I am a born-and-bred Cheesehead. That’s with a capital “C.” For those of you internationalists, that means I’m from Wisconsin. Damn glad to meet you.
I have lived in the Badger State all of my life, except for one year in 1969. My father worked in broadcasting as an announcer for most of his career, which means my siblings and I were doomed to move from place-to-place for the sake of my Dad’s job on a fairly regular basis.
If you work in radio or television, that’s just normal and part of the life, and it really hasn’t changed much since then. Anchors, reporters, and announcers often just disappear from your favorite newscast without explanation, unless the talent is extremely popular in the community and the resulting absence would be too conspicuous. Something bigger and better is always out there, or station management has little patience for status quo when ratings are at stake. Most likely, that requires a certain tolerance of travel and relocation.
I’m actually the lucky one in my family as I’ve had the shortest experience being moved about the Midwest, unlike my siblings who have memories of living town to town. Mom and Dad certainly obeyed biblical mandate and were fruitful and multiplied 6 kids covering 4 states from 1955 to 1964. I was the last, born in Green Bay, WI.
I only moved outside the state once so that Dad could take a job anchoring the news desk for KFIZ television in Ottumwa, Iowa (for those of you M*A*S*H fans, yes, the home of Radar O’Reilly). I have fond memories of coming home at lunch from half-day kindergarten to watch Dad report the afternoon news while I enjoyed my peanut butter and jelly sandwich or whatever creation Mom would make for me. That was a unique experience that not many kids could match in small, podunk Ottumwa.
Before that, though, Dad worked for WJPG Radio in Green Bay for several years before we made the haul to Iowa. That was from 1960 to 1968…and if you’re in any way a football fan, you understand the importance of living in Northeast Wisconsin during that time frame.
Those were the glory years of Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers, and it was a great time to be living and working in Green Bay, especially if you were in broadcasting.
I grew up in the shadows of what was then known as New City Stadium, or as you know it now – Lambeau Field. As Dad’s job was to cover the news in the greater Fox River Valley Area, he frequently talked to players and coaches, and as a result, knew many on a first-name basis. He was also a member of the Masons in Green Bay and so was Bart Starr, so both would interact with each other on a fairly regular basis.
Periodically, a few of my brothers would go with Dad to conduct interviews after practice. My father told me once that I had even met Coach Lombardi when I was very young, but that could have been a father just trying to impress his son. Why not? I wouldn’t remember it anyway.
Green Bay was a different place compared to what it is these days. It’s still the smallest stadium in the NFL and has a quaint originality as it stands out among the working-class homes and bustling businesses that surround it.
Back then, though, it was smaller and even more close-knit than what it is today. Life and work would often intersect each other for both the players and the community. It was common to see Fuzzy Thurston or Willie Wood at the corner grocery store. You might see Jerry Kramer at the local eatery. To the day he died, Ray Nitschke kept his phone number in the public directory because he would love to talk to adoring fans. They were never a bother to him. The players not only worked in the community, but they were also a part of the community.
One of my favorite stories that my brothers still tell today involved Bart Starr’s backup, Zeke Bratkowski. Zeke and his family lived on the same block as mine, and it was common for all the neighborhood kids to gather periodically for a game of football. Fathers would sometimes join in or just come out to see the action, and Zeke was no different. Periodically, he would pick up the football when time allowed and join in the fun. His position? Quarterback, of course, but he would play for both sides as the all-time QB. That was dependent on one rule that all kids had to obey: you couldn’t touch Mr. Bratkowski.
I wish I had stories like that to tell my kids, but I was too young and really don’t remember much from that age, so I rely on my siblings to relive those stories from my father’s past. By the time I really had a grasp of what he did for a living, he had left radio and TV in 1974 and took a retail gig until his retirement, although he dabbled in voice overs for some stations from time to time. Dad never lost the pipes he developed over a lifetime for radio, and you heard it every time he spoke publicly – when he addressed the congregation in church, while reading books to the grandchildren, even when he recorded an outgoing message on the answering machine.
To say I wasn’t influenced by him would be a bold-faced lie as I was sure I would find myself following a similar road to what Dad traveled. I too went to college to learn those silky smooth radio skills but never finished that path to completion. I followed a different route that led me elsewhere, and I wonder sometimes where I would be had I kept the faith and stayed true to those intentions.
Do I have regrets? Perhaps…I don’t know many people who have none at all. Looking back, I truly wonder if my choices initially might have had more to do with what I had hoped to be a father’s pride for his son vs. actually following my own path. What I do know is that had you suggested to me in high school that I was destined to complete a graduate degree in leadership studies, I would of thought you were crazy, drunk or both. I’m quite content where I am now, a family man focused on helping my children grow into the careers they choose.
I hope…..no….I know my father would be proud.