Just like many people remember exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, December 8th is a day that I will truly never forget for more than one reason. That’s right, it was another “first” for me…my first day in professional radio.
When I was in high school, WWCT-106FM was the station that all my friends listened to. We thought it was the coolest station on the planet. Upon graduating from college with a degree in communications, I didn’t even try to get a radio job at first. I really didn’t have much confidence in my on-air skills at the time. I stayed in Joliet for a short time after graduation, then moved to Peoria to work for my brother, who was managing a pizza place at the time.
I applied at a few stations in Peoria, but most of them wouldn’t give me the time of day. I didn’t even approach WWCT, because I figured there was no way they would consider me. One day, my brother said, “Hey, what have you got to lose? All they can say is no.” So I went down to 106 one morning with just a resume…I had run out of audition tapes. Monica, the friendly receptionist, told me to sit tight for a minute and the Station Manager would probably talk to me. I was thrilled! I talked to Rich Fruin for a few minutes, told him my situation, and told him that I didn’t even have a tape for him to listen to. He offered to let me come into the station some evening and make a tape in their production studio! What a break!
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, Program Director Rick Peterson called me and told me that they decided to put me on the air. I would be doing overnights 2 am ‘til 6 am Monday through Friday, and Saturday evenings 8-midnight. I couldn’t believe it! I was going to work for the coolest station on the planet!
When you work overnights, your days get a little confusing. Officially, my first day was December 8th, although my day started at 1 am (I started an hour earlier on Mondays). So for me, it was still more like Sunday night. I hope nobody I knew was listening that night, because I was understandably nervous, and I’m sure it reflected on the air. By the time Fruin showed up to do the morning show at 6 am, I felt like I had run a marathon. I was used to the freedom of college radio, and there were a lot of rules to follow as far as formatting, clock management, etc. All in all, I felt pretty good about it, and was ready to take on Peoria radio.
After sleeping through the day and spending part of the evening chatting on the phone with friends, telling them how my first airshift went, I started to get ready for work. I usually left the house about 11 pm so I could get there good and early for show prep, so about 10:30 I made myself a sandwich and sat down in front of the TV to kill some time before leaving for the station. I tuned into Monday Night Football first, but it was an AFC game that didn’t interest me (Miami and New England) so I tuned in to watch a M*A*S*H* rerun. Just after it started, CBS news broke in with a bulletin: John Lennon had just been shot and killed outside his apartment building in New York City.
I sensed the same kind of shock that you get when you learn of the sudden death of a friend or family member. At first, disbelief…a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach…tears start to well up in your eyes, and your mind races to make sense of what you just heard. I seriously couldn’t imagine a world without John Lennon.
I scrapped the sandwich and raced to the radio station. By the time I got there, the guy who was doing the 10-2 shift, Steve Stein, was getting clobbered with phone calls and trying to keep track of the latest news coming over the UPI machine. He asked that I monitor the teletype and bring him any updated news that came through. We had a speaker phone in the studio, and people were calling non-stop, mainly to confirm the news. Many were crying. By the time I got on the air at 2, the phone lines had started to calm down a bit, but I was busy monitoring the network news feed and the teletype to get more details. I played a lot of Beatles music. I would occasionally ignore the phones and just think to myself while the music played, just trying to take a little break from all the madness.
Welcome to professional radio, kid.