April 2nd, 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the sign-on of WDUN. You’re all invited to the party. If you can’t take advantage of the open house from noon until two on that day, at least drop by during business hours and glance at the right wall of our lobby, which has been transformed into nearly three quarters of a century’s worth of memories.
As I remarked on social media over the weekend, I’m proud to be a small part of that legacy. When I graduated from Kutztown University in 1987, with a fairly extraneous degree in speech and theater, I had no idea that I would devote the majority of my life to radio. Now, this coming September, will mark my 25th anniversary working here for one of the very few family-owned radio stations in the country.
Joel Williams was responsible for hiring me, and told me that my neutral “Yankee” accent got me the gig, at least on a probationary basis. Back when I started at WDUN, it was a rite of passage. If you started to work here, you started working overnight weekends, from eleven or midnight until six in the morning. Basically, I’d wait for the local commercial breaks to occur during “The Jim Bohannon Show,” and then fire the 8-track type “carts” that contained our local spots. These carts could be magnetically wiped and re-used for future clients, and would automatically re-cue after playing … IF the guy before you allowed that to happen.
Towards the end of “Bohannon,” I would cue up the previous evening’s installment of “The Bruce Williams Show” on hour-long reels, and play that program for two hours on a time-delay, again firing spots for our local breaks. I remember rolling my eyes, listening to Williams referring to his young female callers as “Tiger,” and the sounds of their queries, his advice, and the gentle slap of playing cards on the table as he casually played solitaire while he worked.
Finally, “Coast-to-Coast AM,” then hosted by Art Bell would begin, again airing live, allowing me to make a few overnight news calls. At around 5, Catiel Felts (at that time Thilenius, an AWESOME radio name) would roll in and begin prepping for morning news. Or perhaps it would be the erstwhile Mark Alewine, who now toils for WSB.
My big break here was the O.J. Simpson trial. At that time, our 1000 watt station, WGGA, was doing an alternative talk format, and it was decided that we would run gavel-to-gavel coverage of O.J., and I was asked to come in each weekday. My work consisted of listening for recess, and firing an ID twice an hour. Meanwhile, I began learning the trade from anyone in the building who would talk to me. As luck would have it, after California decided that murder was an okay thing in their state, a producing opportunity came up with “The Martha Zoller Show,” and I spent several years there.
I’ve been full-time here ever since. Between “Martha,” “Fun at Four and Five,” “Open Line/Swap Shop,” “The Gene (Anderson) and Tony (Schiavone) Show,” and “Home Grown,” I figured out that by 2010, I’d produced over 10,000 hours of live radio.
I’ve anchored a few programs in my tenure here. I enjoyed my forays into music programming, doing weekend afternoons on WMJE and weekday afternoons on WGGA, during our brief stint as a “music of your life” station. And for five years, I hosted an entertainment program, “Now Showing.” I remain proud of that program and was gratified when I heard from the late Wyc Orr that mine was his favorite show on our lineup. But my main trade here has been as the production manager. I enjoy writing spots, delegating voice work and occasionally voicing them myself. But my true passion over the past quarter of a century has been working hand-in-hand with clients. I love the challenge of making them sound their very best, combatting mike fright, and pruning 45 seconds worth of copy into 30. I’d love to run down the list of my favorites, but you’d lose interest far sooner than would I.
If you know anything about this business, you probably know that it is unusual to last five years with a single station group, much less twenty-five. And I’m far from the longest tenured employee in the building. That’s because the group here IS family. That word is too easily bandied about when discussing the workplace, but here it’s true. We’ve rejoiced in the births of babies and in new marriages; we’ve mourned together the loss of our own and their families, and I can’t imagine what my divorce would have done to me without the support of my family here. As my boss and friend Bill Maine says, “when one of us suffers, we all do,” and that’s absolutely true here.
One passing that still affects me to this day is when John Parks left us. John was “old school” radio. To say that he was a bit world-weary would be an understatement. For years, I felt that John came with the building … not that he was THAT old, but he was always here, and knew so MUCH. If you relieved John Parks on a shift, you’d go to the rack room to dial up your Hawks game, and you’d likely find the coordinates already set.
It always seemed that John and I would relieve one another on New Year’s Day. For me, it was like the Rose Bowl. That was why the knot tied so quickly in my stomach the afternoon he didn’t show up for a shift. On New Years' Day 2008, I was the last staffer to see John alive. He returned to his apartment and forever went to sleep.
Joel was the head honcho at that time, and he asked me how we would replace John and all of the things that he did. My reply was simple. “We don’t,” I said. “We just have to be that much better.”
As to other distinguished alumni, Catiel Felts, Brian Stewart, Derreck Booth, Russell Brown, Katie Strickland and Katie Crumley have gone on to work in PR for government and law enforcement. Mark Alewine, Fokes Link, Matt McClure, and Lindsay Helton Butler continued their work at new stations. Robin Reece is a voice on Metro Traffic, and can be heard on quite a few statewide radio spots. McClure, in fact, has graduated to New York city television. Hahn Hanrahan has been teaching children in Asia.
Like any family, this one has black sheep and occasional squabbles. But unlike the cold corporate world, we work them out over a desk and chairs or tables and mend fences, rather than just abruptly cutting ties. There are people here that I see as brothers and sisters. Some others can frustrate and confound me. But I can’t imagine my life without ANY of them, and that’s the absolute truth.
There have been many times that I’ve wanted to just walk out this door and not look back. There was one day in particular in which I almost did it.
I don’t remember why I went into the WGGA studios that afternoon. We were in syndicated programming, so there was no reason for me to be there that I can think of. There was no reason for our online WGGA studio phone to be ringing. It was. There was no reason for me to answer it. I did. “Is this Bill Wilson?” the voice asked. Taken aback, I replied, “Yes, it is!” “Well,” the caller replied, “I just wanted to tell you that I’ve been listening to everything you’ve been doing for over ten years. Nice job.” And he hung up. I’m still not sure why he called, or why I was in that room, but why should I question it? That anonymous phone caller got me through the next fifteen years and counting.
I hope to see the 75th anniversary here … if it’s been anything like my first twenty-five years, it will be here next week. I don’t know what kind of relationships I will have maintained by the time Jacobs Media Company turns 100. But I predict that it will be in much better shape than I’ll be.