So whether it was yesterday or today, the thing to think about is tomorrow. The spirit of WJOB, which is by all accounts "good and pure and beautiful," is under attack. The spirit emerged in a bygone era. It remained strong through World War II, the riots of the 60s, 9-11, and Covid. The spirit nourished and nursed the Region through all sorts of trials and tribulations, but perhaps it was never in as much danger as it is now. That's a journal entry for another day.
Today it's the story of Mexican woman saving an American icon. Alexis's purchase of WJOB was a familiar story to the Region 18 years ago. It was a public fight between two well-known families - the Dedelows and the McDermotts. The stations had been bought in the late 1990s by a couple from the East coast. They didn't understand the spirit. They thought it was a Chicago spirit. They ran WJOB into the ground... and then it went further into the abyss under the auspices of a court-appointed trustee. It was under the trustee that I started doing games with Chris Ramirez of Region Sports Network (who is Alexis's cousin). Alexis watched how much fun I was having announcing the games... and how much having the games on the radio meant to the Calumet Region.
There is other Mexican-American history here. In the 1950s - when Mexican-Americans weren't necessarily getting the respect that they deserve in America - WJOB brought in Alexis's great uncle to do a radio show. There's a photo around here somewhere of a stern, handsome young Mexican dude in a suit. I can't find it right now, but that's no surprise to the three or four of you.
Anyways, the story of the purchase of WJOB was in the paper and it played out on the air... but the real hero of the resurrection of WJOB isn't me at all. It's my wife, the current magistrate in divorce court in downtown Gary. She realized that my career at the Chicago Board of Trade was winding down and that I needed a new mountain to climb. I was only 40 years old. It hurts to retire from something you love at such a tender age, not altogether different from being a pro baseball player.
Also rollled into the formula was her motivation to keep the spirit alive. She knew the spirit. It gave her uncle a chance when no one else would. And there was the sports. We all love the sports.
I really wish that we could have filmed the final court battle. It wasn't between me and Marty Wielgos or Tom McDermott, Sr. That's because I wasn't allowed in the courtroom. This should come as no surprise to the three or four of you, but I had stood up at one of the previous court appearances - an especially tense one - and:
1. threatened to beat Marty Wielgos's ass
2. bemoaned Lake County as being corrupt
3. waved my fist at a judge
Gotta give Judge Jeffrey Dywan credit. He was an amazingly patient man, not unlike two of the best basketball referees that ever lived in Indiana - John Goss and Mike Waisnora. They would be doing a semi-state game and a coach would be haranguing one of the other of them... and Waisnora or Goss would just stand arms crossed and take it. They'd listen intently, nod a few times... then gently guide the coach back to his huddle.
I used to drink with these guys after games. One time I asked how they can let a guy act like that without whistling a technical.
"This is their livelihood," Waisnora said. "They support their families by coaching kids. You gotta give 'em room to blow off a little steam."
Goss was more direct - "I'm hard of hearing. Can't make out a damn word they're saying anyways."
I was so suspicious of all of the corruption around here that we had hired a high-power attorney out of Indianapolis. After I had nearly gotten violent at a previous courtroom hearing, this attorney who, like Dywan exhibited an extreme amount of patience, waved his finger at me in a hallway of the Lake County court complex in Crown Point.
"You will never sit next to me in a courtroom again. As a matter of fact, if I see you again, I'm out."
From that point on, Alexis not only took lead on legal analysis, she sat next to the high-powered attorney in a courtroom filled with a dozen or so high-powered attorneys. She was the client, but she was also a recent graduate from John Marshall law school. I lived through five years of that... but I never saw her do as much study as she did during the court fight with McDermott and Wielgos - who I'm friends with these days. Every night, I'd come downstairs after putting the kids to bed and she'd be at the kitchen table with books and papers and files strewn about.
"Wanna watch a movie?" I'd ask.
"Are you crazy," she'd say. "Wait. Why don't I ask our attorney or Judge Dywan if you're crazy? What do you think their answer will be?"
She had a point. She always have a point. I have been straightforward with the three or four of you and with the seven or eight who listen to my show, this is a rescue marriage. If we hadn't hooked up at Players 33 years ago, who knows where I'd be. I wouldn't be driving down the Boulevard to do a show, which I should probably get up and go do right now. Dave Kusiak usually does the Friday show for me. He had to go to Cleveland, so I'm doing it. Tony Panek, another person of Polish descent, is gonna hold down the fort until I get there. He can do it.
In the final court appearance, it became a bidding war - McDermott and Weilgos and some attorneys at one table... and Alexis and the high-powered attorney from Indianapolis at another table. I was at home making macaroni and cheese for our two daughters.
From what observers tell me, including reporters, Alexis was cool as a cucumber. Every time McDermott Sr. raised the price, Alexis matter-of-factly raised a finger... like at an auction at Sotheby's. When the number finally got high enough, she quit raising her finger - never flinching - and Judge Dywan, another hero in this story, went to his chambers.
A couple hours later he came out and awarded the stations to Alexis. McDermott Sr. was, from what the papers said, furious. He told The Times that he was gonna appeal. Alexis called me at home, finally breaking down, crying.
"Jim, we did it."
No, Alexis, you did it.
I put the phone down and ran into the cul de sac, jumping and kicking my feet in the air.
"I thought you just got high-speed internet," our neighbor, Pete Korellis said later. That was when there was a famous commercial of a guy going berserk in his cul de sac because he finally got high-speed internet.
Everyone in the cul de sac and some attorneys and family members came over. The wine and beer flowed freely. I got hammered, of course. It was a great day. As a matter of fact, every day I wake up and talk on the radio, and now TV, is a great day.
I don't have time for the rest of the story. Tony can hold down the show for a while, but I have a ton of guests lined up for today.
Dick O'Donnell, a guy from Whiting, is gonna call in from Colorado. He came up with a way to keep parents from cheating at youth sporting events by allowing their kids to "play down" in age. It's a rampant problem in youth sports. He's gonna tell us how to use his software to verify age.
Then John Pigatti calls in from Illionois. His South Suburban College basketball team across the border is undefeated going into the National Junior College basketball tournament. There are at least three other guests. No Kusiak. Just me. And Tony Panek... and big trucks rolling down the Boulevard... and a hot Mexican chick back home straightening her hair before going to sit in her courtroom a few blocks from where she grew up in downtown Gary. She is the real hero in this story and the person who saved not only me from a life of debauchery but also the spirit of WJOB....
which is good and pure and beautiful.