Here in what can most kindly be called semi-retirement, it's nice to know that my "new gig" is pretty safe. I've taken on a project with the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation to help get a website off the ground, which will be an online resource for every radio and TV newsroom in the state. Whenever the topic comes up with any of my former colleagues, they always jokingly say "make sure there's something that keeps a rookie from saying "Sha-WAH-no" on the air!!!
Shawano is a beautiful little community just northeast of Green Bay and up the road a bit from Bonduel. For those of you not initiated in the unusual pronunciation of some of our state's great Indian place-names, Shawano is "SHAW-no" and Bonduel is "bon-du-EL", not "bon-DOOL". Veteran 'sconnies will throw you a curve once in a while with a place-name like Oconomowoc just to make sure you know they've been around the state long enough to know how the syllables divide and where the accent falls. (It's "o-CON-o-mo-woc".)
There are plenty of weighty topics we'll put on the site to help rookie reporters and transplants get a quick lesson in Wisconsin's powerful Open Meetings and Open Records laws, and a thumbnail of where they can and can't take their cameras and microphones, and how to avoid incurring the boss's wrath by defaming someone on the air. But the one that consistently draws the most comment in my social encounters is the importance of learning how to pronounce the place names of our state, and the wonderful Polish names of some of our state's prominent elected officials, like Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. (It's "chess-LEV-itch".) Or whether or not you pronounce the first letter in State Representative Dan Knodl's name. (He's from Germantown, and the answer is yes.) If you don't know that in Wisconsin we pronounce Rio "RYE-oh", you'll sound like a boob to the real 'sconnies.
As I was having coffee this morning and planning for a noon meeting with the webmaster of the new site we're putting up, I had one of the local TV stations on. I vary my viewing habits to catch a little of each morning show before I move the session into my home office, to get a flavor for the day's news. Then, she did it. She said "sha-WAH-no". This woman, who lives in Janesville and has been on the air in Madison for 8 years, completely blew it. She's from Idaho and has worked there and in Nebraska, but she committed the ultimate Wisconsin place-name sin.
If you notice a little more spring in my step today, it's because I know this WBA Foundation internet project has great merit. Now, if we can only convince broadcasters to use it, when we get it up and running....