Last Monday was one of those beautiful early September days with clear skies and bright sunshine. I drove to the campus at the University of South Carolina a little early for my show because I had a couple of things to do before I started it. So I had time to reflect on my short walk up the hill from the parking building to the Russell House. Being a little early had me arriving right at the break between the first and second classes for the day. So I was surrounded by more students making their way back and forth across campus than is usual. Surrounded by all the bright faced young students reminded me that fifty years ago I was starting my third week of college. I was just beginning to find my way around the campus at the University of South Carolina both geographically and socially.
The patio that I cross just before entering the building is larger now than it was back in my day. The towering live oaks still provide a leafy canopy over the flagstones. Today the trees are a little bigger and leafier than they were but the feel of the place is the same. There are tables under green umbrellas surrounded by chairs where students, staff and faculty enjoy quiet time and outdoor lunches. The student’s styles have changed from dresses for the girls and dress shirts and slacks for the boys to t-shirts over short shorts for the girls and blue jeans or shorts for the boys. Off to my left, against the serpentine brick wall, I can still see where the small fountain was. I remember the flickering of the sunlight off the water underneath the branches of the oaks like it was yesterday.
I love this part of my walk. I nod to the familiar faces of the faculty and staff that are there week in and week out. I don’t know most of their names but we are used to seeing each other every Monday. Back in the day, I would run into a friend or two every time I crossed that patio. I thought that those days were long gone, but to my amazement there is usually one of the student DJs or someone else I know out there and it is time for a quick “Hi” and a fist bump or hug in passing. Aside from the fist bump, it might was well be 1963 again!
Since I had a little time, I took a moment to sit at one of the tables and reminisce. 50 years ago, I sat on the edge of that fountain across the patio enjoying one of the last warm sunny mornings before the cool Fall days arrived. I remember it was just after breakfast and I was beginning to feel at home. I looked out across Davis Field towards “H” dorm where I lived, just visible around the corner of the Undergraduate Library. I was waiting for Steve Warkaske, a friend from my floor of the dormitory. Steve was going to show me his favorite place at the University; the WUSC radio station. That day, that visit would shape my career for the rest of my life. I had no idea that something that significant was about to happen.
Indeed, October and November of ‘63 were a pivotal months; I assimilated into college life, made some lifelong friends and found my future career. I began training at WUSC. I learned how to load and cue reel to reel tapes, slip start records, how to pull the news and weather off their teletype machines, how to announce and operate an audio console and how to operate a radio transmitter and keep logs. My very first show, “Night Owl” was coming up quickly on November 8th. These personal changes were a microcosm of changes around me; the integration of the University, part of the civil rights movement to the beginnings of the US involvement in the Vietnam War after the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam on the second of November followed by that of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd.
Changes were afoot for me, my university and my country. Looking back with the perspective of time, I realize now just how different my world was about to become that day. Oh MY!