June 1, 2019

In Memoriam: Richard English

Richard English

It was late summer 1983, probably August, definitely a week before I was about to start third grade. My mother was driving my sister and I when we passed by West Side Complex, where my godmother worked. My mother stopped the car so we could pay a visit to my godmother. I objected.

"NOOOOOO!!!!!"

We went anyway. I don't remember why I objected. Probably because I thought that visits to my godmother were interminably long and boring. I thought that this would be no different. I could not be more wrong.

In the course of the visit, my godmother asked me if he could introduce me to Mr. English, one of her colleagues. I agreed.

It should be noted that at this time in my life, I was mad about weather -- meteorology, weather forecasts, weather maps. I read books on the topic. I had books on the topic. I always, always looked forward to the weather report on the local TV news. Unsurprisingly, I wanted to be a weatherman when I grew up.

I met Mr. English, and I was duly impressed that on the walls of his office, Mr. English had printouts of satellite weather maps. Cool guy.

Even cooler: Mr. English told me that he worked on a radio station and asked me if I would provide weather reports on Saturdays on the station. Heck, yeah.

I very quickly regretted my objection, and I was glad that my mother gave in to whatever urge she had to pay a visit to my godmother. I don't think I would have met Mr. English otherwise.

Indeed, on Saturday later that same week, my first broadcast was scheduled at 11:05AM and I read from the Grand Rapids Press that day's weather report, forecast, and some weather statistics. I would continue in this vein for some months until I got a weatheradio.
Then we transcribed my weather report from the continuous weather broadcasts from Kent County International Airport.

My broadcast schedule expanded so that I later delivered weather reports at 10:00AM in addition to 11:05. One day, after one of my weather reports, I stayed on when I decided to regale Mr. English with another interest of mine -- trivia questions. I had written about ten or so questions, and read them on the air with Mr. English as my unwillling accomplice.
I remember one of the questions I asked was, "What does FDR stand for?"

Mr. English to his credit encouraged this, and it became a regular feature. Twice on Saturdays I would report the weather and follow it up with some significa: a brief question and accompanying answer (what we called a "fact") or a longer narrative about some interesting phenomena (what we called a "story") which I found and read on the air from my book collection. My broadcast schedule expanded further so that I also delivered a report and factoid in the afternoon, at 4:15PM.

So it continued, more or less, every Saturday, for nearly six-and-a-half years.
In all that time, I never once visited the station in person. I don't think I ever even learned the station's address. I did attend a station meeting once, held at West Side Complex.

I remember the date of my last broadcast: December 24, 1989 -- the day before Christmas. By now I was a freshman in high school. And with a holiday break forthcoming I had a break in broadcasting -- except that I never heard back from the station, nor from Mr. English, or as to why.

I finally found out what happened...fifteen years later. By now I had moved to Chicago and had earned my second master's degree. I had also made an unpaid career of my own in media generally: producing a TV series, making short documentary films, building websites, working on media policy, and of course working in radio, maintaining one radio show and then another. Among my adventures in media I had contributed to, and availed myself of, GRTV. One day, I heard from my mother that Mr. English was working as staff at GRTV.

So one day, I visited GRTV and (re)introduced myself. And it struck me: In all the times I had seen Mr. English while I was growing up, I had never before seen his eyes. Every time I had seen him, Mr. English -- Richard -- wore sunglasses. I didn't even know what colors his eyes were.

We caught up, insofar as someone could catch up on fifteen years in a few minutes.
I informed him that my godmother, who had introduced us to each other, had since passed on. And he informed me that two members of the radio station had conspired to seize control of the station's broadcast license, sell it, and split the resulting quarter-million-dollars between the two of them, much to the consternation of the rest of the station staff and to my own disgust a decade-and-a-half after the fact.

That impromptu catching-up meeting wound up being the last time Richard and I interacted together in person. I would see him now and again on GRTV interviewing various folks. But I was surprised, and shocked, when I got an eVite in 2019 inviting me to attend Richard English's memorial service. Even more, according to the graphic accompanying the eVite, Richard was born in 1934, which meant that he was nearly fifty when he gave me, a hyper overenthusiastic nine-year-old, a regular radio spot, which he continued to nurture over the next decade.

After nearly every radio segment of mine, he would remark back with something funny or insightful of his own. I guess it's not until now that I realize that we had good chemistry, a rapport. Mr. English -- Mr. Richard English -- was a positive influence in my upbringing, a positive example to follow, and someone whom I will dearly miss.

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