I majored in physical education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Graduating high school in Northern New Jersey I had no idea what I wanted to be. I loved sports, so, for lack of a better idea, settled on being a coach. What’s more fun than playing sports, I figured. Being involved in them as a livelihood sounded good. And fun.
But by my junior year of college, I was no longer the clean-cut frat boy I was when I arrived on BGSU’s Northwestern Ohio campus in 1966. It was 1968 now. My hair had grown long, my politics had moved to the left and to opposing the war in Vietnam, and I was smoking pot. The fall of my senior year was to be my semester of student teaching. Showing up in a presentable manner to do a student teaching stint with the Phys Ed staff at a local high school simply sounded impossible.
The nail was driven home by one of my college Phys Ed professors, Don Nehlen. He was the head coach of the football team, and back then coaches not only didn’t earn millions in salaries, they had to actually teach classes as well. He was teaching a course on the game of squash and we students were learning by playing. Fun.
As I walked off the court one day, Nehlen, standing in the doorway, said, “Better get those sideburns trimmed, Scheerer. You’re starting to look like a girl.” I did a mental double-take, “Sideburns? Girls?” But I got the message.
I drove my battered old Triumph Spitfire home to New Jersey the following June, using the 8 hours traversing Ohio and Pennsylvania to think about the student teaching that awaited in the fall. I came to a decision. I had used a hit of “speed,” to stay peppy on the long drive and when I pulled into our driveway around 1 AM, my father came out to greet an excited, wired, long-haired kid babbling about “dropping out” . . . “hitchhiking around the country” . . .”finding myself!”
He said patiently, “Son, let’s talk about it in the morning.”
Pete had been a pal since our ninth grade homeroom. Pete’s college career was a rocky one. He’d flunked out of one school, and at another been arrested for participating in an anti-Vietnam war protest and expelled as a result. A few days into that summer of ’69, Pete talked some sense into me, as only someone in his shoes could. He said, “Hey, you’ve got three years’ worth of credits toward a Phys Ed degree, don’t you? Why drop out now? Maybe you should change your major to something else. Then your Phys Ed credits could go toward your minor.”
“Yeah,” I mused, “but what would I change my major to?”.
“How about journalism?” he said. “You wrote for the high school paper, didn’t you?”
I had. I liked what I had written and had enjoyed the process. And my mother, an English major in college, had approved of it. So that sounded good. (Pete eventually completed college, made skadillions in real estate and is happily semi-retired with homes in Massachusetts and Florida.)
That fall, back at BG, I took Journalism 101, taught by a youthful professor who encouraged me both academically and politically. And I was hooked.
A college friend, Richard, took his turn at being my guidance counselor a few years later, after I had graduated with my bachelor’s degree in journalism.
I had stayed in the college town and taken some odd jobs painting apartments, delivering pizza, etc.
One night I was working a night shift as a watchman at an apartment complex under construction. I sat at a desk in an unfinished unit and walked around the site once an hour to make sure no students were taking boards and cinder blocks to build “entertainment consoles” in their dorm rooms (something I was versed in, having been caught doing it as a sophomore). To while away the hours, I listened to a transistor radio, and on this night heard something exciting.
In Toledo, 20 miles up I-75 from Bowling Green, there had only been AM radio to listen to. Primarily WOHO, a top 40 screamer. Twisting the FM dial this night, I heard a long – very long – Jimi Hendrix song, followed by a couple more rock album cuts. And then a laid-back DJ speaking like a normal person, not a carnival barker. Free-form progressive rock radio had come to Toledo, on WGLN, 105.5 FM.
I told my buddy Richard about this the next day, and how it would make my night watchman shifts so much better.
He said, “Why don’t you call them up and see if they need a news director?”
“But,” I sputtered, “I’ve never done radio news.” (I had taken the print journalism sequence in college and hadn’t even worked at the campus radio station. Too shy to try to speak on the air, I felt.)
“How hard could it be?” asked Richard.
“But I don’t think they do newscasts on WGLN,” I countered.
“Maybe they want to,” he returned. “It won’t hurt to just call them.”
So I did. And was told, “As a matter of fact, we are looking for a newsman.”
Still not done trying to talk myself out of a career, I said to Richard, “I don’t have a car; how am I going to get up there for a job interview?”
He tossed me the keys to his car.
And then there is Fred, a friend from my Cincinnati days and TV sportscaster in New York who insisted in 1989 – by which time we both lived on NYC’s Upper West Side and I had a globe-trotting network radio job — that I take a meeting with his agent about finding a position in television news. “Why?” I said. “I’ve got the best job there is in radio news.” He prevailed, I met with the agent and a major career turn was the result.
So, two friends steered my career before it even began. And another prompted me to make a major mid-career change. I owe them a lot and through the years I have frequently made sure they know it.
This is dedicated to my father, Arthur Scheerer, Pete, Richard, and Fred
A special thanks to my sister, Penny, and nephew, Greg, who urged me, starting in the summer of 2016, to begin writing these stories down and to create a blog on which to share them. Also to Barbara Neibart for her love and support. And to Dana Miller for invaluable professional assistance.