Familiar Northwoods voice moving on
Early mornings aren’t going to be quite the same for thousands of listeners Bill Mitchell attracts every morning on 97.3 WHDG radio. This past Friday, after 14 years of broadcasting in Hodag Country, was Bill’s last day on the job.
“I felt it was time for a change,” he said last week from his studio. “I’m ready for a new adventure.”
This adventure is in West Bend, where Bill will be starting a new job at 92.5 WBWI which also broadcasts country music, a genre Bill has learned to embrace whole heartedly. “The fans of country music are so great,” he said. “They are hard working, family oriented folk and I like that because that’s what I’m about too.”
Hard work and tenacity has paid off for this smooth talking, magnetic radio personality. Bill describes himself growing up “as a poor child in the middle of nowhere in Northern Michigan,” but it was these solid Midwestern roots that launched his career in the field of radio at a young age. When he was in seventh grade he converted his bedroom into a radio studio and would practice “broadcasting” for hours, spinning top 40 hits and rock and roll tunes. “Yeah my dad wasn’t too keen on that,” he laughs. “I got sort of loud at times.”
He landed his first gig of actually talking to a live audience in grade school where he became his school’s official PA announcer. “I even got to announce events at the high school,” he said. Bill was so smitten with entertaining people he wasn’t even in high school when he started his own DJ business, playing records for dances. “Thankfully my sister and brothers had big record collections,” he said. “And I spent a lot of the money I earned buying more records I could play at my DJ jobs.”
Determined to continue this success, Bill traveled the country after he graduated high school, taking on-air jobs in such cities as Orlando and Daytona Beach Fla., Columbus and Toledo, Ohio, Columbia, S.C., Wausau and even becoming the program director for the University of Notre Dame’s college station. “In this business you move around a lot,” he said. “But it was perfect for me because I was single and could just pick up a go whenever I wanted.”
Bill enjoyed this lifestyle, landing gigs at radio stations that played rock and roll and top 40 hits. He had never considered being an on-air personality for a country western station until he came to Rhinelander in 1998. “It’s definitely the fan base this music attracts that makes my job so much fun,” said Bill. “They are a loyal bunch.”
Despite his experience in larger markets, Bill came to love living in Rhinelander and the people he met here. He put down roots, marrying his wife Carol and raising a family which includes four kids. He also came to realize that attracting listeners was more than sitting behind a microphone. With his outgoing personality and easy camaraderie, Bill adores meeting new people whether they are country music fans or not. “I really enjoy going out and doing remotes and seeing and meeting the people who are at these events,” he said. “I love that about this business.”
Bill also considered broadcasting from the Hodag Country Fest every year a privilege because it allowed him to meet many of his favorite musical artists. Brooks and Dunn, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and his favorite artist, Waylon Jennings were all entertainers he could listen to and even sometimes interview in person. “Hodag Country Fest is the best,” he said. “It’s a great way to meet people and to see these artists up close and personal.”
Another aspect of his job he has always cherished was the early morning 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot. “My voice is better that time of day and I like getting up that early,” he said. “It’s an important broadcasting slot because people rely on you to get them off to a good start and to get them updated on what happened over night and what is going on with stuff like the weather.”
His early morning time slot became an important factor not long ago in a broadcast Bill will never forget. The Leap Day snow storm on Feb. 29 gave him reason to pause. “I come on at 5 a.m., with one of the earliest live broadcasts in the area,” he said. “I came to realize that people were really relying on me to keep them updated on what was happening with the storm. I took that responsibility very seriously.”
As fun loving and wise cracking as Bill is, he does get serious when he thinks about leaving the area in the next few weeks however, he’s looking forward to his new responsibilities in West Bend, where he will dominate the early mornings on WIWB. And he’s also looking forward to pursuing one of his favorite pastimes, meeting new people. “I thought long and hard about moving on,” he said. “I love Rhinelander and all my fans here but sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone. I’m looking forward to meeting a whole new set of friends in West Bend and taking advantage of what a bigger city has to offer. But, I do admit, a big part of my heart will always be here in Hodag Country.”
Associate Editor Mary Ann Doyle is available at [email protected].