The Jump to the Major Leagues – Pt. 1

Evel Knievel

• The move from WIOT in Toledo to WEBN in Cincinnati

• How a side project in print media led unexpectedly to a broadcast opportunity

• A foot on a rung of the market ladder

Daredevil Evel Knievel set a record in 1975 by jumping over 24 Greyhound buses at King’s Island Amusement Park in Ohio. I captured the landing and the run-out nicely; you can just about make him out, airborne.

Wheels up

By 1975 I was enjoying my new career immensely. I had dropped the disc jockey duties and become WIOT Toledo’s news director. I had created a daily afternoon newscast (and labeled it “The 5:49 Report” in something of a meta fashion — since that’s when it aired) and a several-times-daily feature called “Realities.” I had hired a full-time news employee and a part-timer and was having a blast as part of the most popular radio station in Toledo.

Hard copy

A woman approached me in a music club one night to inform me that she listened to my newscasts and needed to correct my pronunciation of the name of the ousted president of Chile, Salvador Allende (I had been calling him “Alley-en-day”). She set me straight. She was, when we met, the sometime girlfriend of the lead singer of the most popular rock band in town – the only one that could add its own original songs (and really good ones!) to the familiar repertoire of cover songs demanded in Toledo’s live music clubs.

She was a “catch” for sure, yet I was in a “catch and release” period of my life. I was not anywhere near ready to settle down, nor was she. For one thing, the ripples of the sexual revolution which had erupted in full force during my college days were still being felt. Er..still spreading. Oh, you know what I mean.

I had also divined, from reading Billboard, Radio & Records and other trade publications, that many broadcasters “climbed the market ladder,” moving steadily from smaller to larger media markets when opportunities arose. That career path appealed to me. But making that climb and bringing along a wife and kids seemed not only burdensome but probably unfair to them; I had decided to put family-building off.

I had watched the Watergate hearings unfold and read the AP copy on-air in 1973 and 1974 and decided I definitely wanted to make it to broadcast journalism’s network level somehow. Before I could plot my next step, an opportunity fell in my lap as a result of an effort to make a little money on the side.

In addition to radio, I was involved in some print projects. In college I had published an alternative newspaper to counter the conservative slant of the official student paper. Some of the people involved in that venture were expanding into fledgling alternative weekly newspapers in Ohio cities – weeklies like EXIT, with politics, lifestyle news, entertainment listings, etc.

Exit weekly; mouth-watering restaurant reviews

I took a day off from the radio station to drive with a friend down I-75 to Cincinnati to do some market research with an eye toward launching a paper there. We had scheduled, along with other get-togethers, a meeting with the program director of WEBN-FM, that city’s hugely popular progressive rock station. Out of curiosity I casually inquired about the size of the station’s news department and was told there was none, the DJs would simply “rip and read” Associated Press wire copy — and as a matter of fact, the PD was thinking about hiring a news director for the first time.

On the drive back up I-75, I cranked up the radio. It was playing the up-tempo, upbeat song from Dylan’s latest album, “Tangled Up in Blue.” The bouncy tale of an itinerant poet working as “a cook in the great north woods” and “on a fishing boat right outside of Delacroix” felt just so appropriate. It was springtime. Windows were rolled down. There was an almost palpable feeling that I was going places. And the road ahead of me was inviting.

I mailed WEBN a T & R – tape and résumé – as soon as I got back to Toledo.


Continue reading Pt. 2

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