Paul Hemmer got his first on-air job when he was 15. That was 50 years ago. I first met Paul when he hosted the #1 morning show on WDBQ in Dubuque. (You can see a photo of him hosting that show in 1962, at 18, in the All Star Radio Vintage Radio Studio Museum.) One day he called me with unexpected news. He was leaving WDBQ after 34 years. He wanted to buy a local FM station and start over. He wanted to take our service with him and he was asking me to join him in this high risk game of going from first to worst in one day. He promised he would grow his audience quickly, and he did. He was soon #1 again on KGRR FM in Dubuque. Paul was already a local legend. Today, Friday, January 8, 2010, is Paul Hemmer's last official day on the air. It's the last day anyone on my staff can call Paul to ask him to try something new we conjured up. It's the last day most of Dubuque will wake up to a voice they've heard each morning most of their lives.
A few years ago, Joy and I packed up the family and drove to Dubuque to spend a weekend with Paul and his wife Jan. It was a memorable cold winter weekend of good food, lots of drinks, friendship and talk. On Saturday Paul and I sat in a small cafe/bar at the Grand Harbor Resort & Water Park overlooking the huge indoor water park while my kids and Joy splashed around in the expansive pool and Paul and I enjoyed drinks and conversation. I always assumed Paul was much younger than I. He could certainly hold his liquor better, and his passion for radio was more befitting of a 25 year old. His love and passion for the biz easily rubbed off on me, and I walked away that weekend with a renewed vigor that is still with me. Paul is like that.
Today Paul is 65 (and still looks ten years younger). May we all retire with the same class and with as many wonderful memories as Paul. Paul emailed this morning with these words:
I know I'm going to miss this morning routine. Perhaps it's a mistake. I've been getting many really nice letters from people who listened to me for most of those 50 years. One even remembered some funny stuff from the summer of 1961 when I was doing a Sunday night gig on WDBQ. I'd forgotten. They remembered. Amazing.
Another woman told me that just a month ago she saw my name in a memory book from a young (33) man who died of cancer recently. He had written memorable things from his life - and one was the time I suggested to the kids in the audience that a great way to have fun would be to sneak under the Christmas tree and change the name tags on the presents. He did and said that it was the most fun his family ever had on Christmas eve.
I guess that's the amazing thing about "personality" radio - you never know whose life you're going to touch on any given day. And, that's why it's important to be yourself and treat your audience as friends and respect them.
I've never thought of this as a job. The guys who work construction in 90 degree heat or single digit temperatures - the men and women who work retail and stand on their feet 8 hours a day - the people in the factory who go through the same routine for hours on end - that's work. What we do is fun. And, I've loved almost every minute of it.
All of us at All Star Radio Networks salute you, Paul Hemmer, and wish you many happy years to come!
- Ron Stevens