Lots about radio has changed since I got into it. One thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of the morning show. If your station hasn’t got a good one, it rarely matters what you do the rest of the day—you’re never going to be a truly great station without one.
In college, I did mornings a day or two per week for several semesters. Even there, the importance of the shift was magnified—you didn’t get to do mornings until you’d gained experience on other shifts (a rule that was waived for my first time ever on the air, 35 years ago next month, when the guy in charge of the jocks had a final exam and really really needed the morning off). Much of the time, I had a partner. I was a younger version of the doofus I am today; Gary possessed a quick but often obscure wit. The best bit we did involved fake traffic reports. Gary would write absurd scripts about traffic in the rural hamlets of our area (“If you’re going to the Packer game in Dickeyville this Sunday, watch out for backups on the Rewey Bypass”), and I’d stand behind him beating my hands on my chest to make a helicopter sound. After we spent a semester fooling around together, several other morning teams materialized, and I think we both felt like they’d stolen our idea.
(Gary is still on the radio in the morning, a longtime anchor at South Dakota Public Radio. They don’t have a helicopter, either.)
After I started working part-time at KDTH, I would occasionally get called to fill in on the morning show. The show had practically no music, was crowded with different features, and had tons of commercials. Everything had to happen on time, every time. With the regular guy, it all happened instinctively. I struggled through it, partly because I was 21 years old and pretty much an idiot, but I also because received practically no instruction in how to do it, and I couldn’t depend on much help from my colleagues, who had detailed and exacting work of their own to worry about. As a result, I hated mornings passionately. After I spent about 18 months working full-time on the afternoon show, the morning guy was named PD and wanted off the show. The station offered it to me. I knew how difficult it was (and that I was going to be micromanaged once I took it over), so I asked how much additional money there was going to be. After being told there would be none and saying thanks-but-no-thanks, I got fired.
I never wanted to be a full-time morning guy anyhow. (I wanted to be a lumberjack.) When I started out, afternoon drive was considered nearly as important as mornings, plus you didn’t have to get up so damn early. But in mid-80s Illinois, I did mornings for about a year, during which I became an extremely minor local celebrity. The news guy and I did what we felt was good work, albeit uncoached, and probably not half as funny as we thought. In small-town early 90s Iowa, I filled in on the morning show occasionally. Because I had a long commute, my alarm would go off at 3:15 on those mornings. When that gig ended, it would be over a decade before I got the early call again. Toward the end of 93.1 The Lake, I got to fill in a few times when one of the morning guys was on vacation.
Within the last year, I’ve been filling in occasionally on the Magic 98 morning show, which I’m doing again this week. Magic’s legacy includes that of Clyde Coffee, who pulled something like a 70 percent share of the audience doing mornings on the old WISM back in the 70s. Pat O’Neill has done the show with great success since the 80s, so stepping into his place is a certain degree of daunting, but it’s fun. And I don’t have to get up until 4:15, so it’s all good.