Extemporaneous speech. That's where this whole radio thing started. I did not get to radio through a conventional path. And I did not compete in Extemporaneous speech through a path at all.
In high school, I played sports and drank a ton of beer and, yes, experimented with a lot of... substance. Girls occupied my mind a lot. I obsessed on shooting free throws at night on the little court at the side of the house on Fisher Street. And I obsessed on finding that fruit smell on the shoulders and in the hair of young girls who didn't deserve my talents one bit.
I lived a typical life of the Midwestern jock with a slight drug and alcohol issue...
But that's what I did my last couple of years in high school... because Mary Yorke and Helen Engstrom said so. They taught English and Speech and writing courses and coached the Speech and Debate team at Munster High School. For some reason, I had both of them a couple times my junior year. In a Speech class, Mary Yorke had us do an Extemporaneous Speech. I did mine on why we should be vigilant in opposing the threat of communism to America.
Here's how you do a real Extemporaneous Speech, the kind that you gather on a Saturday in some out-of-the-way Indiana high school in the middle of winter for. You reach in a hat and pull out a little piece of paper - at least that's how it was done back then - and on the little piece of paper would be a question or a topic. You'd look at the topic, scratch your head, and then for the next 30 minutes prepare a five- to seven- minute speech on that very topic. For that entire 30 minutes of prep, you'd sweat in a room with boxes full of newspaper and magazine clippings and you'd drum up this Extemporaneous speech.
Then you'd go into another room. This one had three judges in it. And you'd give the speech. In "Extemp," as the Speech and Debate nerds call it, there are certain parameters that you are supposed to hit to get a good score. And the more wit and insightfulness you can jam into the speech, along with a healthy does of facts and logical reasoning, the better chance you have to score higher than the girl in the glasses from Elkhart, Indiana, or the guy with the red hair from right across the state line in Ohio.
Anyways, I gave an Extemporaneous speech in junior year Speech class, and afterwards Mary Yorke got together with Helen Engstrom, who had served as fake judges, and they beseeched me to join up with the traveling and number one in the state Speech team.
To do, you guessed it, Extemporaneous speech. That's how I wound up spending some of my junior year in high school and all of my senior year going over to the house of Janice Levy to cut articles from US News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, Life and so forth. I don't know if all of these magazines are still around, but they were then and Janice Levy and I and her younger sister and a few other nerdy types cut them up like an art project and directed their contents into huge file boxes. We lugged these huge boxes to Speech meets all around Indiana, and once, near South Bend somewhere, I won the whole meet for Extemp, even beating the girl in the glasses from Elkhart and the red-headed kid from Ohio. Wonder where they are now.
None of this amounts to a hill of beans, unless you consider that I'm not one of those persons, if you meet me at a party or at a bar or at a Cubs game, that you would think - wow, he can really talk. Maybe he should go on the radio.
A little aside here. From my experience, and remember that I freely admit that I do not know how to program a radio station, it is usually not the really smooth talkers in social settings that radio hosts make. It can be. The same person who commands a room with tantalizing stories can be the same person who commands a people from a single microphone in a bad breath-filled studio. But usually not. It's the person you least expect. The Preacher is a good example of that. More on him some other time.
But for me, I discovered this ability to Extemp after long bus rides around the state Indiana and a couple into Illinois. Wait. That's not entirely accurate. Mary Yorke and Helen Engstrom discovered this ability in me. They didn't seem to care that at halftime of high school basketball games, with a couple thousand people in the gym... and me standing in line to shoot layups to warm up for the second half... that the announcer would relay the day's Speech and Debate results. He would say my name - Second place, Extemporaneous Speech, Jim Dedelow - and I would cringe. The guys on my own team would snicker. The guys on the other team, if they heard it at all, would call me names while we lined up for the jump ball to start of the second half.
They used to have jump balls all the time in high school basketball. They don't now.
What I'm trying to get to in the middle of the night here, with the sound of 80/94 barreling across frozen tundra, is that I got my start in radio through Extemporaneous Speech. If you think about it, the four-hour show every morning is just one long Extemp speech.
Every morning you show up to the studio and the world hands you different topics. This week, it was a woman really close to the station who, apparently, jumped off the Skyway bridge and committed suicide. That was a really difficult topic, and the reality that lies behind this sad story is contributing to me sitting up in the middle of the night listening to the trucks. Other topics - Purdue going into division II sports from NAIA. A guy shooting three dogs and burning them... and then sending a picture to the dogs' owner, allegedly. Don't forget "allegedly" on everything you do in life.
The same holds true with Extemporaneous Speech - not that you should use "allegedly" a lot but that the Speech world hands you seemingly random topics to talk about. You reach in a box and pull out a question. Back then, it could be about should the Fed raise interest rates even more (they were in the teens) or should we legalize marijuana to get the tax money? Now, I suppose, the topics would range from what should we do about the threat of ISIS... to should we legalize marijuana to get the tax money?
With Extemp and morning radioing, you gotta put together a speech in which you take a specific side to an argument and then deliver it with wit and insight. The only real difference between the two is that for Extemp you spend a half hour preparing. With radio, if you've been doing it a long time and you're generally lazy, you don't spend much time at all preparing. You walk into the studio building and within three or four minutes you've delivered your first silly joke.
I don't really have much more for the three or four of you this morning. It was a sad day yesterday. Alexis and I went to the wake of Karen Lubas, that pearl of a woman who somehow got it into her head to drive to the top of the Skyway and, you know, you get the picture. Her son, Lenny, dressed in a black suit for the wake, told Alexis and me:
"Oh, you're JED. My mom makes me listen to you all the time. I mean 'made' me listen. She'd be in the kitchen and she'd yell at me - 'go in the living room and listen. I'm gonna be on the radio.' Thank you for coming today."
If that wasn't enough, husband Ron stood at the head of the room by the flowers - "JED, thank you so much for the kind words you said about her on Tuesday morning. I just sat in my kitchen and cried, all the people calling in and stuff. Thank you for coming."
I relate these things to the three or four of you so that you'll better understand My American, radio life. I don't know why it's important to me that you do, but it is.