedrooms. She liked to cook and he liked to drink, so I had a standing invitation to stay over whenever I needed to. One snowy night we were drinking beer in the hot tub when he tossed me the phone and said, “Call your wife.” I learned that back at home the electricity was out and The Mrs. was freezing by candlelight and trying to keep the cat from setting itself on fire.

In the late 80s, I worked at the elevator-music station. A snow-and-ice storm paralyzed our town, but the jocks didn’t get a snow day. The GM, who owned a four-wheel-drive vehicle, came around and picked each of us up. Also picked up by him that day: The Mrs., who had left for work as usual that morning without consulting the weather forecast, and got stranded at a Hardees four blocks from home. She ended up serving as receptionist for much of the day—probably the last time she did actual radio station work.

On Christmas Eve 1983, in Illinois, we were planning to get out of town for the holiday when a gigantic storm intervened. I ended up working a double shift to cover a guy who couldn’t get out of his driveway, and The Mrs. played taxi driver, going across town in the snow to pick up one of the part-timers, a guy who often walked to work or rode his bike. Adding to our disappointment over our blown-up plans, we got home that night to discover the pipes were frozen in our crappy basement apartment.

It has been long enough since Dubuque that I can’t remember any blizzard days there, although walking by my company’s now-shuttered newsroom the last couple of days made me think of Joe, Dave, Gordie, and the others who staffed the newsroom during my days at KDTH. The way they swung into action when local news broke—or weather—was impressive. The way they did their jobs was a lesson a young broadcaster could never forget.

(Someday I need to write about Dave Eliason, a man with distinctive pipes and a prickly personality, and the best newsman I ever knew. He would have loved this week’s blizzard. He’s been gone since 1998, and it surprises me how often I think of him. )

There is no place quite like a radio station on a blizzard day. All nonessential personnel—sales types, executives, and office staff (nonessential on a day such as this)—go home, leaving only those of us who have to be there, people for whom this isn’t a job so much as it’s a calling. Food magically appears in the break room, either ordered from whichever local restaurants are open or picked up from the convenience store. (The menu in the break room yesterday consisted exclusively of Doritos, Oreos, and Chips Ahoy. The guys from the rock station did the shopping. “It’s not a blizzard, it’s a party,” one of them said.)

Once you get on the air, there’s no shortage of stuff to talk about, and your work takes on a sense of importance it rarely has at any other time. “This is what we gear up for,” one of the other jocks told me yesterday morning.

Indeed it is.

(There will be new posts here both tomorrow and Sunday, so stop back.)

3 responses

  1. And then, there was that weekend in January 1982 when several of us were stranded at your apartment. After broadcasting a basketball game, we lived on pizza and beer and watched the NFC and AFC Championship games while a snowstorm and wind chill factors of nearly -50 below zero kept us at your humble abode.

  2. Somebody else reminded me of that one today–it was Christmas vacation, and I’m pretty sure there were many more degrees below zero that night than there were people listening to the broadcast on the college station. The next day I had the only car that would start, so I jumped the lot of you, to get you out of my house.

    (Portions of memory may not be entirely accurate.)

  3. I remember being at WGLR at the end of 1981 when the station actually WAS in Lancaster, WI. John Murphy and I did the morning show as “The Sunrise Guys.” We were the only on-air personalities to make it to the station one morning after a night of incredible snowfall . We had to walk to work following a snowplow and powered up the transmitter about 30 minutes late. In those days, the station was a daytimer that signed off at sundown. I was on the air from 6:30 am until 4:30 pm. The next year, I worked at WJMC in Rice Lake. Another year of tremendous snow and bitter cold temps. I moved to Arizona in ’87. You don’t have to shovel sunshine!

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