I can't come up with an ideal title for this entry in the C.C. Did my best. It doesn't seem appropriate to do something clever. This writing is a "wake up call" (no pun intended on our weekly trivia) to me, yet what it calls-attention-to I've known since I was 13 years old, when my mom died in a car accident. Treasure the people in your life. Even the ones that are not family, and the ones you see only now and then, for they may have a profound impact when you look back over the years.
Monday morning, I was at the WION microphone. As many of you know, I'm pretty transparent. I'm the same person on the mic as when I'm downtown at dinner, visiting with friends, or relaxing at home. You can read me like a book. Some mornings, I'm energetic, some tired, some relaxed, some on edge, some excited, some just "there"...but always...REAL. Or so, I hope you know.
On this particular Monday, I had the left-hand screen for the morning show open to the web. My show notes, the weather, the list of online towns tuned-in to WION, some trivia notes, our forum, and of course, the one media I've been trying to break myself of, FACEBOOK.
After being in radio since 1988, I've gotten fairly good at multi-tasking, speaking into the mic while surfing, writing e-mails while putting a call on the air...covering for a software failure....you get the idea. Then suddenly, while speaking to you, I had to stop. Something on Facebook made my heart sink, and it was an "I don't believe I'm reading this" kind of moment.
Part of my radio journey which landed me in Ionia to own, rebuild and operate WION, and eventually co-own WGLM in Greenville was my time as an announcer in Lansing. Yes, I worked on a country station. WITL. In fact, "Steve the Voice Guy" that you hear between songs on WION and I met at WITL. He did the Saturday afternoon show in the early 90's, and I did Saturday nights. How we ended up working together to build WION is another story...for another blog.
My first fulltime radio gig was at WKHM in Jackson on AM 970. Back then, live 24 hours a day and with a kick-ass signal that reached into Lansing even at night. They didn't own an FM then, and the format was much like our WION one today. I wanted, however to continue moving "up" the radio ladder, and a weekend gig in Lansing was the next step. WITL was my hope. I'd sent a tape and resume. Yes, a TAPE! That's how we did it back then. One early morning, after a late night at the WKHM studios, the speakerphone in the head of my bed rang, and I groggily answered. It was Jay J. McCrae, the WITL program director asking me to come in for a chat and to maybe work weekends. I was instantly awake, and excited! To make a long story shorter, I was given the chance to work on the air. I loved it. I was working in the "Wittle White House" which meant I had achieved some level of announcer credibility. The first time around at WITL I had to use an "air name" different than my name today, so I was "Jim McIntyre"....and, by the second time I came to work regular weekends at WITL, I went by just my known name, Jim Carlyle. Much easier.
WITL led me to a job in the U.P via a recommendation to become a program director on a big hundred-thousand-watt Country FM, where I was also the afternoon host. Loved the people, the job, but I was severely homesick for lower Michigan and my father, who then was about 75 or so years old. Left there for sharing an apartment with my college buddy who was in Chicago, but I hated living in the big city. Good place to visit for culture, museums, bars, but not a place in which I wanted to live. When I knew I was coming home, it was ONE call to WITL and Jay J, and I was back on the air...once a week, overnight. He apologized to me that he only had the overnight gig available, but I told him, "there are no bad hours to be a jock at WITL." I was back, I was on the air, I was pleased.
Now that you see how much I enjoyed WITL, let me rewind you back to my first show there as a scared young announcer just after Jay J. Hired me. Steve (now our voice guy) was the usual Saturday afternoon host, but was gone that week as memory serves. We hadn't met yet. Jordan Lee, Jay's wife had filled-in. The studio was early into having computers, not for the music and commercials, but for the announcers' information about songs, local events, and more. Jay was a big fan of computers. His wife Jordan knew I was a bit scared, and in the first few minutes when I took to the air, she said, (with her signature Texas accent adjusted to Michigan) "Would you like me to stay a bit with you until you get comfortable?" I assured her this would be more than welcomed, and she did. She watched me work, we talked, and....about half past the hour, maybe about an hour later, she said with a huge smile, "Honey, you don't need me here, you're gonna be just fine!" I'll never forget that...nor the fact that long after I'd moved on, I was always welcomed to drop in to the WITL studios.
This past monday, during that pause on my morning show, while looking at Facebook I saw the news that Jordan Lee had passed away. The very same voice that was always willing to play a 1990's request for me on her midday WITL show... was silent. I couldn't believe my eyes, as I read the news on WITL's page, and I had to politely shut off the mic, and take a few songs' break. It didn't seem possible. It didn't seem right.
As you can tell from this story, lengthy though it is, Jordan, and her late husband Jay J. were just GOOD (radio) PEOPLE. Polite, warm, always took extra good care of me if they called me in for a last minute fill-in shift, and I never had to sit in Jay's office and go over a tape of my show! That's something that most radio announcers hate doing anyway. I can remember when the winter weather was bad being invited to stay at their home rather than battle the roads, since my commute was about 60 miles one way for these weekend shows.
I missed Jay when he passed away...not because we saw each other frequently, we didn't. Not because we did anything together outside of radio...we never did. I missed Jay because his name on a written reference on WITL letterhead opened many a door for me in my career. Because he was PART of my career and made a difference to me. That reference letter is still on the wall in my office/studio at WION. That letter was part of my proposal for buying WION when I went to get financing. It was part of my being hired to work with Garry Osborn at WLKI in the 90's, where I became morning host for nearly a decade. Jay's words were like the "golden ticket" of references in radio, and I am still proud.
I already miss Jordan this week for her smile, and the qualities she showed in radio, and as a person. Radio will miss her talent and dedication. People will miss her politeness, being helpful, smiling, and in my case, welcoming new talent by offering to remain in the studio with me for my first few shaky on-air breaks. MY first night on WITL as a very nervous young announcer...is a memory that never fades. And, as with Jay J. there'd been no regular contact between us beyond the respect and friendship of years ago, but THAT never faded, either.
Yes, it is possible to miss people who die whom you don't see regularly. It IS possible as well, to feel a loss when they leave us, even if they're not part of our every day lives. Jordan got invited to WION to see where I "landed" but was never able to make it over to see "my" WION. I wish she could have, but the occasional e-mails now and then were enough to say, "hello. "
So, to Jordan, a huge, "Thank you" ...for friendship and a confident smile, hoping that she knows what her presence in my career that first night at WITL meant to me. She and Jay were a great team. They both left radio, and this world too young.
Tonight, as I finish this, I'd like to give you an assignment. We've all gotten busier. We all multitask too much. We ALL have friends from our past who are still available by phone, e-mail, and even a note sent in the mail. Call them. E-mail them. Write them. Visit them. You don't have to do it all at once, we all have a huge list of people who were at one time VERY involved in our lives. Don't let them go without knowing they made a difference, that they mattered, and that you appreciate them. It's a simple assignment, one I'm trying hard to do myself. I assure you, it's time consuming, and it won't be easy. But, you'll be glad for doing it.
And one more note … Radio NEEDS people who are passionate communicators to come up through the ranks and want to communicate with an audience. Encourage your sons, daughters, whomever you know who may show a leaning toward broadcasting. Let them know that it is NOT a dead-end, but a place where some very magical people still work, and that it may take time to find WHERE they are meant to "land" (as it did for me)....but the journey is a BLAST! We lost a great radio person this week. Two Christmases ago a dear friend and engineer left us. Others whose home was on the air have passed into the ionosphere and beyond. Let's try hard to keep encouraging those who may become the next kind, friendly voice on your radio. They may even be the calming voice that helps us all to know the world is still okay even after the hourly newscast has played.
Go in Peace, Jordan, and thank you. Tell Jay he also was appreciated.