NEWS BLOG (WSAU) This Memorial Day weekend marks my 25th anniversary in broadcasting. It was Memorial Day 1985 that, as a 15-year-old kid, I opened a microphone and spoke. It was at WVOF-FM, a tiny 10-watt college radio station in Connecticut. I was on-air that morning only because the regular college kids celebrating graduation the day before. My dad brought a small transistor radio, the kind with the white earpiece, to the Memorial Day parade to listen to his kid's first broadcast.
I worked as an unpaid volunteer that summer at WVOF. The station usually signed on at 5am. I got permission to sign on at 4, and play an hour of jazz. Then I'd read the news in the morning while my mentor and trainer did the morning show. I'm certain very few people listened. And I'm certain that I wasn't very good back then. But I was a fast learner, and by the end of the summer I was hired by a commercial station in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During my junior year in high school some of my classmates stocked shelves at the grocery store, some worked at the diner or had a paper route. We all made about five-bucks-an-hour, but I had the coolest job. I was on the radio, overnights on Friday and Saturday, playing the hits. (Ironically, child labor laws wouldn't allow me to work those hours today.)
I think back at all the radio professionals I've worked with. To be honest, some of them weren't very professional at all. Some were very talented. Three now work in New York City. I'd hired them earlier in their careers. Perhaps I made them a little better over time... but through their own drive and determination they now work in the largest radio market in the country. They're good people, and they have much to be proud of. There are other people I've worked with, just as talented, who are long since out of the broadcasting business. Some are selling real estate, one is a successful author, another has found teaching to be a rewarding career change. Others sell used cars or trade stock. Another set up their own travel agency that caters to small bands and performers who need help when they're on the road.
There are many reasons people get out of the radio business. For many it hasn't been their own choice. There are fewer radio jobs today. Many of the large broadcast groups have gone through additional cutbacks over the last year or so. Some people leave because they want to get married, or have children, or buy a house... so they look for other careers that pay more. Others grow tired of living or dying by the ratings. Some don't want to more from city to city for better job opportunities. Some don't like to wake up early for radio's morning drive. Many simply haven't adapted to change, and the pace of change for radio broadcasters has been relentless.
In many ways I've been a survivor. Many of my colleges have gotten out for any number of reasons. I always give fellow broadcasters the same advice: as soon as there's something else you'd rather do, do it. Listeners can spot people who have no passion. No one will listen to someone who isn't passionate about what they're saying.
Today I have more behind the scenes responsibilities than ever before. I tolerate the time I spend in meetings, at my computer, doing paperwork, or the other office tasks that are part of my daily schedule. But I'm still excited when the on-air light comes on... when it's time to say something. I wake up at 2am to start broadcasting, and I still look forward to it every day.
Earlier in the baseball season Brewers radio announcer Bob Uecker was asked whether he was planning to retire. He's 75 now, and is recovering from complicated heart surgery. He's also planning to return to the broadcast booth. "This is all I know," he answered. "Heck, this is all I want to know." I understand completely.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau