Walking amid the throngs a few weeks back at Summerfest, I bumped into a Milwaukee radio legend. That encounter made me smile, brought back a flood of memories, and is the cause for the following avalanche of name-dropping you are about to endure.
The legend is Bob Reitman. And while our paths have crossed many times over the years, in my slight Leinenkugel-lubricated good mood, while we were catching up, I couldn't help but remember how helpful Bob was to me in my early days. I didn't want to get too nostalgic and although Reitman is a guy that doesn't shy away from speaking of things generally relegated to "I'm a guy and I can easily bury that," I also didn't want to get too sappy. But he gave me the best example of pay it forward I ever got in the radio industry.
I was attending UW-Whitewater and working at the college radio station. A few of us radio geeks came to Milwaukee for a concert one evening. We mis-timed the drive and found ourselves looking to kill an hour in a restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue. By coincidence, it was the same place Reitman was eating before his evening shift at the old WQFM.
At the time I considered him a celebrity and myself a part of the unwashed masses. Since our group did include one fairly attractive female, a conversation ensued with Bob (she was the only one capable of starting it) and he couldn't have been nicer. In fact, more than nice. He offered to share with me some cassette bootlegs of Springsteen ("Oh yeah I've kinda heard of him") and Dylan ("Oh yeah, big surprise"). The tapes showed up in the mail at my dorm a week or two later and I had the chance to strike up an acquaintance that would last for decades of a true role model.
As I talked to Bob at Summerfest, I kept thinking of how he didn't have to be so nice all those years ago ... and the fact that he did is the reason over the last 25 years I have always at least tried to return that favor to listeners, students and radio rookies that have crossed my path.
It also gave me reason to remember the other three media people that made up the Mount Rushmore of my earliest days.
When I was a little kid I was fascinated by radio and sports. Ted Moore, who had been the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers, and the narrator on my cherished Packer Glory years record album, was also the host of a sports call in show on WEMP every weeknight. So every night – and I mean every night – over the course of some 70 days, I managed to call in to the show.
My neighbor across the alley was (here comes another name drop) Gino Salomone, now of movie review fame. At that time, Gino was getting his world-class chutzpah and interview training from hanging out with me. Gino called Ted Moore's show and suggested he have that "kid that calls every night" on the program as a guest. Ted did, and I was on the radio for the first time at about age 12. I had to take a bus across town and walk halfway home since it was too late to transfer bus routes after the show. Ted was great and even sent me some Bucks tickets.
I parlayed that media exposure to the next level. While in middle school, I had a film class. I took the liberty of sending a letter (not only was there no email, but the film was actually something you had to load in a Super 8 camera) to Hank Stoddard, the sports director at Channel 4 WTMJ. I guess that would be "Yesterday's TMJ 4." I asked if I could hang out one night and film him doing the sports. Not only did he say yes, but he took me with him to a speaking engagement he had at The Pfister Hotel that evening. I had never even been in a nice hotel. In the elevator we bumped into controversial Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier. To me, at that time, that was like being in my TV set.
Not only did Hank treat me like a rock star, but he gave me complete access to everything at the station while he got ready for the sports broadcast that evening. I kept wondering if the loud buzz of my silly camera was going to be heard by my parents watching the 10 p.m. news that night. Speaking of which, not only did Hank allow me to experience everything heretofore a mystery to me, but since the buses ran pretty sporadically at night, he gave me a ride home. I was thinking to myself, "Are you kidding me?" I might have mumbled a few "yes sirs" when he talked to me. I would tell him now in equally inarticulate terms, "You have no idea what that meant to me."
Then, while in high school, I wrote a letter to every radio station in town. I offered to sweep floors for the chance to hang out. I got two answers back. One was to actually sweep floors and the other was from a professor at UWM who offered me the chance to hang out at WUWM. While there, a student broadcaster by the name of Dave Edwards took me under his wing and taught me everything I needed to know about radio, beyond just hanging out. Dave Edwards is not only still there, now running the show, but also the chairman of the board of NPR. And another of those people that "didn't have to ... but did."
I might not always remember to emulate those four great guys with everyone that crosses my radio path. And if I don't, just remind me. Because if I can be half the influence to another that any one of those four were for me, I'd be honored.
Two responses came back, including one janitor position. Steve took the other: the opportunity to hang out at WUWM.
After that, he worked at WAUK, then WQFM, then WZUU, then back to WQFM ... and finally worked afternoons at WKLH for a little while.
"I gave up Eddie Money to earn money in 1986," says Steve, who eventually entered the world of commercial real estate.
"But 23 years ago WKLH offered me the chance to wake up early every Sunday morning," he says. "I mean every Sunday morning. I mean like 5:30 am. I mean no matter what I did on Saturday night. Live every Sunday morning. I love it."