Recollections: The thrill of election night
By Thom Gerretsen
I grew up northwest of Chicago in Lake County, IL, where my uncle Truman was a longtime county clerk, and my parents were card-carrying Republicans. My father, Duke and mother, Rita went to Election Night parties where they cheered my uncle and others on to victory in the 1950s and beyond. They didn’t come home until the wee hours of the next morning, after the ballots were counted.
Unlike Illinois, voters in Wisconsin do not publicly declare their party preferences. But lots of folks still go to Election Night gatherings while many others are glued to their radios, TVs, computers and smartphones for the results. Through the 1980s and ‘90s, I was the anchor for WDLB’s election broadcasts. And, I had lots of help.
Our music show hosts, sports reporters, and advertising sales people who never spent a moment on the air joined our news staff by doing live election reports from City Hall, area courthouses, and candidate parties. We had other anchors on our FM outlets, while station employees gathered and added up results, obtained sound bites from other sources, etc. I had a television in my studio so we didn’t miss anything major. The boss treated us to pizzas on those nights, and the anticipation and surprises made for exciting radio!
For every April, September, and November election, WDLB had reports at :15 and :45 past the hour – when we always summarized the latest results. From there, we aired field and network reports, results updates, and live interviews with winners and losers. Sometimes, the reports would never stop. For the state and national November contests, we relied on our ABC Radio affiliation to provide reports and bulletins. And, we’d go 4-5 hours straight, depending on our material.
When our helpers were finished, they went home for a short night of sleep before returning to their “day jobs” the next morning. But, when I completed my last live report – normally between 1 and 2 a.m. – my work was just starting.
I learned long ago that most people wait until the next morning to hear who won and lost. So, for the rest of the night, I edited brown audio tape from my interviews, network items, other sound bites, etc. I wrote scripts around those sound bites. I prepared master lists of all the area’s results – sheets of winners and losers, how many votes each got, etc. Every Wednesday morning newscast from 6 a.m. through the noon hour on WDLB mentioned at least the winners from every one of dozens of contests – with different sound bites on each newscast.
Those master result lists also came in handy in another way. Starting around 5 a.m. on the morning after, dozens of people would call to find out the winner of a certain contest. So, I made sure our announcers, control room operators, and office personnel each had the lists so we could answer calls while still being able to do our jobs by not giving the entire duty to one person.