Farewell to WMSP

This is the seventh and penultimate installment of the WMSP series that began here.

AJ used to have a tape recorder running at his home to capture all the shows he hosted, and then he’d edit them to remove most of the music, keeping just his spoken introductions, etc. It sounded like a good idea, so I adopted it as well. For the first few months, I’d set my reel to reel tape player going before I left my apartment. Because this required well over three hours of recording time, I’d have to use the recorder’s slowest speed which meant the lowest quality. The following day, I’d dub just my vocals onto a cassette tape. Later on, I realized I could take a tape to the station and record my shows on one of its tape recorders. Not only did I get a higher quality recording, but I could edit it as I went along—if I remembered to stop and start the recorder.

I was often asked to fill in for an ailing host, and one time fairly early on both AJ and I filled in on Thursday evening for Bryan Scott as his show featured opera recordings. Here’s an excerpt from that July 5, 1979, broadcast; it’s one of the earlier ones, so the sound is not the best.

When I finally went to digitize those recordings a few years ago, I found that not only had the sound deteriorated on many of the tapes, but a lot of the broadcasts that I remembered doing had not survived. Oh, well. In listening to them now, I have also concluded that I was not that great as a classical radio host. I often spoke too long in introducing a piece; I think I was trying to do a Leonard Bernstein young people’s concert rather than simply letting the listeners know what was coming up next. Also, I was much better when I read a prepared text than when I spoke off the cuff, as I had a tendency to meander. On the other hand, AJ was a natural and he could speak off the cuff at the drop of a hat. Notice in that excerpt that he gives the full synopsis completely without notes.

There was one time when I was subbing for AJ on his Opera Showcase program, I was doing a show devoted to opera translated into English. I had prepared an introduction but had neglected to time it. When I started in on it, I noticed that the phone was ringing. Luckily Roberta was still there from doing her show, so she answered it, and while I continued with my intro, I could see her through the glass in the next room speaking to the caller. I finally finished and played the first piece, and she came into the booth. She said the caller had been complaining that I was talking too long. It was only then that I noticed that my intro had lasted about ten minutes. She said she had tried to explain to the caller that opera needed a lot of explanation. Poor Roberta! I felt so bad for her. I was also surprised that AJ let me do his show again after that fiasco, as when he returned from NYC, he of course had a tape of the whole thing.

But I probably learned from my mistakes; I like to think so anyway.

On a couple occasions I had George as a guest and we tag teamed introducing both Broadway and opera excerpts. When I planned the shows, I enjoyed finding themes for programs, and I liked to program less frequently played pieces such as works by Leoš Janáček.

And then one day, probably early in March 1980, Dave Zett called me into his office. He was excited.

Dave wanted to revamp the evening programing for WMSP. He felt that prime time was currently too fragmented with the 7 to 10 PM hours on week nights being filled with too much variety—talk shows, opera, Broadway, jazz, classical music, etc.—so it was hard to build an audience when each evening had a different lineup. He wanted to do a three hour classical music show from 7 to 10 PM each week night, and he wanted me to anchor one of them. He had consulted with others on the staff and they agreed that I was one of the stronger hosts. AJ was going to be offered one of the evenings as well; he could expand his 90 minute show to three hours so now he could program entire operas if he wished.

To say the least, I was flattered. Very much so.

But it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Because I was depressed.

Oh, not clinically depressed. Nothing like that. But I was blue. Down in the dumps. Miserable. Whatever you want to call it. I was able to function, I didn’t need medication or professional care, but I was going through the longest down cycle of my life.

The problem was my job at Channel. I was sick of it. Although they wanted me to get into their management program, I was resisting it, even though it would have meant considerably more money, because, well, I knew that retail was just not for me. I needed to find something else. I just didn’t know what.

I had tried going to an employment agency, but they were no help, because without a college degree, I wasn’t qualified for anything except what I had experience in, meaning retailing.

Someone that I knew very slightly was starting a bakery and offered me a job there, but that sounded very much like retailing, and perhaps a chance for a baking accident with an oven.

So I told Dave, thanks, but sadly, I had decided to quit WMSP because I was searching for another job, and since I couldn’t find anything in Harrisburg (which, let’s face it, half the jobs in the city were built around the state government), I fully expected to have to leave the city.

But there was a subtext there that because I was so miserable, I wasn’t enjoying doing the show anymore. I wasn’t enjoying doing anything anymore. (Sadly for Dave and his plans to revamp the evening lineup, AJ didn’t want to do a three hour show; he finally compromised on two hours. So Dave’s plans pretty much fell apart.)

On my final show, AJ had a cake baked and there was a little party. You can see in the photo there is a likeness of me on the cake along with records labeled Sondheim and Wagner. That’s Joyce Tracy behind me and Susan and Michael Moore on the right, (You remember Susan, don’t you? She played my wife for an evening.) And I still can’t recall the name of the fellow in the yellow shirt. Nor do I have any recollection of what was in that gift box.

Even after I left WMSP, I used to call Joyce from time to time, just to keep in touch. She was a delight to talk to, and she had opinions on everything, although she professed not to understand why a young guy like myself wanted to talk to an older woman such as she. She was especially interested in current events, and she’d say she wanted to see how things turned out. Joyce told me that Dave was angry that I had left the station. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t stay there at least until I found something else.

As it turned out, I took the PACE test in April, got the results in May, took an interview at DPSC in June, and left Harrisburg at the end of July, so I would only have been able to give WMSP four more months at most.

One more to go… 

Farewell to WMSP001

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