Monday, April 2, 2012

E.C. "Tug" Haddock

Mentor #2 is E. C. "Tug" Haddock, the former manager of WIUM-FM (91.3) at Western Illinois University in Macomb.

Despite being turned into a "student" by Ken Tarpley at Crystal Lake Community High School (see prior post), I was not much of a go-getter when it came to classes at WIU.  I used to tell my Fremd students that my major at Western was "Hops and Barley."  And that is an understatement!  I actually flunked out of college, and only my mother's prayers got me back in on appeal in November of 1967.

Now the food in the dorms at Western was crap (you could only eat so much turkey tetrazzini) so my roommate and I used to go out and eat at Derry's Cafe on the square in Macomb.  You could always get a home cooked meal at Derry's, and in May Derry's had strawberry shortcake that was so good my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.  It got to the point where we were going 3-4 nights a week for dinner at Derry's (lots of $, but I was playing in a rock band at the time making lots of $).

I knew who Tug Haddock was, but he always scared the crap out of me.  He was gruff, loud, and he smoked Marboro reds one after another.  I wanted to take his radio courses in the WIUM studio, but I never had the courage to sign up.

My roommate Brian Powers and I would watch and listen to Tug holding court in Derry's while we were eating dinner (Tug ate there EVERY night), and let me tell you Tug was a classic.  He used to take his "boys," the students who worked at WIUM, to Florida over spring break, and then he'd talk about what happened on the trip for the next six months.  Come September, he'd start to talk about the upcoming trip and how wild it was going to be.

I used to dream about going on that Tug Haddock spring break trip.  Oh, yeah, Tug was a confirmed bachelor and had never been married.  The photo above must be from the 1950's because he was much older when I knew him between 1966-76. 

Tug always bragged about his girlfriend in Florida, and he would regale the Derry's regulars with stories about what he was going to do to her when he got down there, and later when he got back, he'd tell his Derry's buddies what he had done to her.  My roommate Brian and I just sat there listening to him, completely entertained!

I finally got the nerve to take Tug's radio course during winter quarter of 1968-69.  He'd sit behind the board showing us stuff, we'd take a test, and then he'd move on to something else.  I think we got to do a station ID once on the air during the first six weeks of the class, but otherwise Tug's radio class was somewhat of a yawner.

Finally, as we approached the end of the class, things began to pick up.  Tug let us actually go on the air and do a newscast.  I did mine and was asked the next day to do another, then another.  Finally, I became the student in the class who was pulling most of the air time.  On my way out of the radio station one day, Tug said to me, "Wyman, I like the way you read the news."  I couldn't believe it!  Did I have a chance of becoming one of Tug's "boys" and going on the spring break trip?  Nah, that couldn't happen, or could it?

The quarter ended, I flunked my draft physical (after months of appeals) in February of 1969, quit school, and went to live in Vieques, Puerto Rico.  Tug had told me to contact him when the spring quarter started about taking a course in the fall that would allow me to work at the radio station and get three hours of credit.  After that he said I might have a chance of becoming a paid employee of WIUM.

But I was now diving for conch shells in Vieques, PR during spring quarter.  My budding radio career was on hold.

The next summer, I decided to return to the real world and headed back to WIU.  I wrote Tug a letter at the beginning of the summer asking if I could take the radio internship course he had talked about the year before.  He wrote back that I would need to get my FCC third class license, and if I did, I could take his class.

I took the train into Chicago in July of 1969, took the test, passed it, wrote him back that I was good to go, and headed off to WIU in September of 1969 with my new FCC license.

But now the story takes a turn, make that a couple of turns.  My first day working at WIUM, in Sept. of 1969, I had to turn on the transmitter, get a WIU football game on the air, and play the public service announcements during the breaks in the game.

During my absence, the old control board had been torn out, and a new Gates Stereo Statesman board had been installed,.  The rest of the studio had been completely remodeled.  No one was there to help me on my first day so I had to call the student station manager and have him coach me through everything over the telephone.  I was completely spent at the end of the shift and pretty pissed too!

Then, a couple of weeks later, Larry Sebby (a friend I later reconnected with at WSPY in Plano and who was instrumental in getting my wife a job at Serena), who recorded the Music Department's weekly programs for WIUM, brought in the tapes and I put the first one on backwards and played it in its entirety with a muffled sound.  I had no idea how to fix it.

When I walked in on Monday, Tug called me in his office, slammed the door, and said, "Wyman, if you think you can come in here and fuck things up like you've fucked them up before around this campus, you've got another thing coming.  Now I've been on the phone all morning with the chairman of the music department because you can't get a fucking tape on the reel to reel correctly.  If you don't get with it, I'm going to fail you in the course, and never let you near this place again."  I guess from what he said that my spotty reputation on campus had preceded me to WIUM; now that's the story of my life!

Tug gave me a "B" in the course because of my music department screw-up, but the last week of class, he offered me a job for winter quarter working at the station for $1.60 an hour, which was minimum wage.  "Wyman, I'm giving you a chance," he said.  "Don't fuck it up!"

A few days later, he came up to me and asked me to come in his office again.  "Here we go," I thought.  "I've done something else to ashcan my fledgling radio career."

But Tug was smiling!  He handed me a Lynn Anderson record:  "Rose Garden," and he said he was starting a country and western show on Saturday nights between 6:00-8:00, and he wanted me to host it before my rock show.
Now being from Crystal Lake, Illinois, I knew nothing about country music except for some rock-a-billy stuff from the 50's. Tug had purchased a bunch of country records and had a separate rack for them.  He'd call up during my show and say, "Can you play 'The Wayward Wind,' by Gogi Grant?"  He'd laugh and say he was calling from his "suburban palatial estate," which was actually a trailer on the south side of Macomb.

But this story is not over yet.  I did the country music show for four quarters at WIUM, through March of 1971.  In January of '71, I began to send out letters and resumes, looking for a full-time job in radio.  On my resume was the fact that I was currently a country disc jockey at WIUM.

Roger Coleman (mentor #3), the general manager of WGIL AM & FM in Galesburg, about 50 miles northeast of Macomb, was switching his FM station from beautiful music to country, and he was looking for a full-time country DJ.  He hired me, and I became the first full-time country DJ on WGIL-FM, which is now WAAG, FM-95, THE Country Station, and is the most successful radio station in the Pritchard Broadcasting chain.  I'll talk about my days at WGIL later because this blog is supposed to be about Tug.

After I graduated and started at WGIL, Roger Coleman began to expand his personnel and so the WIU Mafia was born (That's what current WGIL chief engineer Rick Heath calls it!).  Bill Moehle, Denny Shaw, Ron Roberg, John Biermann, all worked for WGIL/WAAG.  Heath went to WIU as well and interned while I was working at WGIL.

And oh, was Tug proud!  Eddie Howard, who had graduated way before us and went to work at a radio station in Effingham, had been the only WIU grad to work in radio after graduating.  And now here were a whole bunch of WIUM grads who were working in radio, and working for a great company, Galesburg Broadcasting.  WGIL-FM/WAAG was now a 50,000 watt station that you could hear all the way into Missouri, and people were beginning to listen!

I used to stop in and see Tug when I was selling advertising for WGIL-FM in Macomb, and we would talk about the business as he smoked one Marlboro after another.  He'd laugh and tell me with a wink about his upcoming trip to Florida during spring break.

Tug had a heart attack and died in the 1980's, leaving behind a great legacy at WIUM.  Many of his graduates (including me) are still working in radio, and mentioning his name always brings a smile to a WIUM grad's face.

Thanks, Tug, for everything you did for me.  I once wrote in a job application letter that you "pulled me off the scrap heap and got me right again."  And that's exactly what you did!

I never got to go on the trip to Florida with you but that's ok because I don't think the real trip could ever be as exciting as what my imagination tells me it was like.

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