Despite the vitality that washes over me when I travel and visit major cities, I’m always more than happy to return and get back to my day-to-day in a far less populous area.
The pace isn’t nearly as hectic here, and I enjoy the fact that in small towns, we tend to get to know one another on a deeper level. Of those we’ve come to know through the years, many have been those in the media who write for us, appear on our TV screens and speak to us from our local radio studios. While we get to know some personally, even those we don’t, we feel we know through shared experiences.
When it comes to Lima’s history, I don’t believe it really can be adequately written without those who’ve provided us with local entertainment and information. As for our newspaper, those who’ve used their keyboards to speak to us through the years on local affairs such as Hope Strong, Chuck Dell, Paul Smith and Mike Lackey were the precursors of those who write about our area today.
As for our television station, to appreciate the efforts of Jeff Fitzgerald now, it helps to remember, say, an Easter Straker, a Laurie Omness, a Bill Frink, a Scott Clark and a George Dunster.
On our local radio airways, there have been the likes of Tom Francis, Tom Watkins, Neil Winget and Mike Mullen. In recent years, when it comes to our get-out-of-bed voices on WIMA, we counted on the professional efforts of Mike Miller, Jason Aldrich and Todd Walker to provide local news and sports and a plethora of information about what may not matter much to those who don’t live here but matters so very much to those of us who know our way around Allen, Auglaize and Putnam counties.
However, on the first Friday in May, the results of a decision became known, a decision made in the corporate offices of iHeart Radio, WIMA’s parent company, far from Lima. The decision was to pare local programming even more than it has already been over the past several years in the afternoon and evening, this time by pulling the plug on WIMA’s local morning show and replacing it with a syndicated show, “This Morning, America’s First News with Gordon Deal,” programming also fed to more than 250 other radio stations nationwide at the same time.
As far as the decision’s repercussions, of course, it directly affected two employees with a combined 37 years of service to WIMA, Jason Aldrich, who wore the dual hats of program director and on-air personality, and the local show’s lead voice, Mike Miller. Both now have another line added to their career resumes by having applied to them the euphemistic “reduced in force,” leaving only Todd Walker behind to somehow single-handedly cover all local news and sports at the station.
I spoke with former sports director Mike Mullen, who retired in 2005 after 31 years of quality work at WIMA’s studios off West Market for his reaction.
“When I found out about this, I had two reactions, sadness and anger,” he said. “I, of course, was sad for Jason and Mike, who gave so many years to the station, and angry that a company I devoted over three decades of my life to was almost completely dismantling its local news coverage.”
Mullen went on to say that, with just one person left behind to cover both news and sports, it creates a near untenable situation, but it was one he knew may very well come one day.
“I can’t say I’m surprised. Ever since local control of the station was given up in the 1990s, first to Clear Channel, the trend away from local personalities has escalated,” he said. “It’s much easier and cheaper to syndicate to multiple stations than to pay people in each market to do the work. This trend was actually one of the major factors in my decision to retire early.”
Mullen went on to say that, no doubt, iHeart’s recent bankruptcy issues played a significant role in the decision to replace the morning show, but he hates to see what was once a station that was a local tower of strength and provided so much to so many shrivel down to almost nothing.
Mullen recalled one time in particular when the station flexed its local muscles at a time of great need.
“During the Blizzard of 1978, we manned the station 24/7 for four solid days, providing all those transistor-radio listeners vital community and safety information to those who’d lost power at a time when newspaper deliveries were nearly impossible.”
Additionally, during the region’s ice storm in 2005, so many who’d lost power also relied heavily on WIMA for vital information.
So the baton that has been so very well passed at WIMA for decades with its strong local morning programming has ceased because of a decision made by corporate types, by people who’ve no idea what the Allen County Fairgrounds look like, who don’t know of Tony Anderson’s Thunderstock dominance at Limaland Motorsports Park and who have no idea how bright our Friday night lights are that shine down on Doug Frye’s Roughriders in St. Marys and Tim Goodwin’s Flyers in Maria Stein and who have no idea about so very much more about which we care.
And, with apologies to Gordon Deal, as far as I’m concerned, that makes us all just a little poorer.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.