My friend Jim did a radio show yesterday. He’s done thousands of them, and he’ll do another one today. And tomorrow. But yesterday’s show was significant because it was the first show he’s done in many, many days. The first one since Jim’s wife Lisa suddenly died of a pulmonary embolism.
Jim Leach is News and Program Director at WMAY-AM in Springfield, IL, and he’s always done his talk show with plenty of heart and passion. Yesterday, as I listened in, I heard a few tears, too. From Jim and from his incredibly supportive callers.
Although I have a vivid imagination, I can’t imagine how I’d deal with such a circumstance, but it likely would not involve “going back to work”. We all deal with grief in our own ways, and it is a fool who judges how anyone else picks up the pieces and resumes their life.
We haven't had any contact for years, but I sent Jim a note of support and encouragement yesterday, including a few words of praise for his ability to pull off a show under such hugely emotional circumstances, not expecting any sort of response. But he thanked me for reaching out.
Years ago, in my days as a broadcaster, Jim and I had essentially parallel jobs at stations owned by the same company – Jim in Springfield, me in Madison. Similar markets, capital cities, similar programming, similar staffs, similar problems, yada yada. We’d see each other maybe a couple times a year at news and program management seminars put on by the company.
I’d been at WMAY several times in the 90’s in a minor role as a consultant – the guy from the “home office”- and it was on one of those trips that I first met Jim. The last time we were actually in the same place at the same time was in a different Springfield – Springfield, MO, where the company also owned several radio stations, and the site of one of these get-togethers for the news and programming folks. That was in February or March of 2007, as I recall.
One of the many national resource people the company brought in to address the group and encourage our further professional development was the nation’s top talk radio consultant, my friend Holland Cooke. Holland had a contract with our Madison news-talk station, but didn’t work with any of the other stations in the group of several dozen radio stations.
Holland was speaking about the importance of total community service in news and talk programming, and he was giving some examples of stations across the nation that excelled in serving their community of license. He talked about the importance of severe weather coverage, and began to play an audio file of an award-winning promotional announcement done by a news-talk station after a tornado devastated part of their city.
Holland’s setup was that we were about to hear a station that truly knew how to serve its community, a station which really distinguished itself before, during, and after a horrible tornado. The announcement featured the voice of a woman talking about how the station – HER station, as she called it- helped her get through the scary night, with constant updates and non-stop information.
As soon as the announcement started, several of us in the group exchanged glances. We knew the announcement was about Jim Leach’s tornado coverage on WMAY. I looked at Jim and his face was turning a bright shade of red.
The announcement went on with the woman saying something like “and all night long, Jim Leach kept telling us what was going on, where the danger was, where the power was out, what the emergency responders were doing, where we could go if we needed shelter. I wasn’t alone in my home, scared, because Jim Leach was there with me on WMAY, and I will never forget how Jim Leach and WMAY helped me get through that horrible night”. It was an extremely powerful and emotional radio spot.
Holland noticed the group was all looking at Jim. Holland didn’t know that Jim Leach was sitting a few feet away. He thought he was just demonstrating to a group of radio people how our listeners count on us during emergencies, and giving us an example of the best of the best.
When the announcement ended, we all turned to Jim and applauded. We demanded that he stand, which he reluctantly did. Holland said “so you’re Jim Leach. Nice to meet you. Congratulations. I didn’t know. You’re the one who should be giving this presentation.”
Real radio professionals make solid connections with their listeners. Jim’s connection to his listeners is legendary. And yesterday they showed Jim their love and support in his time of darkness and turmoil. And I know they’ll continue to support Jim as he moves forward in his grief.
I’m honored to know you, Jim. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Strength and Godspeed, my friend.