The weather was unsettled; and so was I. Yesterday was another day of idleness. I didn’t feel motivated to do any of my projects. Lounging in the easy chair was exactly where I wanted to be. Naturally, the default state of mind was wandering.
The image of the former technical engineer at KTCH radio in Wayne, Nebraska came to mind. Don was perhaps the most kind-hearted, generous man I’ve ever had the honor of working with. While, I’ve been fortunate to have befriended several kind, generous coworkers, Don stands out heads and shoulders above any coworkers who I remember.
When I was the brand new hire. It was up to Don to show me the ropes. His shift ran from mid-morning until mid-afternoon. His time-slot was the bread and butter portion of each weekday. In fact, it was the lion’s share of the broadcast day because KTCH-AM is a “daytimer”. That is, the station has been licensed to be on the air only during daylight hours. There are atmospheric and meteorological reasons for that, but I won’t bother you with those details.
Anyhow, Don impressed me right away with his friendly demeanor, authentic humor, and eagerness to help. He took me under his wing the way an exceptional mentor customarily does with his protégés. He turned out to be a very patient teacher. His technique brought out my desire to learn. Don said he felt compelled to share what he learned through the school of hard-knocks. He loved to talk about his jobs at other small-market stations.
One of the most outstanding displays of Don’s generosity was that his eagerness to teach a fellow announcer and me his technical and engineering skills. He believed our lives would be better if we obtained our First Class FCC licenses. They would take us further than our third class tickets. A First Class license holder must possess ready knowledge about electronics theory and technical skills. Broadcasters were required to either have a First Class ticket holder on staff or have an independent, consulting First Class license operator contracted for routine and emergency maintenance purposes. If there was no first class engineer, the FCC would not issue an operating license to run the station.
Mark, the other announcer Don wanted to teach, thought it would be a good idea for us to accept the offer. Mark and I were already pals, so we would make ideal study partners. Don was pleased to see our willingness to learn. Don said he did not want to accept payment for his tutoring. We would meet once each week at his home so he could better share his expertise with us.
Don was a thorough teacher. Mark and I learned basic theory, we were taught diagrams and symbols. He showed us how vacuum tubes work and all about solid state transistors and other components. We filled notebooks with sketches, schematic diagrams, and notes. Nearly everything I now know about electronics was granted to me, without cost, by Don.
As it turned out though, neither Mark nor I followed through to take the FCC examination to qualify for our First Class licenses. We needed more intense study than our schedules allowed. Mark and I not only worked our radio shifts, but we were full-time college students. Mark was a business major and I was studying communication arts applied to the studio production part of radio and television, not the engineering end.
I’m sure Don felt disappointed that Mark and I never did take our First Class exams. On the other hand, his daughter told us that he was genuinely happy that we learned what we did. I used that knowledge in order to assist Don with some of his transmitter, and studio equipment maintenance chores. When the station acquired permission to operate an FM station, Don had me help install the new transmitter and tune it to the new antennas on the new tower. This was pretty heady stuff.
Don’s generosity came through in many other practical ways. The days of a severe blizzard come to mind. Paul, the morning-drive time announcer, and I lived in a vintage trailer-house on the rural radio station property. When the storm raced into the county, Paul and I were the only staffers at the station. We had to keep both radio stations on the air, read bulletins, answer phone calls and otherwise take care of anything else that needed to be done during the weather emergency.
Since there were only two of us keeping the station running and the area residents informed, we ran ourselves ragged. There was no way either of us could make a run for town for help or supplies. The snow drifts were so high and hard packed that cattle were able to walk out of the fields on top of the sturdy drifts covering fences. I looked out one of the station’s windows and came face to face with a cow standing next to my nearly covered Vega station wagon. It’s an image I’ll always remember.
Eventually, the state highway department was able to open the highway to town. Don was the first coworker to arrive. He brought us coffee and cigarettes because Paul and I ran out of both early in the emergency. Furthermore, Don and his wife invited Paul and I to their home to share a hearty breakfast with him and his family.
Eventually Don and his family moved to Kansas, but he stayed in touch. Don passed away several years ago. His spirit of generosity is still alive in my memories.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes oceanographer, conservationist, filmmaker, photographer, inventor, and innovator, Jacques Yves Cousteau. “It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.”