Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bill Darwin had Elkhart – and all of us – covered

Posted on May 9, 2014 at 11:38 a.m.

“Hello, my name is Becca Briscoe and I am here for my interview with Mr. Fuller.”

“Please take a seat and I will let him know that you are here Miss Briscoe.”

It was 1973 and I was fresh out of college and about to interview for my first “Real Job.” There had been an ad in The Elkhart Truth regarding openings for on-air announcers at a new radio station, WFIM-FM 103.9. This was the sister station to WTRC-AM Radio and WSJV Television on Oakland Avenue in Elkhart. WFIM was going to be a revolutionary format. It would play easy listening music, but the disc Jockeys were going to all be female. As I recall, during that time in our history, the FCC was encouraging, if not insisting, that more women be included in broadcast media.

I interviewed with Don Fuller, the station manager, and Allen Strike, program director. After they gathered some basic information, they handed me a script to read. As I made my way through the test copy, their faces conveyed a distinct look of being underwhelmed with my audition.

'”That's good, but can you sound older?” Strike ask.

I thought for a moment and then remembered the sound of my 8th grade, chain-smoking gym teacher, Biserka T. Wellington. I did my best to replicate her intonation and yelled, “Hit the showers.” They both jumped.

To this day, I am not sure if I got hired because I scared them or if they were just impressed with my moxie, but I got the job.

On the first day of my new career, I filled out the obligatory tax forms, signed some other official papers and was given a tour of the station. My studio had three glass walls and one wall of shelves that contained row upon row of records. There were two turn tables, several 8-track tape players, a console with numerous knobs, gauges and switches, and a large microphone suspended in air.

Directly across from the studio were, as Mr. Fuller put it, the two most important rooms in the entire station; the restroom and the bomb shelter. I knew what the restroom was used for, but I was totally unfamiliar with “The Bomb Shelter”. I thought perhaps it was code for the room where you went to be reprimanded after a bad show.

“What's the bomb shelter for, Mr. Fuller?”

He opened the door to the secured room.

“Over there, in the far corner, are the fifty-gallon drums of potable water, and those boxes contain enough ration cookies for six weeks. These are the sleeping cots, and this is the console. You will be instructed by Civil Defense what information to announce so people will know what is going on and where they should go for safety.”

“Safety?” I said in a shocked voice. “Safety from what?”

Mr. Fuller looked me directly in the eye and calmly replied, “Nuclear attack.”

In all earnestness I said,”Oh, Mr. Fuller, I am so very sorry, but if we have Nuclear War, I am pretty sure that my Mom will want me to go home.”

Fuller exited the room shaking his head, and I followed at a distance. Once in the hall, I stopped to process what had just happened. I was 21 years old, naive and totally out of my element. In short, I was scared.

Within moments I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Can I help you?”

I turned to see the most cheerful, welcoming face that I had ever encountered. He had sliver hair, jolly red cheeks and the biggest pair of glasses known to mankind. It was Bill Darwin, who worked on WTRC Radio. I told him about touring the station, including The Bomb Shelter, and what I had said to Mr. Fuller about my Mother wanting me to go home. I felt so foolish.

I fully expected him to laugh at me, but instead he looked at me with complete sincerity and said, “Don't you worry, if the missiles are launched, you go straight home, I'll cover for you.”

That was the beginning of a long friendship. Bill and I worked the same hours, each in our own sound-proof booths, separated by a thick glass wall. And even though we couldn't talk to each other during our shows, we communicated through a form of charades and big smiles.

My friend Bill died Wednesday, May 7. He was a joyful man of charitable nature. He touched many people through his work, his community involvement, and his strong faith.

Thank you, Bill, for all the years that you had us covered.