Gordon Hinkley; huge talent, no ego
Some of you grew up listening to him. If you were lucky, you got to meet him. If you were blessed, you were able to work in the same building.
The tributes in the wake of his passing sound amazingly the same. They speak of his talent and ability to connect with the audience, his humor and lack of any discernable ego despite consistent ratings success.
Wisconsin's Morning News was pretty much "put to bed" as we say when a show is planned for the next day. Friday was to be about movies, politics and the ramp up to New Year's, among other things. Then came the sad news about Gordie's passing. I found out early Thursday night, having been out of the pocket at a three hour long movie. The decision was made to blow up the show and dedicate the morning to a radio legend. It was the obvious call.
I spend the night making calls and everyone I tried was more than willing to share: Bob Barry, who competed against Hinkley for years and grow to know him as a friend off the air, Frank Richardson who was Gordie's long-time morning show newsman, and my former partner Bob Reitman who grew up listening to him and who got to know Gordie as a co-worker in the 80's.
I had one open slot to fill, the very first one when we go on the air at five a.m. No guests, no nothing. Just a few sound bites from Gordie's past and what I could put down on a keyboard. This is what I wrote, and read on the air at 5:21. Pardon the 'caps". It's how I write for radio.
THIS IS WHERE GORDON HINKLEY DID WHAT HE DID BEST. ON THIS STATION, ON THESE AIRWAVES, AT AROUND THIS TIME EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING FOR MORE THAN TWO DECADES.
TO BE SITTING IN THIS CHAIR, AT THIS TIME, ON WHAT USED TO BE HIS SHOW IS MORE THAN HUMBLING. I USED TO JOKE THAT I FULLY EXPECT GORDIE TO BUST THRU THE STUDIO DOOR SOME MORNING AND TELL ME TO GET OUT OF HIS SEAT, THAT THOSE OF US WHO FOLLOWED HIM ON THE MORNING SHOW WERE MERELY HOLDING HIS SPOT FOR HIM.
YOU KNOW BY NOW THAT GORDIE DIED THIS WEEK AT THE AGE OF 88.
A LOT OF YOU CONSIDER HIM A FRIEND, EVEN THOUGH YOU NEVER MET HIM. THAT WAS GORDIE'S CHARM--AN ABILITY TO CONNECT, BE IT ON T-V, RADIO, ON-STAGE OR IN-PERSON. HE WAS MULTI-PLATFORM BEFORE 'MULTI-PLATFORM' BECAME A PHRASE.
IT'S ONE THING TO LAST 50 YEARS IN THIS BUSINESS, IT'S ANOTHER TO BE SUCCESSFUL AND AMAZING TO BE SO LOVED, SO RESPECTED, SO CHERISHED.
GORDIE CAME TO RADIO CITY IN 1950...AND BECAME SYNONYMOUS WITH THE LETTERS W-T-M-J. 'ASK YOUR NEIGHBOR', 'INVITATION TO BEAUTY', AND OF COURSE, THE MORNING SHOW WHICH HE HOSTED FROM 1961 UNTIL 1984. HE'D STAY HERE UNTIL CALLING IT A CAREER IN 2001.
LIKE SO MANY OF HIS ERA, GORDON HINKLEY STARTED SMALL--WORKING IN WISCONSIN RAPIDS AND WAUSAU BEFORE MILWAUKEE BECKONED. ABOUT THAT FIRST JOB AT W-F-H-R, HE SAID WHAT SO MANY WHO HAD A CALL TO RADIO WOULD SAY ABOUT HOW THEY GOT THEIR GIG--I JUST KEPT HANGING AROUND."
BEFORE HE CAME HERE, HE SERVED HIS COUNTRY--GORDIE SERVED THREE YEARS IN THE ARMY IN EUROPE AND WAS ON THE AIR WITH THE ARMED SERVICES RADIO NETWORK.
GORDIE WAS A MUSICIAN--HE PLAYED THE PIANO AND HOSTED A CHANNEL FOUR T-V SHOW FEATURING JOE SCHOTT AND HIS HOT SHOTS IN THE 50'S.
HIS RATINGS WERE HUGE. HIS EGO WAS SMALL. WHEN I CAME HERE IN 1982, GORDIE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST TO SAY WELCOME, EVEN THOUGH WE COMPETED FOR LISTENERS IN-HOUSE. NO ONE WAS HAPPIER ABOUT OUR F-M SUCCESS DOWN THE HALL THAN MR. HINKLEY. HE WAS ALWAYS QUICK TO COMPLIMENT.
HOW BIG A DEAL IS GORDON HINKLEY? HE'S IN THE NATIONAL RADIO HALL OF FAME. LOOK UP HIS NAME ON THEIR WEBSITE AND YOU SEE HE'S LISTED AMONG THE LIKES OF BOB HOPE, PAUL HARVEY, CASEY KASEM, MURRAY THE K, AND LARRY KING. THAT'S JUST ON ONE PAGE. HE'S ALSO IN THE WISCONSIN BROADCAST ASSOCIATION HALL OF FAME.
IT'S BEEN A TOUGH WEEK FOR THOSE IN OUR BUSINESS AND THOSE WHO APPRECIATE GREAT LOCAL TALENT...WE JUST LOST MIKE HEGAN THE OTHER DAY. FOR THOSE OF US WHO DIPPED INTO CHICAGO'S SONIC OFFERINGS, THERE WAS LARRY LUJACK WHO DIED LAST WEEK. AND NOW, GORDON HINKLEY.
YOU MEET A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THIS BUSINESS, AND THEY'RE ALL WIRED DIFFERENTLY. NO ONE WAS LIKE GORDIE, WHO WAS THE SAME GUY OFF THE AIR AS HE WAS ON IT. THAT WAS HIS SECRET, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS SO BLATANTLY OBVIOUS EVERY SECOND OF HIS ALMOST 60 YEARS ON AIR.