It’s 7:49 on a Saturday morning. The sun’s out and there’s college football all day on WJOB. Life is good.
Last night, I ran into a guy named Dave Jarzombak. He’s one of the four or five of us who get together to celebrate local radio. “I like when you just go off and ramble,” Jarz said. I’m not sure what that means. When am I rambling and when am I not?
I hosted the annual Haven House Radiothon yesterday in which we raised money for Haven House, a home for victims of domestic violence. It’s been our favored charity since we bought WJOB in 2004. That’s because Alexis interned there as an undergraduate at Purdue in the early 1990s and she’s been on the board for a long time.
That’s until recently. Alexis took the job as a referee in juvenile court, so that puts her off of raising money for charity. I don’t know how that works, but for some reason this was the first time we did the radiothon to raise money and she wasn’t sitting by my side. I felt naked and afraid, like on the TV show when they drop two people without clothes on an island and tell them – “fend for yourselves.”
Here’s how it works. At 6:30am, I stop my regular show and say –
“Okay, people, it’s time for the Haven House Radiothon. This is when we take a break for 90 minutes every year to raise money for victims of domestic violence. Let’s face it, there are women and children who are taken out of horrific situations, often in the middle of the night, and they come to Haven House with nothing but the clothes that they are wearing. They need bras, pants, blankets, diapers, feminine napkins, a bed, meals. All of this costs money. Let’s pay for some of it this morning.”
And then we start taking phone calls and texts and emails and drop-ins from people willing to donate to Haven House. It may be the closest that I come to using the pulpit to bully.
“There’s Lake County Auditor Peggy Katona with a hundred-dollar donation. And here’s one from Lake County Clerk Mike Brown. Where are the rest of the elected officials down in the county building?”
NIPSCO’s Rick Calinski calls in with a thousand-dollar donation, and Max Carascillo of the United Steelworkers Local 1010 calls in a grand. By the final 15 minutes of the radiothon, it’s rapid fire calling.
“This is Chuck Kreisl of Calumet Harley Davidson, and Cindy and I would like to donate 500 dollars to Haven House.”
Then there’s donations as small as ten dollars. I write it all down on a notebook and afterwards Christine Russel, the new president of Haven House,and I gather at a table and reconcile our records on who donated what. Several donations come to my personal email and cellphone from people I know. In years past, some of these slipped through the cracks and we forgot to reach out and collect.
After a half hour of making sure we have records of each of the donations, I left the studios immediately. Several veterans were milling around waiting for their show at 9:05am. And a half dozen of the Haven House women and Kenny Benich were hanging out. Of all of the shows during the year, the Haven House radiothon is one of the most rewarding and one of the most draining. You gotta be direct with people – “Come on, folks. Some of these women have, as executive director Lisa Wein says, had the ‘snot beat out of them.’ Reach deep.”
It’s a bully pulpit, and it’s a bit like prostituting myself and the station when I bring up the violence. But it prompts donations. I am not proud of reaching for the ‘snot beat out of them’ club, but I just want to get at least 10 grand for the House every year. By the time I slipped out of the studios at 8:25, we were at about 14,500 with late donations rolling in. My guess is that when it’s all said and done we’ll collect at least 15 grand and I’m satisfied with that.
I just wish my wife were at my side for it. As a matter of fact, since she’ll be wearing a robe, there’s lots of things that she won’t be able to do, like sit next to me on Friday mornings and talk on the radio. It’s a good thing, believe me. When I met Alexis she was a single mom working all week as a secretary in Judge Jim Krajewski’s courtroom and tending bar at Edo’s on the weekends. In a weak moment, she confided in me that some of the attorneys that came through Krajewski’s courtroom were better than others.
“Give me one dream of yours, as impossible as it might seem,” I asked her in 1989.
“I don’t deal in dreams. I have a son and two jobs and that’s what I do. I don’t sit around and dream.”
But, since the three or four of you know that I can get anything out of anyone, we drank a little wine and then she finally confided –
“A lot of attorneys come through the court. Sometimes I wonder, I guess, what it would like to be one of them.”
That was 1989. We would be married two years later and shortly after that, Alexis would do her undergrad at Purdue. She gave birth to Jeanie during midterms and to Jackie at the beginning of a semester. She then got a scholarship to go the John Marshall Law School and in 2004 we bought the radio stations, which she ran for three years.
Sometime in the 90s, we had the dream conversation again.
“So you’re going to Purdue now. What would be your ultimate dream?”
“You know. I want to go to law school.”
“Beyond that? Are you kidding me? I have a 10-page Organized Crime paper to write and Jeanie’s having asthma attacks and you lost all of our money and I have to roll the wagon to the Laundromat because we can’t afford a washer and dryer – and you want to know what my ultimate dreams are? Are you crazy?”
“Yes. So, in a perfect world, what would you be?”
“A judge, okay. Are you happy? Now take the garbage out and go pick up Jackie in the bedroom. She’s been crying for the last three minutes while you sit here and dream about dreams. Get back to the real world.”
There is the real world, which you and I talk about all the time. It’s the radio world in which we talk about things like little kids getting shot. In the real world, we have to raise 15 grand in 90 minutes because men beat their wives in front of children. In the real world, cars skid on the Borman underneath a semi and an entire family is changed forever.
These are not dreams. These are realities that we deal with every day in this life of local radio. And then there are dreams. There is one dream that a single, broke mother can have and not tell anyone. Her secret dream can stay safe, until now. Alexis won’t be sitting next to me during the Haven House Radiothon every year, and I’m okay with that. There is reality and there are dreams, and once in a while they meet.