It was surreal.
Butterflies the size of 727's did nosedives in my stomach as I reported for work that first morning at WKTI in 1982. There was so much to learn--as is the case with any new job--not to mention the fact I'd finally meet my partner in this new shotgun radio marriage I'd gotten myself into, that being Bob Reitman. Our face-time together prior to that first autumn morning consisted of five minutes we spent small-talking during a big concert at County Stadium a year or so before.
Then there were the logistics--where's the teletype? How about the network? Which typewriter do I get to use? How do I run all of this new gear?
There also was a feeling I never had before at a new place of employment: being star struck by the folks around me. Frank Richardson was my news counterpart on WTMJ. There was the legendary AM host Gordon Hinckley. And of course, their sports guy, Jim Irwin.
It was a different time at Radio City, a time when AM and FM were seen as competitors. KTI had nothing for numbers and TMJ was, well, TMJ. We were the FM afterthought and they were, well, TM-freakin'-J.
For all the time I'd spent listening to Jim growing up, the nights I'd seen him doing sports on Green Bay TV before he came to Milwaukee, he was the one of the tougher AM guys to get to know coming out of the blocks. We didn't chat much in those early years, but little by little, things warmed up. Jim would occasionally come down the hall to see what we FM goofballs were up to. When our morning crew got breakfast from Mr. Perkins restaurant, he'd roll his eyes when he'd see me putting sugar on my grits--a move that offended his Missouri dietary standards. As Reitman warmed up to golf the relationship broke wide open. We'd see each other at the annual Lombardi Classic as well as the other functions that surrounded the event. Wives met. Bonds were made. Irwin and Bob grew even closer as they shared many an afternoon on the local charity golf circuit. They'd bust each other's chops about good rounds and bad shots. Jim would shoot the breeze with us after his AM duties were over, and he'd keep dropping by after he retired.
After all that early intimidation, it was easy to forget just who Jim was--he never reminded you that he was a big deal, a multiple Wisconsin Broadcaster of the Year and a member of the Packers Hall of Fame. He was doing a job he loved, living a life he treasured.
His jobs (plural, as he did play by play for so many different teams) kept him on the road--many was the time I'd see him after the morning show, hunched over a flight schedule at the TV assignment desk trying to figure how he'd get to three different cities in two days to do Bucks, Badgers and Packers duty. His work ethic was epic, but no one was more proud of his family than Jim. Wife Gloria was his partner/best friend, and Jim would seem far more at ease telling you about what his kids were doing than speculating on who the Packers were going to take in the upcoming draft.
Jim would drop an occasional e-mail after he retired, commenting on a blog I'd written. I'd always thank him for spending time here, and remind him how flattered I was that he cared what I thought about anything. He'd always stop by when he came back to town for a charity golf outing or to get business done, just to stay in touch and see who was left from the gang he knew so well.
That was the Jim Irwin I'm honored to say I knew: humble, professional, dedicated to job and family, a good friend to the end. We're saying goodbye way too often of late to people who made Radio City a destination, not just a place to snag a paycheck. Every radio station had big personalities. This place had folks like Jim Irwin: bigger than life when I was lucky enough to meet him 30 years ago today. Larger than life, even now that he's gone.