CFI Episode Progress and a Return to the Scene of Some of the Crimes

WION Production Studio

I’m here at WION Radio in Ionia for a couple of days while FOD is going through encampment staff selection in Grand Rapids.  I’m taking some of the time to write and edit for Acro Camp and Airspeed.  Being that I’m here at the radio station, I thought I’ve give you a taste of the CFI episode, large parts of which happened here in Ionia.

The episode itself is currently about 12,000 words and growing.  It’ll probably be a two-parter just to make it manageable.  For now, here’s a look at the place and the characters that surrounded the experience.


Long-time listeners to Airspeed will know that my friend Jim Angus runs WION radio in Ionia. He’s taken the station from a closed-down operation that was close to losing its license (what radio guys call a “stick”) and, over the last 10 years, turned it into that rarest of things: A full-service local AM radio station. During that time, I’ve been the lawyer that has helped the company through several acquisitions so that it now includes five signals broadcasting from two different cities. I get called the general counsel and I suppose it’s as appropriate a title as any.

I’ve recorded several Airspeed episodes in the production studio there and I even did a turn as Scrooge in the Ionia community’s rendition of the 1939 CBS Campbell Playhouse script of A Christmas Carol. Each actor records his or her lines along in the studio with Jim engineering and an editor puts it all together.  I highly recommend the gag reel from those sessions. Yelling “Cratchit!” too often. And I noticed that you can add a “so to speak” after about half of Tiny Tim’s lines to reasonably good effect.  I’ve ruined Dickens for you now, haven’t I?

The station is a few miles north of Ionia on Haynor road and about 15 minute from the airport. It’s a really eclectic little radio station. Not quite KBHR, the radio station from CBS’s Northern Exposure in the early 1990s, but close. It is its own little Lake Wobegon in the cornfields.

A constant stream of local personalities makes its way into and out of the building during the broadcast day. Most gather around the microphones at the circular table in the studio. Phil Cloud, Left-Lane Layne, Popeye John, and others who are as colorful and different as you think they might be.

Strange things happen at WION. Like solving the need to light the towers by taking the lights off of them. You have to light a radio tower if it’s 200 or more feet tall. The towers were 202 feet tall, but the top three feet of each tower was the lighting device and each of them was three feet tall. After the lights on two of the three towers burned out and needed replacing, it only cost a little more to have the contractor go pull down the light fixtures from all three towers, taking them all down to 199 feet and removing the need to light them. I’m not kidding.

Jim lived in an Airstream trailer in the parking lot for the first eight or nine years he operated the place. Probably not entirely cricket under the local zoning laws, but he was right there if there was a storm front and, even when every farmhouse for miles went dark during thunderstorm season, Jim was right there with the generator operating and giving up-to-the minute information to all who tuned in. As long as Jim was willing to brave the constant danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from the trailer’s ancient heater and give the farmers their updates on squall lines and ice storms and school closings, the township figured that it was a fair trade and it left him alone.

He’s since made himself an apartment in the station’s building.  For that matter, he pulled the cubicles out of the front office and put couches, a TV, and a fake fireplace in there so it can serve as a home for wayward lawyers and pilots.

Thus I called him up and told him that the station’s general counsel would be in residence for a couple of days each week until I finished my training and the checkride.  One of the benefits of hanging out with a guy who can keep a radio station on the air with nothing more than clarinet reeds and Scotch tape is that he can figure out how to get a freakishly fat Internet pipe out there in the middle of nowhere. I rarely see any of my clients face-to-face anyway so, whenever I wasn’t flying, I could sit in the main room at a desk and, for all practical purposes, be in the office.

The routine was this.  I’d drive over on a Monday night with my flight bag, Magic Box, a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a shaving kit.  Oh, and a towel.  It’s vital to always know where your towel is.

I’d crash until 0700L, by which time Jim had been on the air for an hour.  I’d do a time-to-make-the-donuts walk to the shower with my hair sticking out on all directions, often shuffling right by the studio door.  To their credit, none of the denizens of WION thought this the least bit weird.  Even when I could hear Jim behind me saying, “That’s the general counsel.”

Have you ever been half asleep standing in the shower with the radio on in the bathroom and had the strange sensation that the radio was talking to you? You very specifically? I have had that sensation. It is particularly disturbing when the radio is actually talking to you. It’s something in between having Jack Hodgson in your car talking to you and forgetting that he’s actually there and not on an episode of UCAP – and having Jack Hodgson in your shower.  I confess that I know nothing of the latter. And I am aware, now more than ever, of the important of not mixing up “former” and “latter.”

I digress.

After showering, I’d dress in my glider gear of cargo shorts, a golf shirt, cushy socks, and cross-trainers.  Then I’d go to the studio and sit in on the mic for a half hour or so. Usually bantering with the locals and particularly with the guy who runs the new drive-in theater.  I also plugged Benz Aviation and the glider program I the hopes that the station might be able to leverage my blathering into an ad campaign.

By 0930L, I’d head to the airport, fly from 1000L to noon or so, then head back to the studio and work until dinner.  Then off to the Lamplight Grill for dinner with Jim and more of the locals before crashing on the couch again.  The next morning, I’d lather, rinse, and repeat before heading back to the airport for another couple of hours of training, then leave for home.