Chet Walker, a coworker of 20 years, is no longer employed by our radio station.
That reality leaves me sad and sentimental.
But it does not leave me dispirited or discouraged, or shaking my fist at corporate masters. Rather, I come to work today as I do every day, excited about the opportunity and enthused about the station and its future.
I tuned in to WHAM accidentally the first time, a soldier about to be discharged, in town for a job interview at the newspaper. I heard Dr. Dean Edell, a physician answering questions on the radio, and it was interesting, and the next morning when I turned on the car, there was Chet.
And Bill Lowe and Bill Klein and Beverly Morgan. Later there would be Beth Adams and others in and out and over a handful of years these people became my radio friends.
Then, after five or six years, on a lark, I asked the guy who ran the station if I could fill in for his talk show host. A couple of years later I had the job fulltime.
And Chet was there, a talented and intelligent and professional figure. In a cast of excellent broadcasters, he was the ring master, the on-air leader of the station.
By then, he had been at WHAM for probably 10 years already. He went to Geneseo and was hired in Warsaw and then made the jump to WHAM, a big move in those days and a clear reflection of his unique ability.
He did everything. And he did it exceptionally well. Long-form interviews with wordsmiths and politicians on the Focus program, great repartee through the morning, and weekly masterworks in which he held together the glorious Green Thumb program. Once, while still a columnist at the newspaper, I called Chet as a fan and gushed that he ought to syndicate the gardening show and take it national.
Then I got to be his coworker.
And I got to witness firsthand what I then and now consider to be radio magic. I was still a fan, I just got to watch as well as listen.
Chet and I are different types of people. He is educated and gracious. He wears a tie to work. I am uneducated and coarse. I wear jeans and t-shirts. I also suspect that each election day our votes cancel one another out.
And there were times when I clearly irritated Chet. One ill-conceived pairing sought to push us into daily sparring matches at the end of his show. Occasionally they left us genuinely ticked off at one another.
We never became personal friends. Our families didn’t socialize and we didn’t see one another outside work. But our relationship at work was cordial and mutually respectful. And I was always admiring of his work, even in recent years as he has carried his show alone.
And now he is gone.
Matters related to his departure are internal affairs between him and the bosses. I gave my input behind closed doors, and argued for an alternative outcome, but my suggestion was not the course chosen. Anything beyond that is not my place to say.
But I can say that I am heartsick.
As I have been repeatedly over the years as friend after friend and coworker after coworker have left our station. Yesterday, looking at old pictures on Facebook, I saw a sweatshirt we were given in 1997 that arranged the names of all our employees into the shape of a Christmas tree. It was heartbreaking to see the names of so many wonderful and talented people who no longer work with us.
And now Chet.
I am sorry for him, as I know how this feels, and I know what it does to a family. I am sorry for his daughter, who has this misfortune play out on the pages of the newspaper. My own children have endured that.
I am sick, as I was when Mike DiGiorgio and Bill Lowe and Beth Adams were let go.
But I honestly don’t blame the company, and I have no quarrel with bosses. The national economic stagnation of the last six years and the financial shrinkage of the Rochester region have put great burdens on our industry and our station. Radio, like television and newspapers, has had the living daylights kicked out of it. Rochester’s newspaper is a shell of what it once was, after rounds of layoffs and reductions, and radio has faced years of those same challenges and resorted to the same survival measures.
Those who angrily cuss “corporate radio” are being simplistic and naïve, to say nothing of wrong. I have worked for the largest newspaper, television and radio chains in America, and I have also worked in radio and newspapering with an owner whose office was down the hall. I have noticed no difference in finances, philosophy or local focus. All of them are businesses, and businesses have to keep the ink black and their heads above water.
I am not angry at the company.
Nor am I pessimistic about the station.
Those who have posted that WHAM is dead, or that the station is renouncing its history, are wrong. Straight up wrong.
Clearly, any venture in the marketplace will have varying amounts of consumer acceptance. Every venture seeks to turn these fluctuations into sustained and significant growth. Radio is no different. WHAM is no different.
And over its 90-year-history, WHAM has been different things at different times. It has been a succession of personalities and perspectives. It has transitioned between these, sometimes with some bumps in the road. It is only natural that there is succession, and in a performance-based industry, sometimes that succession is unpleasant.
That’s part of life.
WHAM is rejuvenating itself, and it is doing so from a position of strength. We are Rochester’s first, biggest and best radio station, and we’re working hard to keep it that way – for our listeners and our advertisers. We take seriously our heritage and our promise, and I for one am going to do everything I can to pass a strong, successful WHAM to the next generation of listeners and broadcasters.
I will mourn my colleague.
But I will redouble my efforts to make WHAM better and more successful. I believe in it and in its obligation to this region. We have been the friend, voice and conscience of this community for almost 100 years, and long after Chet and I and our successors are completely forgotten, this station and this town will still be partners.
David “Chet” Walker is and always will be a valued part of the storied history of WHAM radio. For a third of this station’s lifetime he was its backbone. For 30 years he was Rochester’s friend through thick and thin. Nothing changes that.
He has earned the gratitude and affection of everybody who matters, and events of recent days do nothing to detract from that.
But the station goes on.
And it goes on hungry, focused and committed, ready to live up to its name and its heritage.
I guarantee that.