Thursday, April 06, 2017

Twenty Years at WGCH

Sean Kilkelly, me, and Bob Small. Cardinal Stadium, Greenwich, 2000.

Twenty years ago today, I woke up on the floor of the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey. I was there for a boy scout sleepover with my nephew, Michael, and I had to leave him there.

I had a new job. It was only a part-time job (basically a freelance gig), and I didn't want to be late.

Michael would be safe with friends from his scout troop, and another family would get him home.

I had to fly to Greenwich, and fly I did.

The radio gods smiled at me as I whizzed across the George Washington Bridge and the Cross Bronx Expressway (these are words that never get uttered). Radio station WGCH awaited, and I got there in time for my first shift.

It would not be a day of commentary, but of running the controls for church services and religious programming and so on. But it was a gig. A paycheck.

Most of all, I was right back in radio.

It was only a few months prior, in the fall of 1996, that I had come to work at WREF in Ridgefield, and despite having been laid off from Kraft Foods at the end of '96, I felt like things were looking up at REF.

Then they were sold, and I was (essentially) turning out the lights, as the last live on-air host at 850 am in Ridgefield.

Fortunately, I had made two friends there -- Steve Goodwin and Luke Michaels -- who both spoke highly of WGCH, and recommended me for some board work. I did my training on March 30 and my first shift a week later: April 6, 1997.

Steve would move on, and Luke? Well, rest his soul. He was a good man who I had many good times with on the air. I'm thinking of him a lot this week. I recall when he called me, still suffering from cancer, but hopeful to return to the airwaves, and with me as a side kick. That was our last conversation.

Cancer sucks.

*****
WGCH has been my main broadcasting home ever since that fateful day in '97. I would become a larger presence on the station (and our-then sister station, WVIP*) in 1998 as the board-op du jour for whatever they needed.

* WVIP-AM was the first station I ever heard my name said on. I won a trivia contest in 1984 because nobody (except me) knew who the first teams were to play on Monday Night Football. They asked the question while I was in the car with my mom, and the question went unanswered, for probably a good half-hour. That is...until I got home. (It was Jets/Browns, by the way).

The sports director at the time, John Connelly, liked me enough to create a model in which I was the studio host for sports, and not just a board-op. So I did all of the pregame and postgame segments, along with intermission/halftime reports and more. Plus I introduced them coming out of each commercial break.

By 2000, John had stepped away, and I became sports director. I still hold that title.

We've done it all since then. You know about the football games, plus baseball, basketball, hockey, softball, lacrosse, and so on. There have been the talk shows: The Press Box, Coach's Corner, Spotlight on Sports, Doubleheader, Tee Time, The Clubhouse, The Rob Adams Show, and more. There have been 2am wakeup calls for the morning shift, and 3am departures because I had finished up whatever I was doing.

There were nights -- lots of them -- when I simply didn't want to leave. Sure, they old Dayton Ave building could be creepy (believe me, I slept there one night) but I was still in heaven.

There were conversations. Lots of them. Simply talking about the joy of the business, or debating sports. They weren't, despite assumptions, gripe sessions. It was something I would do after a lot of games just because my adrenaline had run out and I didn't want to drive home.

Those chat sessions evolved from Sean Kilkelly and Mark Rosen to Dave Rothenberg to Chris Erway, Chris Kaelin, and Ryan DeMaria to Shawn Sailer and AJ Szymanowski, and a whole lot of others.

I carry 20 years of stories with me. Of election nights, early morning newscasts, technical issues, equipment failures, and laughter.

Oh my, the laughter.

I carry with me the memory of finishing a Bluefish game, driving back to GCH, and the crew spontaneously going on the air to do a sports talk show -- at midnight.

Would we have been in trouble? Perhaps, though I don't think many people missed whatever show we pre-empted.

But we had listeners!

And we still do.

I know. Two politicians both recently said they're "WGCH junkies" who know my voice and listen to Doubleheader.

Two of many.

I can't name everyone who has passed through the doors with me, but I'm so grateful for the efforts of every single one.

I'm so grateful for the athletes, coaches, newsmakers, celebrities, and everyday people who have joined me on the air.

I'm beyond grateful for the listeners. I'm pleased with the comments (even the negative ones). I still remember the email that bluntly told me to "STEP DOWN."

No dice. For even when I wasn't "Voice of the Cardinals," I was still around WGCH. I still did my Friday morning visit (6:50 am) with Tony Savino.

I'm thrilled that WGCH didn't send me packing. I've always felt a loyalty to the little radio station at the corner of Lewis and Mason Streets.

We'll keep laughing and doing it "my way." I'll keep driving management crazy with my ideas and passion for doing right for the listeners (and always wanting more games on the air).

I thank all of my colleagues, the ownership, and my Greenwich Sentinel family. I realize I'm just a small cog in this machine, but I'm proud to still be doing this.

I'm still around.

I owe you a very heartfelt "Goodnight from Greenwich."

And thank you.

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