(Above: This is not at all what the first day looked like, but when I think “college radio,” it looks like this.)
Each of us has certain dates that stand out in our lives that go past our own birthdays. Anniversaries, the death of a parent (I have two of those dates to remember), job changes – the dates of certain events stay with us as meaningful. I’m not talking about universal dates that live in infamy for many people like December 7 or September 11. I’m talking about the dates that, for each of us, represent some important kind of change.
For me, one of those dates is September 5, 1987. That was the day that I got to do my very first radio show on my own at WLRA. I had written in an earlier piece about the day I got trained (and abandoned) at the radio station, which was September 4. The 5th was the day that was planned, that I told people to tune in because I’d be a disc jockey. The rest, as they say…
I hadn’t planned on radio as a career. In fact, if you were to dig around and find the last issue of the Victor J. Andrew Circuit newspaper from 1986 (the charmingly-named “Senior Last Will and Testament” issue, you’d have found me explaining my original career plan: medicine. (Actually, I explain that I was headed to college “to study the effects of beer on people,” or something witty like that.) Even when I got to Lewis University, my plan was to continue as a pre-medical student. Two things interfered with that plan: 1) I enrolled in a class called Introduction to Radio, which required I do a radio show for a grade and 2) it turned out that I had an aptitude for it.
To be fair, no one could have truly ascertained any aptitude from that first show. Let’s go to the tape…
What can I say? Comedy is difficult. (I have the whole two hours saved. You just heard the highlight.)
Shortly after that first show, I had made it a habit to open each show with a montage of sound effects a la Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, and end each show with the same song: “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (But I Feel Fine)” from R.E.M.’s 1987 album Document. As I said, comedy is difficult. (Get it? End of the show as we know it!) Thankfully, I abandoned the practice of closing theme songs shortly after college. (There was one exception: at WLLI, Monday mornings always began with “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats and Friday mornings ended with “Bang the Drum All Day” by Todd Rundgren.)
Now that I have the clarity that comes with age and looking back, the song was a powerful choice. It turned out that September 5, 1987 did mark the end of the world as I had known it. Everything that followed (and still follows, in a sense – I still do radio work here, there, and everywhere) was different. I went from “radio listener” to knowing how it worked, to varying degrees. Once you know how the sausage is made, it never tastes quite the same. Further to that, I can’t keep track of how many times the career played a role in making decisions about everything from where to live (where the jobs took me) to what to eat (what I could afford, most of the time). Radio did, however, make a tremendous number of opportunities and experiences available to me. I got to meet a lot of people – many of them lifelong friends. I got to live in a variety of places and learn the ways of the locals. Most importantly, I got to bring joy into the lives of thousands of listeners, one record at a time.
We all want to know that the work we did mattered. I tend to think that mine did. I like to think that it still does.
The song popped up again years later. As I made dozens of trips back and forth from the Quad Cities, where I worked twice, I got in the habit of measuring the trips by landmarks. The halfway point was a neon coffee pot (Sapp Brothers Food & Fuel). The three-quarter mark was “The R.E.M. Barn,” a barn that looked vaguely like the trashed barn in the video for this song.
You can see the video here.