It didn’t cross my mind until late in the day, but this past Saturday was the 35th anniversary of my first live radio show, on WSUP at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, three months into my freshman year.
(I have to specify “live radio show” because at some point in either 1976 or 1977, I paid $6.25 in a fund-raising auction at my high school to get 15 minutes of airtime on WEKZ in Monroe, a show that was taped with the help of one of the staff members there. The show, as best I can remember it, is so embarrassing to me now that I will take the details to the grave.)
I have written about my first morning on the air in scattered spots around this blog over the years. If I am recalling correctly, it wasn’t supposed to be my first shift—I had already signed up to work a double shift, noon to 6, during final exams on December 15, 1978, but I was later asked if I wanted to fill in for another guy who had an early final on the 14th. And I did. The station ran a Top 40 format, and the first song I played, at 6AM on Thursday the 14th was the first song in the bin for the first spot on the hot clock: an otherwise forgettable Stephen Bishop single called “Everybody Needs Love.” I think “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells was in there someplace during the first segment, too.
The first newscast ran at 6:20. The newsman was Rich Cantu, an obviously talented but imposing figure who took pleasure in scaring the hell out of the freshmen, but who was gracious and helpful to me on that first day. (He later ended up in Milwaukee and Chicago, and as a national anchor for ABC News.) The rest of the details of the morning are largely gone in the haze of 35 years, although at one point the station’s program director came in and said to me, “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” It remains one of the highest compliments I have ever received as a broadcaster.
The show the next day is actually more memorable to me. With less to do on an afternoon show than in the morning, I could relax a bit and start getting comfortable, learning to work with the jingles and the other formatics. By the end of that day, I was positively exhilarated: no longer would I have to imagine what it would be like to be on the radio and what I would do when I got there. I made it. I was there, on my way, and it was going to be great.
And it was. WSUP made many things possible. I met The Mrs. there. This week, we’ll send Christmas cards to some of the friends we made there. Some of our favorite stories come from those days.
But radio would prove to be not so easy as it seemed in December 1978. I would learn that not everybody loves your work. Not everybody wants to be your friend. And in the end, as much as you love radio, radio will not necessarily love you back.
(Shameless self-promotion department: Continuing my fraught relationship with my wayward muse, I’ll be doing the Magic 98 Morning Show Tuesday through Friday of this week and a couple of days after Christmas, in addition to various shifts on the weekend and one on Christmas Eve, my favorite radio show of the year. Detailed schedule and how to stream here.)