Anyways, during the middle part of the day, you can really only play JEDgolf when it's shitty outside, like it was Friday. We're in the middle of one of those streaks that often happen in April and May in which it's 48 degrees and windy and rainy for like seven days straight. I call it "London Winter" sometimes on the air, it's really just "Region Spring." If the three or four of you live around here, you know what I'm talking about.
Sometimes when I play JEDgolf, I take my cellphone. Sometimes I don't. Today I did, and as I approached the green on #4 at Wicker Memorial Golf Course, which was dedicated by Calvin Cooldge in 1925, my phone rang.
"Thank goodness you answered. Mike Parker of channel 2 wants to interview you about Governor Pence endorsing Senator Cruz."
It was WJOB station manager Debbie Wargo. Most of the time she tries to get ahold of me on shitty days when I'm JEDgolfing and I don't answer. Either I hear the phone a-ringin and I just let it a-ring. Or, if I'm feeling especially overwhelmed, I leave my phone in the backseat under a sweatshirt.
We're in the thick of the weekend leading up to the primary on Tuesday, and through a quirk in the cosmic egg, Indiana is in play on the Democratic and Republican side. Everyone wants to know what's gonna happen here, even the Chicago news stations, which usually only come down here to cover big murders and traffic jams. They cover our events, go back to Chicago, broadcast our own news to us... and then sell ads all around the segments. We lose in every way - we get a murder, a five-mile backup, out-of-town news crews acting rudely... and then we don't even share in the spoils of the commerce created by the flow of information.
Anyways, after I jogged in from the farthest part of the golf course, Mike Parker turned out to be a solid guy. He married a woman from Merrillville, after all. He and his cameraman filmed me talking on the air and taking calls about the Pence-Cruz thing, and then he put it on the 5, 6 and 10 o'clock news. You can watch the short clip of it above, if I get around to posting it. Good night.
"Dude, you're 5-7. Whatchoo talking about, Willis?"
I did go on to a relatively fruitful career at Munster High School, which, even at 5-7, resulted in a number of 20-point games and state rankings. The career was hampered, however, by a nagging hip pointer and separated ribs from carrying the football too many times.
Oh, and a penchant for substances. This would be a theme that would hamper a lot of things in my life, including my college baseball and boxing careers, and any love interest that might come along. When I say that Alexis rescued me from myself, believe it.
Anyways, the Bishop Noll basketball coach at the time, Jerry King, and his assistant, Jack Gabor, and I spent a lot of time together my 8th grade year and into the summer. Gabor would come by the house and pick me up and take me to Noll to the very basketball court where I stood last night drinking Miller Lite and eating mostaccoli and salad and green beans. King and Gabor would come to my Catholic league games and we'd even go to McDonald's and stuff.
It was all set. I would be the first of the five in my family to go to Noll. My cousin from around the corner in Hammond, one of nine kids at the time, was already there. Plus, they were a real powerhouse in high school basketball in the state of Indiana. I'm Catholic, too.
The only thing is that freshman football started at Munster High long before school actually started. On the first day of practice, I went over there with my buddies and it turns out the equipment manager already had a set of pads waiting there for me. I had played 8th grade football for Munster so maybe they just assumed I'd be back.
So what'd I do? When the equipment guy, a senior, called out my name, I snapped out of shock - I mean, I was only there to watch my buddies practice - and held out my hands and took my shoulder pads, helmet, pants, girdle and so forth. I followed everyone else into the locker room and put on my pads and ran out to the practice field. As if it were planned from the beginning.
How many things in life are like that? You're walking around in your general reverie, and a few moments later you've just undergone an event that could very much change the trajectory of your life and you don't really even recall how it happened. Or at least why it happened. One moment I'm sitting off to the side on the wrestling mats just watching my summertime buddies wait with baited breath for their names to be called. And then my name is called and instead of going to Bishop Noll I wind go to Munster.
"Where'd that football helmet come from?" my dad asked when he got home from work. "I thought you were going to Bishop Noll."
Oh well, at least 40 years later my wife the Bishop Noll alum and I wrote a couple of checks for the cause, and laughed a ton with other alums. It's probably for the best, in the end. Can you imagine if I had met Alexis when I was a freshman and she was a sophomore? She might have been my first, you know, score. But she most certainly wouldn't have been my last and that would reduced our chances to get married and have beautiful daughters. We probably wouldn't have even even gone to "The Big Event" together last night and stopped at White Castles on the way home.
Anyways, I'm trying to steer the conversation inside my head back to radio for the three or four of you. This broadcast week I watched Hillary Clinton give a speech to local politicos and union workers. I travelled to Purdue W. Lafayette to watch Bernie Sanders enthrall throngs of college students. In a rapid succession hour of local radio, I interviewed a Republican party operative, a baseball coach who won 900 games, the Indiana attorney general, and someone named Star Jones whom I couldn't have picked out of a police lineup if not for Google, then the local sheriff.
I even got filmed doing radio by a Chicago station, and spent a bunch of time talking with Andy Garcia of Westwood One, who stopped by the station. These things run together as local radio does. You do one interview and here comes the next. You cover one news event and then here comes the next. You meet with one potential client - I don't talk about these for paranoiac fear that a competitor will swoop in and steal them - and then here comes the next. Literally, if I interviewed a kindergarten teacher and then as she stood up to leave the studio Barack Obama walked in, I'd just Google what he's been doing lately, and after a quick traffic and weather update, start up the interview. It's meatball surgery, like in the old television show MASH. The wounded come so fast most of the time that you don't have to consider if they'll wind up a success or a casualty. You just start cutting skin until you get to the nugget you're looking for and then it's on to the next whiskey bar.
Typically, I can keep up the rhythm... until I meet someone I respect inordinately or am jealous of outside of the normal range of "I want what you have." Matt "Money" Smith falls into that category. He grew up a few blocks from WJOB and went to Pepperdine and wound up the first half of the popular "Petros and Money" radio show 3-7pm on Los Angeles radio. He also flies around the country announcing NCAA basketball and football and NFL. He even got a World Series game last year on the national broadcast.
So when I'm sitting there blabbing away and he walks in the studio, it's an event. Yesterday, he was in Chicago covering the NFL draft for the NFL network, so since it starts in the evening, he took the 6am South Shore train out of Chicago and producer Ryan picked him up at the station and brought him over to go on the air with me.
I made some fun of "Money" for looking like a college kid with a backpack, and for having to travel on the South Shore in a baseball cap so admiring fans don't bother him for autographs. And we talked on air about
- excessive youth baseball ruining your arm
- his three daughters
- Jared Goff, who got drafted first. He's out of my alma mater, Cal
- and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember.
The reason I can't remember much about the interview is that the whole time, instead of listening to what he and callers are saying, I'm thinking -
Shit, I've got Matt "Money" Smith in my studio. Holy shit.
That's not really the way you're supposed to conduct an interview. Matt's cool enough about coming to visit his hometown radio station whenever he comes to Chicago - his family still lives here so we benefit from that - but every time he does I wind up feeling that I could have done better with him on the radio. And part of that has to do with I want his life (and no doubt approval). No shit. After working as a construction laborer, going to school, trading in a pit for a couple of decades, and owning a radio station for the past 12 years - I realize that really the only thing I really want to do when I wake up is talk on the radio. And, if I had my preference, I'd talk sports.
And that's what Matt "Money" Smith does at the highest level. He used to syndicate his radio show to more than 400 stations across the country, but he dialed that back to concentrate on like the ten million people in the LA area. His calls of NFL games are near perfection, mixing enough classic sports broadcasting with just a little bit of Region humor. He's interviewed Beckham. He talks to Shaq, Kareem, Magic regularly. And the World Series? That's just icing on the cake.
So rarely am I in awe - especially not to a guy wearing a lime green jacket and a baseball cap and backpack - but I am when "Money" comes to down. Every time. Just like when legendary IU announcer Don Fischer calls the show.