(Above: Me in a WJTW polo shirt. For some reason, this was taken in the production room of WCFL-FM/Morris.)
28 years ago tonight, I did my first professional radio show at WJTW-FM in Joliet. In an earlier post I discussed how I had applied for a job at the station in sales, but that my college advisor and only reference, John Carey, explained that I would be “lousy” in the sales department. I was on the air at WLRA during the phone call on an October day, and John suggested that they should give me listen. Listen they did, and when I got off the air at 10am I was contacted with an offer to come and interview the next week. I went to the station, on the west side of Joliet, in an ill-fitting suit to meet with John Weis, the program director, and Jack Daly, the station manager, whose suit may have fit worse than mine. I had no idea what I was in for during the interview. I must have done fairly well, since a couple weeks later I was offered a part-time job with a plan to start at midnight on November 12.
I showed up to the station and knocked on the door. The night jock, Laverne Richard, was a bit confused as to why I was there. “John hired me,” I explained. “John doesn’t work here anymore,” she explained further. I said “I’m supposed to relieve you at midnight,” and held my driver’s license up to the window. That rang a bell, since my name had been on a memo welcoming me to the station. (Edit: John posted on my Facebook page, and it reminded me that I still had the memo.)
Laverne let me in, showed me how to run their board, and left promptly at 12am. It turned out that John had, in fact, left the station for a job in Bloomington-Normal at WBNQ. We had no program director. A few months later Jim Murphy would be hired, but for a while, I just did what I did in college radio without the comedy jokes.
At about 12:01 on November 12, 1988, the last strains of “Till I Loved You” by Barbra Streisand and Don Johnson faded out. I started the next cart and began talking, with a shake in my voice, hoping to God, Buddha, Yahweh etc. that I didn’t say “WLRA.” I introduced myself, as though I had always been there, and said “Right now, it’s Stevie Wonder, on 93-5, JTW.” I didn’t hit the post. That would take months to get comfortable doing on a regular basis. But Stevie eventually began singing “I Wish,” and all was right with the world.
There may have been an extra boost to the audience that night. I knew a few of my friends from Lewis were tuned in. Others were encouraged: the information channel on the college’s cable TV system, which played the radio in the background, ran a crawl encouraging people to “tune in for Len O’Kelly’s pro radio debut on 93.5 FM tonight at midnight.” Good thing I didn’t choke horribly.
I stayed at WJTW for almost a year, moving up from weekend overnights, to filling in middays, to filling in afternoons for several months when Bill Michaels (now at 97X/Quad Cities) left for Peoria, to taking overnights permanently following Joe Soto (now at V-103 Chicago). I eventually left for that ill-fated gig at KRVR that I wrote about. My last day there I ended the show with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” That song keeps turning up in my history.
You can practice hitting the post on Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” by clicking here. It’s 18 seconds.