The Spirit of the Radio

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Begin the day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive.  Plays that song that’s so elusive and the magic music makes your morning mood.


louieandsarahIn my house as a kid, we never went a morning without the radio playing in the kitchen over bowls of Fruit Loops.  In October 1985, my world had kinda turned upside down: I had just turned 20, my mother had died that August and I felt like a loser.  All of my friends were in college and here I was: mucking stalls for a living.  

A new radio team, Q-99’s Louie Manno and Jim Condon, went on FOREVER with this trivia question I knew the answer to.  I mucked 1 stall, 5 stalls, 20 stalls – still, no one answered.  I drove home, picked up the phone and answered the question.  I continued bantering with them for a good 5 minutes or so.  Louie said, “Hey you’ve got a great voice!”  I said, “Hey, have you got a job for me?”  He invited me down immediately.  My father cautioned me “Don’t get too excited, they might just be pulling your leg.”  I retorted, “Well, as you say, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’  I grabbed the keys and eagerly went to WJOY/WQCR to redeem my prize – a 6-pack of Cherry Coke, 2 tickets to “Steeltown” and a job.  I arrived in my Dad’s pick-up truck as a 20 year old would –  with fresh horse dung on my boots and the unrelenting smile only found on the faces of those who have been told, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’  Who knew that 28 years later, I would sit in the audience, laughing at Louie’s antics and having the 6-pack of Cherry Coke bring back those sweet memories?  

I stood in the lobby where Laura, the receptionist (a.k.a. the glue that held the radio station together) told me to “wait – over there…way over there.” as I became painfully aware that my barn boots announced my arrival before I did.  I went deeper into the studio which felt like stepping into the control room of The Great and Powerful Oz – a tiny room of blinking lights and whirring cart machines that would soon hold music, interviews, joy and memories I would relish for the next 20+ years.  I loved radio, and apparently, radio loved me too, as my birthday, Christmas and Thanksgiving never went by without an endless stream of listeners feeding us pastries, asking about my son and genuinely calling with concern if I shared on my show that Tony had an ear infection, which always touched me.

I loved radio for awhile and then, all at once, I felt I was “pushing the buttons and reading the cards.” I had lost my Mojo, so to speak, and it became mechanical – I had lost my own Spirit of the Radio and knew a chapter was closing and another one beginning. I tried to hold on, but mounting bills and the endless hours radio demands tore me in two while I tried to raise my infant son as a single mom.

“Dan, Wendy needs to leave the lost boys.”  I announced clenching my fists in my lap as Dan Dubonet listened with that intensity that instantly terrified and intrigued me. I didn’t want to ask for a raise, because I knew they simply didn’t have it.  So I invented a way for me to make more money AND still keep my job as a DJ.  He knew he risked losing an announcer before I really knew, but he saw the bigger picture (thank GOD…) and helped me anyway.  I created “Reality 2000,” a life-sized game to teach kids how much it costs to work and live in Vermont.  He donated airtime to the project, he connected me to other people, he showed me the ropes of marketing.  Dan gave me the best education on the secrets of promotions than any 4-year University could ever provide.  I ran Reality 2000 for 2 years before being hired as the Area Marketing Manager for Adelphia.  I watched his daughter introduce him and all I could think of was her as a little girl sitting in his office, absorbing everything he did.  As she spoke, I could see her wit, humor and I thought to myself, “There’s a powerful woman in the making.”  You can see her for yourself below:

As I watched both of my mentors this past Saturday at the sold-out VAB Awards; the timing was not lost on me.  I’m facing another personal ending and another beginning just as I did when these 2 powerful men pushed me unwittingly into the magic of radio.  Isn’t it funny how we come full-circle in our lives sometimes to embrace something that was so sweet from our past and molded us into what we are today?

Salute to Louie and Dan who impacted my life in such wonderful ways.  I raise my glass and face the future assured.