It’s a solitary existence these days. For 16 years, I would ride my bike or drive a car a couple miles to the studio and sit down and start talking. For most of that time, Ryan Walsh would have everything ready and the interns from Purdue would be sitting there all bleary eyed. It was a good life. I looked forward every morning to seeing them and talking to you.
It all changed on March 17th. Everyone had to go home and I had to broadcast from the top of a rock on the moon for eight months by myself. You’re still there listening, more of you now than ever. But you too are alone, lonely, living a solitary existence. We all are, radio or no radio.
It’s 3:33 on a Monday morning. We changed the clocks over the weekend, so my body thinks it’s 4:33am. I’m usually in the shower by now. The biggest negative about doing a morning show is that you have to wake up so early. But I’m not complaining. 230,000 people have died from Covid and one of my longest friends is sitting in a room at the Cleveland Clinic waiting for open heart surgery. I’m scared as hell for him, although I won’t tell him that. I hope he doesn’t stumble across this blog, but if you do, Dave Kusiak, we all miss you on the radio and we love you.
There are good things about Covid. If you have a nuclear family, you’re spending more time inside of it than you ever imagined. My cousin Scott Francoeur, who is my genetic half brother, lives in South Bend with his wife, Sandy. Because of Covid, their daughter Nicole has moved back in with them. I can’t remember how he put it, but the message is clear – “It’s stolen time. I get stolen time with her.” Nicole lived in Chicago. Now, every night she sits down for dinner with mom and dad.
Now that I think about it, family time may be the only good thing about Covid. We’re all suffering. It’s my job every morning on the radio and TV to make it sound like we’re not suffering, but we really are. It’s hard to talk about. Every once in a while someone cries on the air. They just can’t take it anymore. I understand.
A good diversion from it all has been the division in this country. We deride ourselves for being so divided, so full of hate for the other side. It’ll all come out tomorrow night when we choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. You may be reading this on the other side of tomorrow night. You’ll know what happened. For now, for us in the present, we don’t know what’s about to happen. The one thing we all have to admit, however, is how entertaining it’s been. If you’re one of the three or four who used to read my blog and now you’ve found it again, you’re living through history. If you’re one of the stoners 50 years from now, you’re writing a history assignment about right now. That’s why you’re reading this blog – to find out what it was like.
Here’s what it’s like. Every day I go down to the Purdue Northwest Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence and open the doors and unlock my studios. There’s six robotic cameras pointing right at me and I have to turn all of them on. Then I have to turn on the software that streams the video and code that and connect video to Facebook. Then there’s lighting and sound to worry about. It takes about a half hour to prepare the cockpit for takeoff. By the time you read this 50 years from now, I hope like hell that someone has developed a way for a solitary morning host to flip a single switch, grab a cup of coffee and start talking.
I do all of this alone. I walk out into the main studio at Purdue and talk for about a half hour, except for when Verlie Suggs or Dave Kusiak join me. If there’s a shooting or a chase across two states, I cover that. If a local politician got indicted, which happens a lot around here, I address that. And of course we cover traffic. We’re at the bottom of Lake Michigan. A ton of interstate highways criss cross our towns because they have nowhere else to go. Traffic trumps all.
After a while, I go back into the control room and settle in to some phone calls and HeyJEDs. This, HeyJED, is an app that Shamari Walker and I came up with to, as Shamari puts it, “save radio.” You punch a button on your phone and tell me something and a few seconds later it appears on a screen in front of me and plays on the radio. It’s pretty cool, but it reduces the need for morning show producers. This is not a positive. People are generally good and kind and any technology that replaces them can be looked on as suspect.
Sometimes there’s guests. They come on the air through Zoom these days. It used to be that they came into the studio and sat next to me while Ryan and others turned all the dials behind glass 15 feet away. Now, I sit behind glass and turn the dials myself.
For an entire summer, I was the only person who came in or out of the 18,000-square-foot Purdue Commercialization Center. The whole country was shut down. I have a letter that I carry around that says I am necessary for the dispensation of emergency information so I can go wherever I need to. For the whole summer, that was the WJOB Strack & Van Til studios at the Purdue Commercialization Center on Indianapolis Boulevard.
It has been a surreal experience. Even now, I’ll come in at 5:15, turn the rocket ship on, and start talking for four hours and then lock up and go home without seeing another live person. I might take 20 phone calls and play a dozen HeyJEDs, and I might interview several people on Zoom. But still I’m mostly alone. I like to be alone. I always have been a bit of a loner. But this is too much. I want people. My wife turns 60 in a few days and I want to take her to an expensive dinner in downtown Chicago. That’s closed. No kidding. You stoners 50 years from now might not be able to comprehend this, but you can’t go out for dinner in Chicago right now. They’re closed. The moose out front shoulda told ya.
That’s enough. I’m up in the middle of the night because that’s what people in my family do. I wake up around 1am and go down on the couch so as not to disturb Alexis. And then I worry about my family and I worry about the stations and I worry about callers and people driving down the Borman and about the human race in general. How many times 40 years ago did I come home at two in the morning to my mom sitting there in the living room smoking a cigarette and, yes, worrying? I have been handed the ability to worry with the best of them, one of whom is my Aunt Irene. It may feel like I’m the only person in the world up right now in the pitch dark worrying about everything. But I know that my Aunt Irene, and, for that matter, my Aunts Mary and Joanie and cousin Phyllis and uncle Danny, are all up worrying right along with me. Worrying separate but together. This is the kind of thing that happens during a pandemic when ICUs are almost full and you can’t go for dinner in downtown Chicago. Now shut up and let me take a shower and go to work.