A radio guy, a governor walk into an ice shack on the edge of a frozen lake…
Sounds like the start of a joke. And it was funny, yet strange encounter. Sometimes many of your worlds converge at the exact same moment, and life gets a lasting memory.
Several years into my media career in the great state of Wyoming, I was living a dream. I worked at the local radio station and the local newspaper. I coached little league, played softball and had the coolest little family of four in all the land.
As a part of community I loved, I stepped up and joined the Evanston Lions Club. This choice was inspired by my grandfather, who served the Lions most of his existence. As a little kid I helped him back in Colorado with several of their fundraiser events. One of those events was a wheel of chance where folks could step up and win a pound of bacon, a dime per spin. I was a micro-version of Vanna White well before the Wheel of Fortune was born. Well, I was never as cute as Vanna, and never really wore a dress either. But I could spin a mean wheel.
I knew the Lions Club raised money and helped people. However, other than thinking if my grandfather did it, I should do it — I had no real idea what the mission was or what I was getting into. More than a service organization, I learned during my initiation, a primary mission of Lions Club was to aid the blind and visually impaired. At the time, I had ‘perfect’ vision, and helping folks of all walks of life get vision help sounded like a pretty good deal.
It was a great experience. I got to meet brand new people that loved making their community a better place. I now had a unique opportunity to utilize my day jobs to assist my service organization. It made for some extra work, and even less time around my little family. All that said, I figure in those moments when one can make a difference, its best to take advantage.
No bacon wheel spinning here. The big event for this mountain community located around 7,000 feet plus made sense. It was an ice fishing derby. The basic premise being that fish were caught in advance, tagged with certain prize winnings, cash being the favorite prize, and then slipped back into the frozen waters awaiting to be caught by up to 1,500 participants throughout the day. Sponsors from as far away as Utah and across Wyoming donated and it was kind of a big deal. And it basically set up our club budget for the year in how much help we could do.
Since I worked the media stuff, I got to record a public service announcement and play it all day on both our am and fm stations and post promotional articles and ads in the paper. We also used the printers at the paper to help the Lions design and print a logo – basically a big cartoon looking fish appropriately named ‘Big Al’ and plastered on posters and flyers everywhere.
At the radio station, I had both my political and sports shows to promote the event, and when Evanston is the county seat, we always were part of any political tour for elections. I had talked in with U.S. Senators and one brief phone interview with the Governor of Wyoming before, so it was usually at an arms length and no pressure kind of deal.
However, as someone who shared the promotional stage with a cartoon fish, the focus on a great community event was awkwardly aimed at me, and the live broadcast I was going to do to bring more attention to the fundraiser. A rumor started that Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer was going to show up to help our cause. I dismissed the idea, he had bigger fish to fry, right?
Not that day as it turned out.
When you get large gatherings of voters having fun in the winter, it is a nice way to promote a good thing and oneself.
The rumors became facts and then back into a maybe we would see the Gov, maybe we wouldn’t. I went about setting up the remote broadcast, set up on a temporary phone line installed in this tiny, broken down ice shack. Yes, February in Wyoming is like camping on the dark side of the moon with slightly more oxygen. It’s really bleeping cold.
The five by five little one room building had working electricity, that was miracle enough for me, and my show launched on time at 6 am, with my pal, a local merchant, back at the radio station anchoring the broadcast should my fragile ice cave shut down mid-sentence. I was told it was biggest derby ever, with late sign-ups off the charts, as folks lined up to catch Big Al or his prize holding cousins.
We heard if the governor was stopping by, it would be at 7 am, if he didn’t make it by then, his schedule had changed and would not be visiting. Fair enough. The first hour on the air flew by. I was little bit nervous, then brushed it off. Former Marines don’t get nervous about such things.
Ten minutes after the hour of seven and all was quiet. I assumed the gov moved on to something more fascinating for the weekend. I pushed out a sigh of relief that was completely visible in the frozen air.
And then the door swung open hard with a bang and a determined looking Wyoming State Trooper stepped into my tiny sphere, followed by another. The first sin of radio is dead air. But I was out of words, so I sent it back to the station for a break.
“Arms up,” said the first Trooper.
I must of looked confused.
“We need to frisk you,” he explained.
My eyebrow raised. These guys had to be former offensive linemen in football.
“We’re Governor Geringer’s protective detail. Arms up,” he repeated.
“Oh, of course,” I finally caught up with what was happening.
The other Trooper was digging through my radio equipment bag, which had a suspicious amount of electrical wiring in it, but eventually deemed harmless.
“Clear here,” one said to the other.
And then one stepped back to let the Governor of Wyoming into a space not well designed to hold four grown men. Suddenly, I was sweating. Fortunately, one of the Trooper stepped outside to check the perimeter again and there was enough room for me to maneuver a headset out of my bag and hand it to the governor. Like any good politician, he reached out to shake my hand, and I shook and simply noted, “I voted for you.”
“That’s good son. What’s your name? I gotta have a name if we’re going to talk on the air,” he said.
I was back live on the air, frozen in a brand new, unique way. My brain was stuck in neutral. A voice in my ear from the station, “Don you’re live, go bud.”
“Don,” I blurted.
“Nice to meet you Don,” as the governor may have witnessed nerves before. He took the lead on the show, and was extremely fun, funny and happy to be there.
About five minutes into the interview, my personality finally returned, as did the blood to my face and we had a blast. I mean this guy could seriously host a morning show, which is the hardest gig in radio. Because he was on his toes witty, his laugh was real and hanging out with other folks on a cold Wyoming day was a part of his job.
Thirty minutes flew by and he was off to visit with a number of the participants of the Evanston Lions Club Fishing Derby. Prizes were won, fish were caught, and our little Lions Club had a banner year. The next several derbies were as big or bigger.
Politics, charity, Lions Club, radio, newspaper and community all converging at the same moment and all for a good cause. Of course my eyesight didn’t stay perfect in the aging process, and the cost for vision care is crazy, and I have a much greater understanding of the mission of the Lions.
So, there is no punchline to the first line regarding a gov, a radio guy and an ice shack, but after being frisked really well, I sure thought that first Trooper owed me a lunch date.