Remembering Big Griff

Never A Broadcaster – But, Boy, Dad Knew What Was Good Radio!

Originally published in 2014, the following has been updated.

Radio has been my career, and I work in radio because of my Dad. 

He knew radio as well as anyone I’ve ever known and encouraged me to get in to the business, though he never worked in the industry.  See, my Dad was an independent dairy distributor – a.k.a. “a milkman” – for nearly three decades and spent a lot, lot, LOT of time by himself while driving his truck.

He was not the Norman Rockwell image of a guy going to residential doors and exchanging full glass milk bottles for empties.  Instead, my Dad delivered to institutional (schools and health care facilities) and commercial (independent restaurants and inner city “mom & pop” corner grocery stores) customers.  It was his own little enterprise, physically demanding work and the radio went with him all day. 

My Dad started early each morning, and often finished late, at one of Indianapolis’ local dairy plants and counted on radio reports to tell him the weather and traffic conditions as he prepared to navigate his delivery route.  Then in-between a double digit number of customers stops every day using his two-wheel dolly cart to load dozens of cases of half-pint cartons, gallon jugs and five gallon milk bags from his truck in to industrial coolers and kitchen or cafeteria refrigerators, radio was his companion.  Dad listened to more local radio in a day than the average Central Indiana commuter would in two weeks! 

He wasn’t formally trained on broadcasting nuances, and certainly had little awareness of the gamesmanship stations play on their listeners (such as commercial-free music sweeps or promotional gimmicks) as slaves in pursuit of Nielsen ratings.  But Dad understood when on-air talent was talking about something or had an authenticity about them that he could relate to.   He had an ear for what was good radio, often long before the masses realized it.  Examples:

  • Years ahead of Tom Cochrun being Indy’s top TV anchor, Dad was impressed by his delivery as an early morning newsman on AM1070.
  • When baseball fans lamented Al Michaels leaving WLW to go work national TV, right from the get-go Dad really liked his replacement – eventual Hall of Famer Marty Brennamen – on WLW’s Cincinnati Reds play-by-play.
  • Long before “Late Night”, Dad raved about a funny guy named David Letterman he listened to on low wattage WNTS
  • As the local market was fixated on controversy surrounding the blue humor when Bob & Tom launched, Dad defended them citing their clever Q95 skits and routines.
  • When many other white listeners were intimidated or riled up by WTLC’s Amos Brown, Dad found him engaging and entertaining before he became award-winning.
  • Despite having never cared for IU basketball, Dad went out his way to regularly tune in The Dan Dakich Show within weeks of his AM1070 debut (and years ahead of the former Hoosiers player and coach becoming an ESPN star).

Dad would come home and talk with such enthusiasm about these and other personalities or events he’d heard about on radio – like tales woven by Paul Harvey and “The Rest of The Story”, Indianapolis 500 coverage each May and the Tony Kiritsis Hostage Crisis – that I became enchanted with this medium.  If radio excited my Dad so much, there must be something there for me to like, too.

Through Dad’s encouragement, I began pursuing broadcasting as a teenager and have had many great teachers and mentors along the way.  However, I’ve always found myself using his perspective of radio as a barometer for whatever my radio role has been – from announcing play-by-play, to producing talk shows, to writing sponsors’ advertising scripts… asking “How would this topic/personality/commercial’s delivery relate to Dad or a guy like him?” is an approach that has served me well.

Ten years ago this week, my Dad died of heart attack.

I still struggle to find the right words for what my Dad has meant, and still means, to me overall…  but I do think I’ve just appropriately said what he meant to my career. 

Thanks for everything, Big Griff!

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