It’s been two-plus decades since his last radio shift there but if Matt Fishman closes his eyes, he can still see the WPGU newsroom — right down to the 13-inch black-and-white TV, IBM Selectric typewriters and that unmistakable early ’90s newsroom smell.
“There was a ‘lounge’ with thick green shag carpeting that always reeked of cigarette smoke,” the 1993 broadcast journalism grad says. “There was also an ashtray in the hallway right outside of the on-air studio so the DJs coul smoke during songs. This was when people could, and did, smoke cigarettes at work.”
Fancy, the station’s Weston Hall basement digs were not. But as an electronic media training ground, it was as good as it gets, says the former sports director at Chicago’s The Score and college sports programming director at Sirius XM, who now runs his own D.C.-area media/marketing consulting firm.
“You would never think the basement of a dorm in the Six Pack would be the start of so many great radio careers, but it has been. I have so many fond memories of working there.
“I loved the people I worked with, the bare-bones facility, and the passion everyone had for radio. If I tried to mention all the people I loved working with at WPGU, this would be 10 pages long. Instead, I’ll share a few of my favorite on-air and off-the-air stories.
“The first person who comes to mind at WPGU is (future LAPD public information director) Josh Rubenstein. Josh was a news anchor and he often did news when I was the sports guy. For one semester, we were the news/sports tandem for morning drive.
“The shift started with our first update at 6:20. Needless to say, Josh was prone to oversleeping his alarm. Here’s what would happen. In the days before cell phones I would call Josh at his apartment. When he answered the phone, there was no sign of panic.
“He would say ‘Hey Fish, what’s going on?’ Like I had just called to shoot the bull, not because he had to be on the air in 10 minutes. He did this every time he overslept.
“My second favorite story about Josh involved the boxer Mike Tyson. In 1992, Mike Tyson was on trial facing rape charges in Indianapolis. Josh’s copy for the story read, ‘Mike Tyson has been ordered by a ...’
“Instead, the words that came out of his mouth were, ‘Mike Tyson has been murdered.’ Clearly not the truth, nor what was written on the copy. Being the mature juniors at Illinois, neither Josh nor I could recover from this hilarious mistake, so morning jock Scott Sweitzer had to end the news portion and put on a song.”
It was, as they say, a different time.
“The DJs played songs from records and some on this ‘new’ technology of compact discs,” Fishman remembers. “I know it sounds like a million years ago as I describe it, and it looks that long ago as well. But these bare-bones facilities brought the best out of everyone and helped prepare them for careers in radio, TV, media relations, ad sales and promotions. It was a real commercial radio station, run by students, competing with every other station in the market.
“To this day, I still have dreams that I’m back at U of I and invariably I have a sportscast to prepare for WPGU, even though I’m not sure they even have sports anymore.”