Letter From Home: “Dad’s Pocket Watch And Radio” 10/29/11

Today was one of those perfect days.  The weather was ideal for late October with blue skies and plenty of sunshine.  The Dane County Farmer’s Market at the Statehouse was busy and delightful.  I love it when there is a robust crowd all in search of cheese curds, apples, and donuts.

But best of all three of us who attended broadcasting school decades ago decided to get together and reminisce.  We even included a fourth member in during a conference call from a college classroom using a cellphone.

Over the years James has heard many stories about my broadcasting days, and why I am fascinated with AM radio.  With his usual ease and humor he was the perfect addition as we ambled along around the market, down State Street, through the new Chazen Museum of Art, and then to a late lunch.  After 29 years it was as if we had not missed a beat.  And as one might assume with those who at one time used their mouth to make money, there was no shortage of good conversation and laughter.

Late this afternoon back home with a cup of tea I was thinking back over time and how radio was such an intriguing idea to me as a child.  It was not long before my Dad’s pocket watch jumped into my mind.

My Dad came from that generation where his work uniform pants had a small pocket about two inches wide and deep where a pocket watch could be slipped.  Out in the back entry on the top shelf alongside where his work cap would rest was where the pocket watch would be placed at the end of his work day.

It was not a fancy watch with any chain, though it had a bow.  There was no swing-out case to make it showy.  It was just a plain utilitarian unit that told the time.  It was this watch that I would use as a boy to keep accurate time for my newscasts when playing radio.  Those early ‘broadcasts’ from my bedroom played a role for when I was actually earning a paycheck and operating behind a real microphone and console.

With the Stevens Point Journal providing my news stories, sports, weather and even ad copy I would put together my own version of a long-form newscast.  I even added some obituaries as all the local radio stations did when I was a boy.

Stations like WDUX in Waupaca, and WDOR in Sturgeon Bay (where I broadcast from) are examples where old-fashioned full-length mid-day reports featuring state and local news, local sports and weather can still be heard.  Listeners will even learn when they can pop into the local funeral home to console the family from the other side of town.  I have long lamented the passing of local radio programming of this type.

As a kid I was starting to get a feel for timing, and making my ‘ads’ for my ‘reports’ either 30-second or ‘if the merchant wanted to pay top dollar’ the 60-second version.  I used Dad’s watch to time everything, and it paid off.

When I was older, and alone at times on weekends I would get out the record player and find out precisely how much ‘ramp’ time there was from the first note of a song to the first word.  Then I would use the watch to time introductions that might include time and temperature and BAM when I stopped talking the words started to be sung.

James made mention today that I still do this in the car as we drive along.  I admit it still makes me  smile to add-lib my way with an oldie and be able to time it perfectly.

“If only Gregory had a money-making skill” was the way James brought smiles to the group today when talking about ‘walking up the ramp’.

Each of my friends that I met so many years ago worked for a time in radio.  We commiserated today that the pay was pretty awful, and the hours sometimes not the best.  But we all had a chance to follow a dream and have an experience that not too many have a crack at.  There is something heady about having others tune you in for news and information, or to make them feel better with some music.

No one pretended to be more than what we were while in the studio. We were happy to work out of a small studio that was too hot in the summer, and too chilly in the winter, but we knew our audience.  Heck, we lived in the community, cared for our friends, and shared many commonalities.  As such we served the community through our daily broadcasting.

We commented today about having old tapes of some of our broadcasts, and I suspect when we all meet again shortly after the first of the year at this home we will hear some of those ‘golden’ moments of broadcasting.

But I know there will be some classic moments missing.  The ones from my bedroom as a child being timed with a pocket watch were not taped.   They are only able to be played in memory.

I can not say what happened to the old silver-colored pocket watch.  It was not at home when I visited several weeks ago.  But that is fine, as the timing it helped me with lives inside every time I ‘walk up a ramp’ in the car.

And it always brings a smile.

Thanks, Dad.

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