Originally published in the Tracer, the McHenry County Historical Society’s Quarterly Magazine, 2019 Volume 2, by Elke Kleisch
KIEISCH: How id you get started in radio?
COHEN: I got started in college in 1974. This was pure luck, I guess. I was on the seventh floor of Schneider Hall, at Southern University in Carbondale. On the seventh floor was the news director and assistant news director for the campus radio station, WIDB. I became friends with them. I know they were both in radio in high school and they worked on this student station. One day I was really bored so I asked my friend Bob Comstock: “Can I tag along with you and go to the radio station?” Bob said, “Of course you can!”
The station was in the basement of Wright Hall 1, which was really close to where I lived. So I went there and watched him do the news. He was really good and had a great voice. I said, “Wow! That seems like it is a lot of fun.” I watched from outside the room, and I thought I would like to try that.
Around that time, I got into journalism. I wasn’t even in broadcasting. I liked writing. As time went on, I learned I could audition for a position on WIDB. The day came and there were probably seven or eight people doing this. There was no money or anything, just the experience. I gave it a try. I did the news. I think it was on an old Wollensak reorder. And I did it privately.
They told me, “No, you’re not ready to even do news on a student station.” I was very nervous. I tried four or five times – over and over during several months. Each time the told me I was not ready.
I was walking around the campus wondering how to sound conversational when reading or talking. No one could answer the question.
When another opportunity came up, I read the whole script over again. I was in my dorm, and Don Storm called. He was the news director. He said, “I’ve got good news for you. You’re going to be on the air! Are you available Friday and Saturday nights from 10 to midnight?” I said sure.
I did the new during The Shadow show. Before that, the first newscast was horrendous… I almost passed out. I was hyperventilating doing the news in this little tiny room with this little microphone. It was Nixon, and Kissinger, and the Vietnam Ware; five minutes of news. As I went along, I couldn’t breathe and talk at the same time. I didn’t know the technique. I know a lot about breathing and I knew about talking, but combine those tow in five minutes, with power? I thought, “How am I going to get through this?” But, I finished it. I was breathing really deeply and I was dizzy, and the room was spinning.
Tom Sheldon, a great guy in radio, was running the board. He opened his mic and said, “Good job, Stew.” Good job? I thought to myself, “I know you are lying.” I walked out of the room went right to the water fountain.