A few weeks ago, I attended a wake of a guy by the name of Don Ladas.
For 50-plus years, he was a sports announcer and ad salesman for WJOL radio in Joliet and hosted a long-running show dedicated to local bowling. He also published a sports newspaper in the area and was the second person to ever pay me money for writing.
He was a giant in the Joliet area. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few of our readers heard about him out here.
Ladas and the other people during the station’s heyday represented something that some people don’t get to experience – a community radio station.
While people around here have Chicago stations to turn to, people in Joliet and Will County swear by WJOL. Sometimes they swear at it but mostly they swear by it.
When I was growing up, it was local during all of the daytime hours and most of the nighttime hours with music, area news and sports.
Now it’s a part of a big media conglomeration, but still has local morning and afternoon drive-time programming and high school football and basketball games.
The rest is syndicated shows. It’s not the same time frame, but the reduced local clock they work with still has plenty of quality programming.
People turn to their local radio stations for news about what’s going on in their town. This station covers the usual stuff such as board meetings and elections. But Joliet is pretty lively with big time crimes and gang violence dotting the landscape and the Will County area has its shares of tornados and floods to report on.
Joliet is also a town with the Des Plaines River running through it and five drawbridges that could muck up traffic. The station used to announce which bridge was up and which bridge was next to rise. My old man always wondered how they knew that, but there was some electronic gizmo in their previous studios on what they called “Top Radio Hill’’ that would alert them when a bridge was ready to lift.
I recently heard the station described as a “comfort’’ to people and that the local personalities such as Scott Slocum and Steve Brandy (yes, that’s his real last name and not a radio name) are like family.
The daytime reception is strong and I still listen to AM-1340 in the mornings when I take my daughter, Lauren, to school just like my parents listened to it when taking me to school all those years ago. She doesn’t appreciate it, however. She would rather hear Katy Perry’s “Roar” for the 14 millionth time than that boring local news.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Back in my day, I would have rather heard Ted Nugent or Black Sabbath on my way to school, but we didn’t have FM radio in the car. So local boring local news and talk it was, darn it!
But as I got older, and into the newspaper business, I started to listen to it because I wanted to. Lo and behold, one day I was covering a high school basketball game and another local radio legend, Frank O’Leary, wanted me on his halftime show to talk sports.
So I was on those very radio waves that I had listened to for so many years. I’ve been on there on and off many times over the year since, including numerous times on the Ladas-hosted “Shooting the Breeze’’ program and Brandy’s “Brando’s Garage”
Around here, there is no community station. Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn are too close to Chicago, so it likely wasn’t smart to try to create one there. Our other communities were too small for one. In hindsight, Orland Park woulda, coulda, shoulda built one when it was going through its growing boom and could have hooked in the Palos towns and Tinley Park with it.
But that didn’t happen and with the landscape the way it is, it probably will never happen.
But for those of us lucky enough to have had a station we could call our own, it’s something worth broadcasting to the world.
Stagg staffers rescue us
We need to give a special shout out to Stagg High School staffers Matt Verniere and Laura Begani for helping one of our freelance photographers who was having some mechanical distress with his camera while taking photos Friday night at the Stagg-Sandburg girls basketball game.
Their beyond-the-call-of-duty kindness not only saved the Reporter-Regional sports section’s bacon but perhaps the good karma rubbed off on the Chargers’ basketball team, which was losing big in the closing minutes of the game but came up with a monumental comeback victory.
Anyway, we appreciate Matt and Laura’s efforts and give them a public high-five.
POLCHOW, POLCHOW, POLCHOW!
If I had a blackboard here in the office, I would write Polchow on it 100 times for my egregious mistake that exposes me to ridicule when two weeks ago, I botched the name of the most important family in Chicago Ridge.
The good news is that in a photo package on page 4, I called them “Polchow” four times. The bad news is that I called them “Palchow” two times. While a 4-for-6 ratio is pretty good in hitting baseballs and shooting basketballs, it’s unacceptable in the newspaper world.