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Doc Watson: TV 31 reunion 'a great experience'

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As with any reunion event, I get nervous, self-consciously worrying about how I’m going to mess it up or or say something inappropriate. It’s a stupid waste of energy, but that’s been my M.O. throughout life. So when I got the invitation from general manager Kevin Harlan to take part in the WMBD TV 31 “Family Reunion,” I looked at it with equal parts excitement and dread.

For those who weren’t around or didn’t watch morning TV then, I was one of four original members of The Morning Mix, from 1996 until 2003, the morning show that aimed to be like a rock radio morning show on TV. I was the lone original to stick around Peoria and the last to go off air, as the new owners took the morning show in a more traditional direction.

The month of May is one of two big ratings months for our local TV stations. CBS affiliate WMBD TV, channel 31, had the cool idea of bringing back former on air talent to co-host the 6 p.m. newscast with main anchor Paul Cicchini. I was the 10th guest co-host of the month last Friday, and as my former co-worker, friend and current sports director Kurt Pegler told me afterwards, the on air reunion has “gone over better than we’d expected.”

I knew going in that Paul Cicchini was from my native Detroit and that we’d attended the same broadcast school after going to college at different state universities, albeit 20 years apart. That put me at ease, and he was great to meet and extremely helpful, as I’d never read the news in my radio or TV career. He helped me decipher the rundown, which was more complex than anything I’d encountered doing The Morning Mix or filling in doing a three minute sports cast during the news. We also found out we had more in common than we thought, having both started our radio careers at a small station in Big Rapids, MI, then eventually working on Grand Rapids, MI, radio.

After catching up, taking a PR pic beforehand and doing a quick once-over of the news scripts (don’t know who wrote them, sorry), we got to the main news set about five minutes prior to the newscast starting. I had to have Paul help me with my lavaliere, clip-on microphone, then did a brief “mic check” so the crew could adjust my audio level. A few moments later Paul started reading his opening line of the cast. I thought he was doing a mic check, too, but he’d actually started the newscast live at that point. I was a bit shocked and surely had the “deer in headlights” look as I read my name and opening story. I slipped on the word “transgender,” but was able to right the ship and get through the rest of the cast without a hitch.

Things, I’d found, had changed a bit since my last time on WMBD 13 years prior. There was no floor director around to point to the talent or camera that’s on air or to tell the talent when they’re about to go on. During The Morning Mix days, we had a floor director, plus a large digital clock to help us keep track of where we were on time. Also, I, along with all the guest anchors, had failed to bring in my earpiece (an IFB – Internal Frequency Band, if memory serves), so only Paul was hearing cues from the director in the control room. In essence, the co-host is flying a bit blind, but fortunately Paul was a fine mentor, coaching me when we were getting ready to come back live on air.

About 10 minutes into the cast came the part where old video is shown of the former talent during their WMBD days, and the two on air talent get to play catch up. I’m guessing Morning Mix director Mark McGregor had compiled the video, which included a few of my silly man-on-the-streets pieces and a couple outtakes from our daily recorded promo session where we promoted the next day’s show. It wasn’t the “best of” material that I’d have chosen, but I’d watched a few of the previous guest hosts and realized that bringing in tapes of myself – which GM Harlan had said we could do – would come off as vain.

I had hoped to talk about the many unique experiences that the show afforded me. I got to kick an extra point for the Peoria Pirates in 2000 in front of 10,000 fans during a real Indoor Football League game. I got to road trip with the 2000 ECHL champion Rivermen (the Rivs used two of my segments on their year-end, championship video), then play in an exhibition game with the Rivs the next year against the Toledo Storm. I shot a video piece in which I sneaked into the Peoria Chiefs locker room prior to a game, stole a uniform and almost got to play for the Chiefs, before getting caught by security during batting practice. The looks on the opposing team – which was NOT in on the joke – were priceless.

During my six and a half years on the goofy morning show, I got to play beekeeper, synchronize swim, crash a motor bike in a corn maze, dance with a movie wedding dress on Main Street in East Peoria during morning rush hour (nearly got arrested, 4 realz), ride on a horse and attempt calf roping, etc. I honestly can’t remember all the one-of-a-kind things I did, but I do remember nearly drowning during a live shot while I was kayaking on the Illinois River.

I also lost a bet after losing a swimming competition with the Richwoods Knights girls team and had them shave off my mustache live on air while I was taped to a chair. And then there’s all the celebrities I got to interview or meet and the trips I got to go on. Again, the list is too lengthy for this blog. I failed to get a chance to thank the Lamb brothers, GM Bill and co-host Jeff, who brought me and my family from Toledo to Peoria for the strange radio/TV morning show simulcast.

Friday’s dicey weather, delivered flawlessly by chief meteorologist Chris Yates, took up more time than was probably planned, and we ended up dropping a couple stories at the end, a decision made by the director in the control room and unflappable Paul. But that left a few moments at the end for Pegler and I to get on camera together and enjoy a laugh at my expense.

All in all, a great experience that I should not have dreaded. I’d done some Thursday night appearances on WMBD’s sister station, Fox 43, with Pegler during the high school football season a couple years before, but this was my first “official” appearance back on WMBD since 2003, and I’d do it again if asked. Next time, I’ll even brush my hair, if I have any left.

Stay tuned the rest of this month for more guest appearances from faces and voices you’ll surely remember from back in the day.

Doc Watson

About the Author
Doc Watson likes to say he's not a real doctor, "but I play one on the radio." A native of Allen Park, Mich., he became a transplanted Peorian in 1996 when he came here to start the Morning Mix TV/radio simulcast show. Now he's a jock with 95.5 GLO and is " happy to be playing the music of my misguided youth." Though known for his voice, he occasionally dabbles with the written word and does that pretty well, too.