Your Well-Lit Public Area or Mine?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


Based on a number of true stories from my teen years in Stow, Ohio.

Submitted: August 25, 2018

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Submitted: August 25, 2018

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Your Well-Lit Public Area or Mine?

 

The local FM talk radio station formerly known as WKNT changed its call letters to WNIR one year, and forever became known to Stowbillies as “Winner 100”. The line-up of talk show hosts remained relatively unchanged, with the legendary Howie Chizek keeping most of the heat on during the day. At night, however, the airwaves belonged to a perennially optimistic radio host named Jim Albrecht and his “Dating Show”. The Dating Show became 4 hours of the most riveting local radio ever produced, since there was every chance you knew either the caller or the prospective suitors personally. Although the host tried his best to enforce the first names only rule on air, there were always a few callers who inadvertently gave away the identity goods too soon, which in turn led to some serious ribbing at school the next week.

The Dating Show followed a relatively straightforward format. A candidate over the age of 18 would call the WNIR studio number, where he or she might speak with a producer before being put on hold for the actual show. The host would be given a few basic facts-- Line 1 is Kerry, 27 years old, from Streetsboro-- and he would proceed to chat with her on air for about 10 minutes or so. It was usually enough time for listeners to get the idea that she was a genuine contender and did not reek of desperation and Love's Baby Soft. After Jim and Kerry were through with the first interview, he would open the phone lines to prospective suitors. These callers presumably did NOT go through the same vetting process with a producer that Kerry did. These were often cold calls, with only a 5 second digital delay button standing between them and the general public. Jim would simply answer “Dating show”, and the caller would make his pitch. Sometimes the clicking sound we heard was Jim killing out an obscenity-laced rant or adolescent callers who were clearly not in it to win it.

The legitimate callers would undergo one of Jim's patented one minute interrogations, in which he tried to suss out why this caller thought he was good enough to date his “daughter”, who was still on hold but could hear everything. If the caller passed the initial sniff test, he would be put on hold while another caller went through the process. Eventually, there would be enough suitors on hold for Kerry to return to the conversation. She would talk to each caller individually, which was indeed every bit as uncomfortable and awkward as it sounds. Jim would then ask Kerry if she was interested in getting to know any of the callers better, and if she actually selected someone (not everyone did), they would exchange phone numbers off the air. This basic pattern continued for 4 more hours: Contestant, chat, callers, interrogation, decision, number exchange. Contestant, chat, callers, interrogation, decision, number exchange.

Because the Dating Show stayed on the air for so many years, it gained a cult following among the locals. We all had Dating Show stories to tell, either as contestants, callers, listeners or critics. The show really became more appealing when many of us migrated to the Kent State or Akron Zoo zip codes and discovered how difficult the adult dating scene could be. Suddenly calling a familiar voice and taking a chance on three strangers while on the radio didn't sound nearly as crazy as it once did. It was certainly no crazier than talking to a punk rock chick over a garbage burger at Jerry's Diner at 3 in the morning, or trying to compete with the Eurotrash dance music offerings at the Town House. At least the mission statement of the Dating show included the idea of actually connecting with someone else who was also at home listening to the radio on a Friday night.

One Dating Show story revolved around a contestant we shall call Denise. Denise was an older woman, with an engaging personality, a strong on-air presence and a somewhat husky voice. Jim chatted with Denise for an unusually long time, which apparently gave Denise the courage to divulge something very personal about her life. At one point, Denise had been a man named Dennis. Dennis apparently had his Little Dennis surgically converted several years earlier, and Denise replaced Dennis on her driver's license. Jim allowed a few seconds of dead air to pass before responding to her with an uncharacteristically tepid “Oh...really?”. The mental picture I had in my head was a switchboard filled with blinking lights suddenly going dark. The five second delay button got friction burns as Jim dutifully worked his way through the ineligible callers. Finally a few legitimate calls did get through and he was able to arrange an off-air number exchange between Denise and a man from the progressive city of Akron, Ohio. Jim would later say on air that he had his doubts about Denise and her claims of transsexualism. He became convinced “she” was a male prank caller who wanted to see how far he could go with the character before Jim hung up on him.

A few years later, the station set up a remote broadcast of the Dating Show at a restaurant near Akron. By now, Jim was a local institution, and a lot of former participants wanted to meet him to provide updates or whatever. That night, a woman came up to Jim during a commercial break and introduced herself as Denise. Yes, THAT Denise. She told Jim the date itself didn't work out, but the decision to appear on his show as Denise gave her the confidence to re-enter the dating world as a woman, not as a transvestite. She thanked Jim for treating her with respect, even after the awkward turn their original on air conversation took. Jim mentioned meeting Denise on a later show, noting that she was a very striking woman, and most people would never guess she once had a different set of equipment.

Some of the hook-ups arranged during the show took very bad turns in real life. Most were of the “now some creepy guy has my phone number” variety, but a few were more serious. This is one reason why the host and the producers of the Dating Show encouraged contestants to meet their blind dates at public locations and to use their best judgment when it came to future dates or the sharing of more personal information. The station itself could not be held liable for the actions of contestants or callers, so the show relied heavily on people playing nicely with each other. If things didn't work out after the first date, one person should go this way and the other one should go that way. Two ships and all that.

However, this wasn't always the case, and one night Jim nearly paid the ultimate price for introducing the wrong two people. Apparently the first date did not go well at all, since one of them was not a manic depressive psychopath with anger management issues. The other one decided that the Dating Show must pay for putting him together with a woman who did not drink his favorite brand of crazy juice. He called the WNIR studios in search of Jim Albrecht. The message was he was coming to kill him, and Hell was coming with him. Click. The station called several local law enforcement agencies, and they soon had enough information to identify the man and the car he was driving. Because this was all unfolding in real time, listeners would periodically call the station with updates. The car was now in Stow, the car was seen on 59, the car was in downtown Kent, etc. None of this information was of much comfort to Jim, who decided to host the show from underneath his desk that night.

Eventually the man and his car were detained on the road which led to the WNIR studio. The police discovered several empty bottles of alcohol and a loaded revolver in the vehicle. The man continued to issue threats against the Dating Show while being escorted to the Kent city jail. When news of the man's capture reached Jim, he thanked all of his listeners for their support and diligence and resumed his show after a longer than usual commercial break. For those of us listening to the drama unfold over the air, it was a useful object lesson on the hazards of setting up blind dates for a living.

The Dating Show format would eventually lose out to personal ads in tabloid newspapers for singles, then the much wider net of Internet dating websites like Match.com and Great Expectations. More single people wanted to know their potential dates had been professionally vetted, or at least provided legitimate information on their applications and profiles. The randomness and public scrutiny of a call-in radio dating show was no longer as appealing as it had once been, but for a few glorious years in the Stow area, Jim and WNIR did bring a lot of lonely people together, and that can only be a good thing.

 


© Copyright 2018 Michael Pollick. All rights reserved.

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