A New Year’s letter to my son
Dear Russell: This is a departure from 20 years of annual notes to you from your “ink-stained wretch” of a dad. It’s also been 25 years since I started doing radio commentaries, and those 1,300-some scripts are enough.
On the occasion of my retirement from radio, a few broadcasting pals offered some memories I’ll share.
Tri States Public Radio News Director Rich Egger was flattering, saying, “Bill Knight is the Cal Ripken of radio commentators. Week in, week out, he has never missed a week in a quarter century of writing and recording commentaries One fine summer day he drove in from Elmwood with his dog Jake. It was too warm to leave Jake in the car so Bill brought him in to the recording studio. Jake kept quiet, but while Bill recorded Jake nervously paced the room and eventually squatted to poop in the corner. Ever since, I've wondered if the radio audience responds the same way to Bill's commentaries.”
Rich added, “I'm sure Bill will be back to record a guest commentary when the Cubs win the World Series next year. Or the year after that. Or ...”
Peoria public radio veteran Lynne King Grimson, now a counselor with a social services agency, remembered the beginning, saying, “Since [local] TV stopped doing commentaries, the idea was [that Peoria’s] WCBU should. The goal was to find people who would speak out on ‘hot’ issues of the day. (Unfortunately, it was more coercing them into writing a piece that would make people think, and hopefully, speak up.)”
Her colleague Jim Meadows, now with WILL broadcasting in Champaign, added, “You were the longest-lasting of the local commentators, perhaps because you're a professional writer who respects a deadline. Somewhere, I still have a couple of other projects you participated in – the cassette single of the old union song, ‘Newspapermen,’ and the round-robin mystery novel ‘Naked Came the Farmer’ which you coordinated.
He continued, “Your retirement from radio is broadcasting's loss, but maybe now you'll have more time for musical and literary pursuits.”
Former Macomb radio man Bill Wheelhouse, now General Manager at WUIS in Springfield/Pittsfield, recalled my award-winning 1992 commentary about baseball, you, me and Grandpa: “While always idolizing you for your days at the Prairie SUN,” he said, “your love of a lot of things came through in the radio commentary ‘Boys of Summer’.”
Another ex-Macomb broadcaster, Tim Crowley, now with North Carolina’s Department of Commerce, said, “Your commentaries not only taught me, as a young journalist, about thoughtful writing and persuasive arguments, but about life growing up in a small Midwestern community. When you would come in, I knew the t's would be crossed and i's would be dotted. In some commentaries you were an advocate for the people – a ‘Knight in Shining Armor’,” he continued. “In some commentaries you captured the beat of society – ‘the Rhythm of Knight.’ But over 25 years you have been consistently compelling and a voice for those sometime who had no voice – ‘Good Knight’.”
King Grimson chimed in, adding, “Your commentaries on mega-hog farms and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill were spot-on. You put your foot down and were able to use the First Amendment to voice your opinion. You were the only one who took the task at hand seriously. The others were too afraid of walking the corporate line. (‘What would Caterpillar think/say/do?’) [Your other] commentaries that stood out were those taking Caterpillar to task during labor unrest,” she continued. “Caterpillar was a major underwriter [and its] higher-ups didn’t like what you were saying. The gist was to ‘get him under control.’ How do you tell some you respect as a journalist/union supporter to rein it in? I questioned the value of commentaries if we are editing every other word.
“Your tenacity is admired,” she concluded. “If I had to write an epitaph for your headstone, it would likely say, ‘Bill Knight: He fought for the little guy when everyone else sold out’.”
That’s definitely gratifying to hear. But it’s time to leave radio. In the words of Winston Churchill – who certainly knew his way around a microphone during World War II – “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” And economist Herbert Stein (Ben Stein’s dad) put it in terms of inevitability, saying, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
So, I’ll continue to use ink and pen – well, INK, anyway – in my twice-weekly newspaper column. And letters to you, of course. But as far as radio, I’m signing off.
Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.