No joke

Harry West was a funny, funny man. But he was no joke.
The legendary radio personality who died on Sept. 27, came into almost every home in Northeastern Pennsylvania every morning for decades. Mine was one. I ate breakfast with Harry, shaved with Harry, and read the morning paper with Harry in the background. Noted for peppering his morning deejay performance with corny jokes, Harry started our day with plenty of laughs. But laughs aside, he took his role quite seriously.
When we talk about radio in my Intro to Mass Communications class at the community college, I share a story Harry told me some time ago. He was on the air on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. Those were the days when the deejay spinning the Top 40 records, did everything from weather reports to public service announcements to the news. The latter came to the stations via a teletype machine and the deejay’s responsibility was to tear off the latest sheet and read it over the air. The nickname for this was to “rip and read.” Harry said as he read the words that John F. Kennedy had been assassination, in his head he was thinking, “If this is some sort of joke, my career is over.”
He said the folks at WARM, where he worked, thought it inappropriate to keep playing rock ‘n’ roll on such a tragic day. “We didn’t know what to do,” he said, “so we sent someone down to the record store in Scranton and he came back with some classical albums. And that’s what we played.”
I credit Harry with planting a seed in me that has become central to my life. Those who know me or read my stuff know I make it a point to live in the now. That began with a little bit of philosophy Harry spouted one morning maybe 40 years ago: you can’t do anything about the past, but you can sure ruin the present by worrying about the future.

Ed Ackerman