A couple of weeks ago, I lamented the dire state of the Chicago radio scene. Later this week, another familiar name will head off to greener pastures, though this transition affects me on a more personal level. On June 27th, Chuck Schaden bids farewell to Those Were The Days, the long-running homage to old-time radio shows that he created, produced, and maintained full editorial control for the past 39 years. To put that in context, that's 2,016 weekly broadcasts since May 1970, airing on three different radio stations with only a couple of small gaps in between. This does not necessarily mean the end of old-time radio in Chicago, however; on July 4th, the baton will be passed to Steve Darnell. Steve is a longtime friend of Chuck's and the editor-in-chief of Nostalgia Digest, a magazine that I've been published in three times.
My association with Those Were The Days began in November 2003. I had just been hired as a student aide at WDCB, and the programming director assigned me to board operation on Saturday afternoons --generally a quiet time of the week, at least in radio-- to get a feel of the station. I wasn't brought in to board-op for Chuck per se; I would man the boards during "Midwest Ballroom," the 30s/40s big band show that airs directly after TWTD. Schaden regularly sells books and CDs on his program, and they needed an extra hand to handle orders by phone, so I came in four hours earlier than I needed to. I had nothing planned that afternoon, and I needed the money, so I figured why not?
I specifically remember that my first day with TWTD went very slowly. I was at a desk without a computer, so I couldn't check my e-mail between calls. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the beginning of Chuck's month-long block of Christmas programming, and in spite of the many items being sold on-air there didn't seem to be any Black Friday rush on the phones. About midway through the show, I snuck away from my phone and made a beeline for the station library. Ten minutes later, I was putting the final touches on an episode review at TVTome.com when Chuck barged in. I had never seem him this annoyed after or since. He was wondering why I wasn't handling orders, and if I wasn't doing my job I should leave immediately. I explained that I was taking a break and that I'd head back to the phones in just a minute; Chuck shrugged, than went back to the studio.
Things went much more smoothly from that point on. After receiving numerous complaints about my chicken-scratch handwriting, I went from handing orders to being the de facto operator; basically, I answered the phone, asked the person on the line if they wanted to order something, than put them on hold until one of the other phone guys could help them. I didn't treat this as a demotion, however; Chuck's support crew consisted mostly of old friends and colleagues, and by listening to these gentlemen swap stories and tell jokes between stopsets I became a de facto member of their clique.
I was going through a rough patch during the Summer of 2004; for reasons that I don't want to elaborate upon in this article, it was a trying and transitional period in my life. Chuck liked to throw impromptu birthday parties for his support staff, and with my 20th birthday approaching that August I wasn't 100% sure that I would receive a similar treatment. After all, I was still fairly new and a relative interloper to the long-standing Schaden confederacy. Upon walking into the office the Saturday before my birthday, I was shocked to find Chuck and company waiting for me in the break room with two gallons of ice cream and a cake reading "Happy Birthday Stuart." I was speechless. I'd never had a surprise birthday party before or since. I was honored with a similar bash on my 21st birthday a year later, and when I left WDCB for Illinois State in December 2005 Chuck thanked me on-air for my two years of service.
Though Chuck had been hosting TWTD since 1970, he's called WDCB-FM his broadcast home since 2001. Those past eight years couldn't have been possible without Chuck's supporting staff --Ken Alexander, Koni Shaughnessy, Jim Zaremski, Larry Youngberg, Gardner Kissick, George Littlefield, Rich Rodriguez, James Weyrick, Chris Litwin, and the late Len Kunka to name a few-- names that may be anonymous to you, yet have been invaluable to the day-to-day operations of "Those Were The Days." I also have to give credit to Chuck's wife Ellen, whose patience and support has been invaluable to Mr. Schaden over the years. It has been an honor and a pleasure to have known this wonderful man, especially for what he's done for me, and I wish him the best in his much-deserved retirement.