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PostRetirement of Carl Grapentine, Broadcast Icon (David Duggan, USA, 07/28/18 3:58 am)
2018 is proving to be a year of noteworthy passages and transitions (the Hon. Anthony Kennedy, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Rev. Billy Graham). So I thought I would notify WAISers of the retirement of one who, though perhaps not of that pantheon, has brought significant joy and amusement to my life, Carl Grapentine, the long-time WFMT morning program host.
WFMT, for those not familiar with middle America, is Chicago's classical music station and often characterized as the "best classical music station in the United States" (since the demise of the format, there may be only a handful of competitors: according to a quick Wikipedia search most of the 200-plus licensees using the format are university affiliates, including KUSC, Los Angeles' classical station, affiliated with, of course, the University of Southern California).
Grapentine's tenure at WFMT (and briefly with its classical-rival, WNIB, now a "classic rock" format) largely coincides with my return to Chicago in 1985, and his dulcet tones, unsurpassed knowledge of the classical music canon, and wry humor have awakened me for almost every workday of that 32+ year span. After shutting down my Loop Chicago office some 10 years ago, I have become even more familiar with Carl's expertise in the three "B's" (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms), not to mention Shostakovich, Mahler, Mozart, and perhaps my favorite composer, Handel. Six years ago, when both WFMT and I turned 60 (about two weeks apart), I celebrated the occasion by both sending a donation and then recording a pitch for my fellow listeners to do likewise. The station played the recording for several years following, and the few people who know me would sometimes comment on having heard it.
I mentioned Carl's humor, and this is as distinctive as his voice and knowledge of the genre. For the start of the baseball season, every year he plays a pastiche of the Abbott-Costello "Who's on First" gag, Lou Gehrig's "today I'm the luckiest man on the face of the earth," A. Bartlett Giamatti's (he was the Yale president who became the Commissioner of Baseball) New Yorker piece about baseball beginning in spring and breaking your heart, and finally the now famous "Go Cubs Go," by the late Steve Goodman. On the first day of winter, he always cues up the Dartmouth Winter Song (by Richard Hovey) and tells the listeners to get their blazers and rep ties ready. Until about 20 years ago, he announced this as simply the Winter Song (it was performed by Chicago's William Ferris Chorale), but an alum called in and told him that it was the Dartmouth Winter Song. He made the correction on air and has properly attributed it ever since.
Since 1970, Carl has been the announcer for the University of Michigan marching band at the Big House in Ann Arbor, honoring his alma mater as few can. He grew up in Michigan and graduated from the Maize and Blue that year majoring in music education, playing the oboe and singing in the glee club. Some 16 years ago, he added the announcing of the Wolverines' play-by-play to his repertoire, which just so happens to coincide with the relative demise of Michigan's football fortunes: they haven't won a Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1998, have lost the last three they've played in, and won only one BCS game in that interval, the 2012 Sugar Bowl over the West Virginia Hokies. Not that there's cause and effect, but I wonder if the players are so mesmerized by Carl's voice that they don't get properly psyched up for their padded-and-helmeted pigskin warfare.
With over 4,600 broadcasts under his (ample) morning belt, Carl is leaving the Chicago area, returning to Michigan where he will record a minute-broadcast a day about some classical music event or issue. I've never met the man, but having had him announce my name on air for having won the WFMT morning program quiz, I can die happy. My days will be impoverished listening to second-tier announcers, however, particularly when this listener-supported station goes into fund-raising mode this fall. Listening to Carl shill for his long-time employer was the only reason I didn't switch the dial during that two-week telethon.
Carl Grapentine, may you have a retirement as glorious as the mornings which you have provided your long-time listeners.
JE comments: Now that is a tribute! I notice, David, that Mr Grapentine has finally seen the light and will be abandoning upstart Chicago for the civilization of Michigan.
I'll close with a rendition of the "Hanover Winter Song," from the Dartmouth Aires, a male a cappella group. I used to sing it in my Glee Club days: zoom zoom zoom zoom. Frankly, the song is more meaningful after an eggnog or two.