Stories told

The Electric Breakfast

My great reward and motivation in blogging is that I hear from you in the comments. My new posts get more visits now than ever, but fewer comments now than just a year or two ago. I’ve noticed the same on other blogs I follow. I’ve even found myself commenting less often on the blogs I read. Maybe we’re all reading too many blogs and have less time for commenting. Or maybe we’re moving into a post-blog age. I don’t know. I reflected here in 2010 on the joy of the connection with you, drawing a parallel to my time in radio. I love telling my radio stories, so I’m running the post again, edited and updated.

In pro radio, jocks covet the morning spot because it has the biggest audience and therefore the most prestige and best pay. But at WMHD, my college’s radio station, we figured that our biggest audience tuned in weeknights after 6 p.m. when students settled in for a long night of homework. Sometimes I’d walk through the residence halls in the evening, counting dozens rooms from which I could hear our station. Or I’d visit the broadcast studio, where the phone rang off the hook with students calling to request their favorite music. These unscientific ratings methods supported our belief.

Me on the air, cueing a record

Knowing people were listening and engaged made the evening shows fun. Our best jocks lined up to take them. Afternoon shows were next most popular, but shows before noon were hard to fill. The morning show was nearly impossible to staff, as it meant being on the air at 7 a.m. I was station manager, the top dog, and I could have any show I wanted. But I chose the morning shift whenever my class schedule allowed.

WMHD was in the basement of a residence hall. I lived in a room about a hundred feet away. When my alarm went off at 6:45 a.m., I’d put on my glasses and head right for the station, barefoot and in my nightclothes, stopping only to answer nature’s call. I’d pick out the first four or five songs, fire up the transmitter, and play the sign-on message. The Electric Breakfast was on the air.

Our station’s hallmark was that each disk jockey got to play whatever he wanted. For the morning show, I chose mostly mellow acoustic music, the idea being that the show would gently ease listeners into the morning. It really stood out against the station’s normal alt-rock and heavy-metal programming.

I figure that most mornings I had at most a handful of listeners. I am sure that sometimes I played music for nobody at all. At 160 watts, WMHD could be heard within only about a two-mile radius, half of which was a cornfield and a horse farm.

I would have been thrilled for hundreds of people to hear my show, but I was plenty happy with the way things were. You see, I loved to match key, tempo, and mood, mixing songs so that each one seemed a natural extension of the one before. I did it all by feel, and was supremely satisfied each time I nailed it.

But more importantly, once in a while the phone would ring. It was usually a fellow who lived in nearby Seelyville who often listened to me as he got ready for work. He enjoyed the tapestries of music I wove and would call to tell me when he especially enjoyed a transition I made between songs. And once in a while someone would stop me on my way to class to say that he heard me that morning and liked it.

This occasional praise was all I needed to keep at it.

I am so glad I recorded a few Electric Breakfasts. Here is the first 45 minutes of the show from Wednesday, April 6, 1988. You can hear pops and scratches in the records I played – unlike most radio stations, we didn’t compress our audio to eliminate noise and make the music seem louder. You can also hear the sleepiness in my voice; it usually took me most of the first hour to shake it. But I was not so sleepy that I couldn’t manage a few good transitions between songs. Check it out.

My blogging experience has been very much like The Electric Breakfast. Down the Road is a mere blip in the blogosphere, barely a whisper among the Internet’s clamoring voices. If this post is typical, it will find 15 or 20 views in its first few days. Thanks to the Internet’s long tail, it might find another 50 readers in the next year. (My old-camera posts are the exception; some of those get over a thousand views a year.)

But I love the writing process and find it supremely satisfying when my sentences flow seamlessly into powerful paragraphs, which build an engaging story. And I love it when you leave comments, sharing your experiences or challenging my assertions or just saying that you enjoyed what I wrote. This is enough to keep me blogging indefinitely.

I never thanked that guy from Seelyville for listening. But I thank you for reading!

I did pro radio for a few years in the 90s.
Here’s why radio wouldn’t be fun for me today.

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24 thoughts on “The Electric Breakfast

  1. You’ve been at this for a long time… I think you’re right, now that I’m jumping back into the fray, it seems different. I thought it was just me. Also, I am finding my voice again after burning myself out so I resonate with your next to last paragraph here. One more thought: I know you love photography, old cars, and historical roads…. but I love your spiritual posts the best and would love to see more of those too.

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    • Thanks, Tina. You were one of my first commenters, six years ago when I started this.

      I used to write more spiritual posts, to be sure. I don’t even know how to put this. I came out of crisis and had to figure out again how to be in relationship with God. It was so easy while my life was a mess, because he carried me. I’m starting to teach here and there again, which primes the pump for the blog.

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    • I agree with Tina – the spiritual posts (and those about your childhood in South Bend) are the posts that resonate the most with me. But the great thing about this blog is that it does many things – some of which resonate with me, some of which resonate with other readers.

      I find it interesting that very few of your blogged South Bend memories are from high school; most are from your elementary school years. Is there a reason why you rarely blog about your time at Jackson and Riley?

      Finally, I will admit that I’m one of those lurkers who reads almost every post but rarely comments. In the proper mood and with adequate time on my hands, I will sometimes wander through the archives, or backtrack through a particular theme by following the previous posts that you’ve linked to in a more recent post. Those have been some very interesting journeys back through time.

      I appreciate your insights, and sharing your memories – a few of which intersect with mine. Keep on blogging!

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      • Meilissa, I’m glad you at least lurk hereabouts. The reason I write more about my elementary-school years than the middle- or high-school years is because the elementary-school years were happy. I loved my time at Monroe School. In contrast, middle school was the worst time of my life, right up until my divorce edged it out for the #1 slot. I was happier in high school and have written a little about it but I tend to hedge there because some of my stories might not go over well with the many high-school classmates who follow me on Facebook.

        As for the spiritual posts — those are harder to write. They take considerable thought and effort.

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  2. I am glad you enjoyed your time at the station. It was a big job to get the Administration to agree to convert to a broadcast station and file the FCC paperwork. I wanted to go for a 1 kW station, but I was happy to get away from the Carrier Current system. I left in 1980 so I was never around to see how it worked out.

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    • Rick, thank you so much for your work making WMHD a reality, because it’s no hyperbole when I say that WMHD was the best part of my Rose-Hulman experience. I was General Manager for two years and it was my first real experience in leadership. And being on the air was a great deal of fun. It also gave me enough experience to work in pro radio part time for several years after I graduated (while I made software by day).

      WMHD is now at 90.7 with increased power, thanks to a religious station building somewhere nearby on a frequency that was going to interfere with 90.5. That station apparently paid to move WMHD. The stick is out in West Terre Haute now, rather than on the roof of BSB.

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    • Paul Heit says:

      Yes, Rick, I do remember all the work to get WRTR-AM alive again and then going to FM.
      I’m kind of glad you got elected President and not I. Chief engineer was enough work…

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  3. I haven’t had the radio experience, however I can identify with your blogging experience. I do enjoy putting the posts together for my film blog, however I am not sure how long I would keep it up if I never received any feedback. I have just recently started a more general blog and I don’t expect it to get as many views as my film blog, however as I have caught the blogging bug I felt the need to have one where I could post whatever caught my interest. I do have to admit that even though I can give some reasons for blogging I do wonder sometimes why I do it.

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  4. Dani says:

    Since I started using Feedly to replace the outgoing iGoogle, I am not catching as many blogs as I used to only because I have to take the effort to click on the Feedly icon on my bookmark bar. With iGoogle, your posts (and others) were right there in my face upon opening the browser and I would read them immediately (or almost).

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  5. I am reading your posts regularly. Though my eyes glaze over when I encounter the “faith-based” posts and I then skip the entry, I enjoy the old roads, camera, and photography posts. Keep blogging, please. My disinterest (a result of my lifelong spiritual orientation) in one area is far outweighed by my interest in the others.

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  6. Great post! I totally get where you are coming from. I love the connections I have made through blogging. I’ve made some really good friends over the years. I have been feeling a little bit burned out lately because of the lack of comments. I have struggled that maybe it’s an ego thing. I don’t know. Your post kind of helps me realize that I blog, first and foremost, because I like to write. The comments are icing on the cake. I miss hearing from those that don’t comment as much though.

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    • I blog primarily because I like to write, too, but it’s still disappointing to write to a lukewarm response. That said, I tend only to comment on others’ blogs when I have something meaningful to say or add, which means I read more blog posts than I comment on.

      There are some commenters here who somehow found me near the beginning (six years!) and have stuck with me, and I’m glad for that.

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  7. Steve Miller says:

    Spent Saturday night in Bloomington with some friends celebrating our college radio days and the station’s 50th year — or, more exactly, the fiftieth year of student-run radio at IU. Now, I wasn’t around from the beginning, but close. I’ve never worked in radio but I’m sure glad for the lasting friendships from those days.

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  8. Ben says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for over a year I think. I do virtual road trips sometimes on flickr when I can’t afford the real thing and was drawn here by your interesting pictures of Indiana roads and landmarks (fellow Hoosier here).

    I’ve never commented on one of your posts before, not because I don’t like them, but simply because I usually don’t have anything interesting to add, having little knowledge of the subject presented, but being fascinated nonetheless.

    Interestingly, I’ve also been following Curbside Classic since its beginning (I don’t comment there either!), but was excited when you started guest posting over there. I’ve found your site, CC, and Shorpy all independently from each other, but have been surprised at the overlap between visitors and posters on the three sites. Must be some sort of a personality which I and others possess that overlaps all three. That or maybe the blogosphere is just a bit smaller than we think.

    Keep up the good work.

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    • I’m glad to have you along for the ride, Ben. I’m very happy to know that you find some of my subjects to be fascinating. And it’s cool that you also read Curbside Classic. Truly the Internet is a remarkable place – no matter how arcane the interest, you’ll find someone else who shares it.

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  9. I’ve often compared blogging (and general website feeding) to radio even though I had no radio experience. Now I can call on you as an expert witness if anyone ever challenges me.

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  10. Pingback: Death of a radio station | Down the Road

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