Knowing you can always count on me…for sure…that’s what friends are for. In the winter of 1986 that song was a huge hit for Dionne Warwick along with Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder. If I never hear that song again, it will be too soon but its message resonated like never before this past week in my (little) hometown.
30 years ago, I found myself nearly a year out of the University of Illinois joining forces with a band of other radio neophytes from Bloomington and Peoria, Illinois, respectively. Some could say we were exiled to Joliet, Illinois – a depressed (formerly booming) river town best known for a penitentiary and the Blues Brothers. For us, it was an opportunity for true, full-time on-air work at a little station that could: WJTW (formerly polka station, WAJP). We were in a strange town, a new station and away from home for the holidays. ‘Friends’ was one of the first songs we played on the station (and we played it incessantly). It still brings back memories good and bad.
John Weis joined the WJTW air staff from WBNQ in Bloomington, Illinois and instantly became a friend for life as we bonded amid separation from family and friends and worked side-by-side each day. That friendship was reinforced this week as I found myself unexpectedly back in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois to tend to my ailing mother in the hospital. Able to work largely from a room in the hospital where I was born (thanks to the hard work and support of my Tanner Friedman colleagues and friends), I found myself nearly 400 miles from the CBS Radio recording studio where, each month, I voice radio commercials for client The Suburban Collection.
A call to John, whom I would see in town on occasion during visits, soon led to lunch at famed Monical’s Pizza for radio reminiscing and an invitation to use one of the production studios at a former radio station (WLRW) where I had worked just prior to moving on to Joliet. John programs and oversees the now seven-station cluster as well as mans Afternoons as “Jonathan Drake”. It seemed like old times as that mutual respect, kinship and crazy irreverence was once again experienced with me voicing and him producing. The photo in this blog is me and John in the now (albeit different) WLRW (now Mix 94.5) on-air studio. With voice tracks laid down and appropriately edited, John was able to then email them to CBS’s Doak Breen in Detroit for final production. After John posted the photo to his Facebook page, other former Joliet colleagues and friends chimed in. A radio reunion indeed.
As of this writing, my mom is out of the hospital and recuperating in a rehab facility. For nearly eight days I was able to complete work right next to her while also serving as an in-person advocate for her care – work/life balance realized (and not necessarily in that order). And all of this thanks to the generosity of others (like John), family members, relatives (and, again, my TF colleagues) to give of and be flexible with their time, step up in a time of need and reaffirm friendship and the collaborative spirit. And, I found, I needed the camaraderie and support as much as anyone. Just like Dionne and her friends sang nearly three decades ago. Maybe the song is not so bad after all.