(I have a cupboard full of mugs, each of which represent…something. In this space, until I run out of mugs, I’ll try to explain what that “something” is)
I know for certain this cup was acquired in June, 1982, when I took my first paying news job at WMAY in Springfield, IL.
I laugh a little at “paying” because this just-graduated guy with student debt had jumped at the chance to make $180 a week in a city I’d never before visited.
The hours were long. The pay was low. The free time nonexistent.
It was great.
My immediate boss would later become a conservative talk show host in Milwaukee and occasional fill-in host for Rush Limbaugh. In 1982 he was a good news person. I learned a lot.
I was so eager to do great work (before I understood what that would look like), that I was blindsided when summoned to meet with the Program Director (my boss’s boss) for my first annual evaluation.
He got right to the point. “What we care about here is getting great ratings.”
I interjected what I must have thought would be the rest of his sentence, “…and we’ll get them by doing great work, and by not pandering to the lowest common denominator, right?”
If I had said something truly crazy, such as “That New York real estate guy, Trump, he’s going to be President someday,” he couldn’t have looked more baffled.
After a loooooong pause he looked at me.
“What we care about here is getting great ratings,” he repeated, this time with emphasis on the last part.
Lesson learned. “We aren’t in the idealism business” Got it.
The cup reminds me of an exciting time in my life. I’d started a career and learned an important lesson: Doing good work won’t always be enough.
I’d always loved radio and getting to be in it, when it was still fun, was a thrill.
When I got into news, there were still giants in the business. One of them was Charles Kuralt. I would study his reports with special attention to his writing style, his use of adjectives and how he used his voice. This 1978 report was for the CBS Evening News
Another of my news idols was CBS’s Bob Simon, an amazing writer.
One more giant who I studied was Paul Harvey. Unfortunately, I can’t find an example of his best work on YouTube, but I do have this classic blooper which occurred because he snaps off the punchline of a silly joke so perfectly, it took his announcer by complete surprise.