Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of “Life As We Know It”

Many years ago, when my brothers and I were a lot younger, we did what siblings often do. We tossed what we considered to be clever insults at each other, all in good fun. They would tease me that as a print journalist I was in the wrong line of work. “You’ve got the perfect face for radio,” they would tell me.

They were probably right, but I had newspaper ink in my blood and had no expectations of ever going over to the “other side,” the electronic media. I graduated from college on a Saturday morning in June, 1965, and reported for my first day of work at The Blade two days later. I’m still at it.

But life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Eventually, after 42 years of full-time Blade employment, I retired in 2007. I was ready to stop working but not ready to stop writing. Three months after my last day at the office, I launched a commentary column on the op-ed pages of The Blade, a rewarding task that continues to this day.

Six years after the launch, early in 2013, it occurred to me that I might have something to say in a different format. I had just finished a long run as host of a weekly public affairs television program here on WGTE public television called “The Editors.” The opportunities the show provided remain among the favorite memories of my life. Our guests ranged from governors and senators to astronauts, to professional athletes such as the great Johnny Bench, to entertainers such as actor Jamie Farr, Toledo’s own. I learned something from every one of them.

But with the TV gig in the past, I needed a new outlet. So I approached a friend and fellow Rotarian, WGTE general manager Marlon Kiser, to gauge his interest in adding me to his lineup of on-air commentators. He and Darren Lashelle, who worked for WGTE at the time, came up with a plan. “How about four minutes on Mondays during the afternoon commute?” they asked.

Darren explained that WGTE had four minutes of air available during a break in NPR’s popular “All Things Considered” broadcast, just ahead of the dinner hour. Would that be okay? I hemmed and hawed for about two seconds. “Deal,” I said.

My first broadcast aired 10 years ago this month, in February 2013. I was nervous, but Marlon and Darren had put me in the capable hands of producer Chris Peiffer, who not only guided me through the technical stuff but “coached” me in the nuances of speaking on radio. Monotone, in other words, was out. Throw in some emotion, he said. Have some fun. I must have paid attention because I’m still having fun. At some point in the early years I managed to transition from a script reader to a “performer” of sorts. I enjoy that aspect of my radio gig very much.

One particular episode a while back illustrates the point. I had to figure out how to present an imaginary back and forth conversation between two people. High voice. Low voice. Back to high. Pausing just enough when required. It sounded goofy when I practiced but just fine on the air. Lesson learned.

One of the unexpected and pleasant surprises of doing a weekly radio commentary has been the inspiration it has often provided regarding my Blade column. Occasionally an episode of “Life As We Know It” will suggest broader treatment of the subject in the print column. Once in a while the same thing will happen in reverse: a column will inspire an abbreviated version for radio that forces me to focus and incorporate new thoughts.

I recall wondering when I began “Life As We Know It” if people who had read my stuff in The Blade for years would be interested enough to tune in. Would I wear out my welcome? Fortunately the verdict seems positive. I continue to hear from Blade readers about the column, but I also talk to people who hear the broadcast but don’t see the newspaper. God bless ’em all.

If I had to identify an overarching theme of “Life As We Know It,” it would be this: I try to take the responsibility seriously but not myself. I think a shot of humor now and then helps make a serious point quite effectively. After decades on the editorial page, I was ready to lighten up.

Over the years Chris and I have gotten into the habit of taping several episodes in one session rather than doing them one at a time once a week. That has worked well, although there are times when I need to be mindful of the time gap between the taping and the air date. So far I don’t recall any episodes that had to be thrown in the trash because they were overtaken by events. Chris may remember one, but I don’t.

I need to also say how humbled I am to be featured on the WGTE website alongside such talented contributors as Mary Claire Murphy, Brad Creswell, Hayley Taylor, and Fritz Byers, an old friend whose skills as a First Amendment lawyer are matched by his love of jazz. WGTE listeners are enriched because those four and so many others on both the radio and TV side give so generously of themselves.

As I step into my sunset years, my brothers’ insistence that I have the perfect face for radio is more accurate than I would like. But I don’t consider it an insult. For the 500th or so time at the mic, I’m right where I want to be.