There is a dark side to radio.
For the most part, you just sit there and take phone calls and then people come in and you interview them and then later in the day if there's something going on you go to that or if it's a big enough story you go on the air live and give an update.
It's these live updates that can sometimes get to you. They are almost never good news. It's usually a multi-car accident with fatalities that has the Borman all jacked up or it's a murder of a mom and a couple of kids or it's another indictment of a local politician. It might even be weather related - a flood or a tornado or bad snow. Maybe there's a kid missing. Or there's a big police chase through the Region. Or a power outage.
These are the kinds of things that you have to be at the center of when you live a life of local radio. It's not only your job to be there for people. It's actually written into federal regulations that you have to serve the local community. You can choose how you to do that, but in the end whether you want to or not you gotta be there for people.
It started with the flood.
That happened in 2008. I went on the air for six days straight. I was there for people, which is why it hurts me to no end to have to admit to the three or four of you what happened in a conversation that Alexis and I had recently.
"You know, JED, how you're thinking about what you can do a podcast about?"
"Well, I know what you can do a podcast about."
"The flood of 2008."
It doesn't happen often that I want to throw up immediately. I have thrown up a lot of times in my life. Most of the time it had do with drinking. As a matter of fact, in my heaviest drinking days at the Board of Trade, I could drink to excess, walk outside, stick my fingers way inside my mouth, pull down hard on my throat, projectile vomit, and then go back in the bar and drink more.
If I didn't get rid of much of the last batch of booze, then I wouldn't be able to continue to drink, which, at the time, was pretty much the best release from the pressures of the pit. That's another story for another time. I hope that I write it someday, but if my track record is any indication, I probably won't.
I brink up projectile vomiting for a very specific reason. When my wife, who rarely suggests what I should do creatively, suggests something, it's usually pretty good. And her suggestion that I somehow do a podcast documentary of the flood of 2008 in northwest Indiana is a great idea.
That's why I wanted, as soon as she said it - we were driving together in the car - to open the driver's side window, put my fingers way inside my mouth, and then pull down on the bottom of my throat to projectile vomit all over Calumet Avenue.
"I lost them."
"You lost what?"
"I lost all of the tapes of the flood."
"I don't believe that. You'll find them someday. And when you do, you can do the podcast."
I hope that Alexis is right. I really do, and I'm guessing that even the three or four of you do too. But I don't think so. I am unorganized on the whole, and for a good dozen years I have been rather rudderless when it comes to finding a purpose for living this life of local radio. I have, of late, begun to find my reasons for being, but for a long time I was just looking to put one foot in front of the other to get to the next day of radio.
There have been many dark times in this life of local radio. The flood was one of them. And the years going into it and the years coming out of it have not all been as rosy as I sometimes make them out to be in this blog for the three or four of you. I admit to the dark times in local radio as a way of explaining that for a long time I really didn't care if we threw shit out or not. I just wanted to be able to pay the bills so that I could wake up the next day to ride my bike down to the station and talk on WJOB. That, talking on WJOB in the morning, has been my overriding mission, in good times and bad.
In a way, it makes sense that I would lose all of the tapes of the flood of 2008. I live in the Now. I have told you that. Further, I feel as if I am trapped in the Now. It's what made me a decent trader in the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade and what made me a decent installer of sewer pipe as a Laborer and what made me a decent boxer at Berkeley and a decent shortstop at Occidental College. I was, as Grant Dunlap, the longtime coach at Oxy once said - "the worst practice player" he had seen in 50 years. I don't know how to practice, or even plan. By throwing out perhaps the best work I have ever done on radio or will ever do, I have committed completely to the Now.
And it breaks me. I want, right now talking to the three or four of you, to stick my fingers deep inside my mouth and... you get the picture. Consider Alexis's great idea to do a series of shows on the flood of 2008 as a great idea, especially with the ten-year anniversary of it coming next year.
But also consider the whole situation as an exclamation point on two things.
1. I am trapped in the Now. There is no way out.
2. It's been a freaking horrible summer in terms of news stories in the Region that I love and the three or four of you love also.
That's right. I had to get away from this blog and from our radio stations for a few days. The three or four of you may have noticed that Kusiak did my show on Friday and that I wasn't around for high school football on Friday night. I haven't blogged to the three or four of you for a while and I've been off of Facebook.
And I'll tell you why. Yes, I am burnt out. There are too many graduations and picnics and lunches and parties and parades and concerts to go to in the summer, especially if you're at the center of a lot of it because you are, in the end, the voice of the Region.
(And, as an extension with all of this Facebook Live video, also the "Face of the Region.")
It's a lot of social stuff to attend to, and if there's one thing that the three or four of you could figure out by now, it's that there is a side to me and My Radio Life that requires a bit of solitude from time to time.
"By all means, set some time to be alone. See what thy soul doth wear."
For some reason, my mom who passed away a long time ago gave me that banner when I was a freshman in high school. It hung on my wall above my bed for my four years of high school and into my college years when, of course, I lost it. When you live in the trap of the Now, you tend to lose things that mean something to you. Luckily, it's kind of hard to lose people. Otherwise... well, you get the picture.
So let's get to what the three of you no doubt already understand as the dark side of radio. If you're the morning host on a local radio station that you don't own, you can go home after your show and be done with it. If you're a reporter for a newspaper, you can write your story and then end your shift.
If you're a cop in a local town, you can try to solve the one murder that comes up every so often and just work on that.
There are, however, occupations in which you have to take on all comers every day no matter what. And the all comers that are coming at you are often bad news, comer after comer... if that makes any sense.
Think of an ER nurse. Or a counselor in a public hospital for chronically mentally ill people. Or a cop in Gary. Or a grief counselor. Or you could be the executive director of a home for women who have been abused.
The list goes on. There are occupations in which you just have to be there for people, and often when these people come to you, it's with bad news.
And so it goes when you not only host the morning show and take everyone's calls and interview local people involved of the stories of the day. Sometimes it's a trail of bad news. And that's what it's been this summer. Bad news. And I feel it in my core. And, excuse me if you can, but I gotta get away from it for a few days or it's gonna drive me up a wall, as my mom used to say.
There was, of course, the Buncich trial. I went to the federal courthouse every day for 14 days, sometimes twice a day. I did it because it was my job. But to sit there and watch and hear what someone you looked up to did... it was tough. I had to sit there, watch the shit, do a Facebook Live video about what was going on, and then talk about it again the next morning.
Then do it again the next day. It wore me out.
But the Buncich trial wasn't even close to being the worst of the worst. The summer, as it has for the past few, started out with an interview with Ollie Hubbard. She''s the mother of Lauren Calvillo, the 16-year-old girl who was shot and killed on her porch three years ago. Shots rang out, so Lauren ushered the little kids on the porch into the house. As the last one escaped through the door, Lauren got hit three times.
The morning after it happened, I drove - or did I ride my bike? I can't remember - across Hammond and stood in front of the house and did the first hour of my show there.
"When does it stop, people? When does it stop?"
There was a makeshift memorial on the fence in the front yard. "Lauren - we love you."
Not too long after Lauren was killed, her mother came into the studio for an interview with me. Evidently she listened to the show or some of her relatives did and so Ollie figured she could trust me. I gave her a hug, did the interview in which Ollie remained as strong as she could but did break down crying several times. and gave her a hug on the way out.
Every year now, Ollie holds a big picnic at Wicker Park to raise money for scholarships for kids at Hammond High, where Lauren went to school. And every June, Ollie comes in to promote the picnic. We hug, there are tears, there's an interview, and then every one in the Region goes on about their days. Including me. There are still, by the way, no suspects in the case, as far as we know.
The summer has closed with some horrific realities - do not call them "stories" for they are real.. no one made them up. Although, to be straighforward, the story of the 15-year-old alleged rapist and possible murderer is really something you just see in a movie and not on the streets in the middle of the day.
That's when police say this 15-year-old kid grabbed a 14-year-old girl and pulled her into an alley and raped her, not too far from the station. Police, if I can remember correctly, say he used a hammer to threaten her. And they say he did it again to a 25-year-old woman. And they say he may have capitulated with the brutal stabbing of a mother of three in the middle of the night. The six-year-old kid found her body then ran to a neighbor's house.
And all of this happened within blocks of the radio station on Indianapolis Blvd.
These are stories that I have to talk about in the morning. As a matter of fact, when Hammond PD finally got the breaks they needed in the case, Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott came on WJOB and told people they had a suspect. We went through the details of the rapes and the murder on the air. Horrible.
And then, just a few days ago, an obviously distraught Whiting mayor Joe Stahura came on the air to discuss, of all things, dogfighting. The three or four of you may know all about this story. Marty Jakubowski, the internationally-known boxer who ran the Whiting animal shelter, admitted in federal court to a role in dogfighting. And the shelter was tangentially involved. Stahura stood by Jakubowsk at first, saying that he wouldn't fire him. There was a huge outcry against Stahura for saying that.
So I had Stahura on the air to tell his side of the story. And it wasn't pretty, no matter how you look at it.
Are you sensing a pattern? It's not necessarily the three or four of you that I have to get away from for a couple of days... it's the world in general. I am thinking, also, that I'm going to take off Tuesday morning from doing the show. Let Verlie do it. She has a much thicker skin than I do when it comes to heartbreaking news stories... and there's a true heartbreaker that came through my email today from the Hammond police department.
Here's the text of it:
On 9/2 at approximately 9:30 PM, the Hammond Police Department responded to a home in the 7100 block of Osborne Avenue in reference to a subject who had been shot.
The initial officer on scene heard one additional shot as he pulled up to the home. Witnesses stated that they were having a get together at this location when one male, identified as Bryan Carr age 31 from Hobart, accidentally shot another male, identified as Jonathan Culp age 31 from Highland.
Witnesses on scene, as well as Mr. Carr, attempted to administer first aid to Mr. Culp. Mr. Carr then told witnesses that he could not live with what he had done and shot himself. The Hammond Fire Department transported Mr. Culp to St. Margaret's hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Mr. Carr died at the scene.
Here's the deal. This horrible accident and suicide played out just blocks from the WJOB studios at Purdue. I would very much have to discuss the story on Tuesday morning. It's the Sunday of Labor Day and I can tell the three or four of you right now that I"m not gonna have it in me to do so in 34 hours. I'm just not. I hope you'll forgive me.