My Hall of Fame induction speech: Cherish your friends, embrace your rivals (2008)

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

On this date in 2008, I was fortunate enough to be inducted into the Illini Media Alumni Hall of Fame. Here’s the speech I prepared for that evening. (Note: About 60 seconds before I wrapped it up—in a bit we’d worked out in advance—fellow inductee and Chicago Blackhawks announcer Gene Honda kindly interjected, as he has at so many hockey games, shouting “One minute remaining!”)

It’s hypocritical of me to stand here, because I really think Hall of Fame honors should not occur before the honoree has shuffled off this mortal coil with a clean rap sheet. On the other hand, I’d have a harder time conveying my gratitude then, so what the heck.

I want to give my thanks and my love to my wonderful family—parents, siblings, kids—and my wife, Pam, without whose amazing ability to sleep through a clock radio at 3:15 in the morning I would have almost no career at all.

And I want to share what I consider three of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the 35 years since I first cracked open a mic at WPGU’s Dorm Broadcasting System.

NUMBER ONE: Teach when you can, share when you can. Teaching others makes us better, more responsive professionals. The very act of explaining yourself helps you become better at what you do—whatever it is. And the karma comes back, in rewarding and surprising ways.

NUMBER TWO. There’s no day so bad it can’t be improved by listening to “Go All the Way” by the Raspberries. Preferably several times in a row. The repeat button on your music player was meant for this song.

NUMBER THREE. Be nice—play it straight, play it fair—with everyone, all the time. Because, if you’re lucky enough to have a career that lasts a decade or more, one day that rival could be your colleague, your neighbor, your boss—or your kid’s boss. This is a tough one, because, let’s face it, we in the media are a darned competitive bunch.

And that brings me to the story of a colleague back in my days at WPGU. He was a couple of years older and, as such, his show on WPGU used to follow my graveyard shift radio show. We had an on-air rivalry. I would insult him or play a derogatory song to introduce his show. But he taught me the hard way not to poke a stick at the guy who controls the microphone—or at least, who takes control of it after you do. One time, he proceeded to take the controls only to dedicate to me Loudon Wainwright’s classic song “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.”

Now, it would have been easy for this kind of thing to get out of hand. I’ve seen it happen time and again in this profession. And, clearly, I gotta say, that memory did stick with me. So, of all the people I met during my years on campus, you might not have guessed that Tom Thomas would have become so close a friend years later. And I surely wouldn’t have guessed back then that Tom, bless him, would pass away all too soon this year while working on Illini Media matters, including—as I later came to find out—my nomination to this great, great honor.

And so, I want to thank him publicly—and say to you all: Life is too short for petty competition and emotional rivalries.

Cherish your friends, embrace your rivals. Make them a part of your life, and you’ll be glad you did.

Thank you all.

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