The world celebrated Bob Newhart’s 85th birthday a few days ago. He has made us laugh for more than half a century. I, for one, am grateful to him for providing so much entertainment for so many years. Katie and I had the privilege of seeing Newhart in person late last May, when he visited Charlottesville. We were a little concerned that he would deliver a lot of “tired old stuff” and braced ourselves for disappointment. We need not have worried. He was fresh and energetic, and had the audience howling for the whole show, from the first minute to the last. For what it’s worth, Bob Newhart is one of the first “famous people” that I met during my radio days.
In 1958 or ’59, I was one of three announcers (and one engineer) at a tiny FM station in Elmwood Park, Illinois. The station was housed in what can only be described as a “shack” behind a run-down aluminum awning store on Harlem Ave, dividing Chicago from Elmwood Park. This was WXFM.
One of my Northwestern friends, Charles Boos, was in the theater department at NU and heard about a new FM station looking for staff. Charlie and I talked with the owner, Howard Grafman, and our mix of skills and talents, my FCC license, and our willingness to work for next to nothing got us both hired. One of the talents required was carpentry, as there was no real studio, just a big open area. So Charlie and I built an announcing booth, a control room, and enclosed the transmitter so it’s various complaints would not be heard on air.
Grafman was trying his best to promote the station. One of his efforts was to enlist the aid of Sidney Lazard, a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, to conduct a weekly panel discussion show. I remember only one such show being taped (I recorded it). The only thing I remember from it was that one of the panelists was a young accountant who had just released a comedy album. The accountant was, not surprisingly, bashful and withdrawn, and seemed uncomfortable to be part of the panel. But he was just as funny off the cuff as he was on his record. His album, of course, went on to become a comedy classic: “The button down mind of Bob Newhart.” And the rest is history.