EXCHANGE: After 45 years, Peoria radio stalwart signing off
PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — Good morning, troops. It’s Tuesday, July 30.
For close to half a century, Ed Hammond has been there. On your Peoria-area radio dial and just about everywhere else.
Covering a fire. Reciting a newscast. Describing a high school football game or a Peoria Rivermen hockey game.
In between those jobs, he also spent a brief period in the mid-1990s as the announcer/barker at Shoe Carnival in Peoria. There he used a microphone and his baritone to direct shoppers to flats and pumps in Aisle 5, among other things.
But most of Hammond’s work has been heard on local radio stations with call letters current or defunct.
“People may never have seen his face before, but everybody recognizes his voice,” Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said.
Hammond’s radio travels have taken him from WPEO to WCLL to WTXR to WIRL to WXCL to WMBD, where he has spent the past 19 years.
That run ended July 31. After having a Peoria on-air presence for almost all of the past 45 years, Hammond retired.
“I want to get away from the hustle and bustle, see what it’s like to have some time for myself,” said Hammond, 66. “Make some plans with the family to do something and not have to worry about whether anybody commits news while I’m there.
“It was just time to do it.”
During a career spent entirely in the Peoria market, Hammond’s timing has been right. It had to be, for him to survive and thrive in an increasingly cutthroat business.
The Chillicothe native’s devotion to the Peoria area and his willingness to report whatever and whenever was necessary might give credence to the old saying about how showing up is 80 percent of success.
Hammond’s easy-going personality and institutional knowledge more than account for the other 20 percent, according to his most recent employer.
“That’s not easy to replace,” said Mike Wild, vice president and general manager of Midwest Communications Inc., the WMBD parent company. “You’re taking about somebody that’s had 45 years in this market, most of it involving covering and anchoring news.
It’s probably much larger than Hammond envisioned in the summer of 1974, when he was working in the stockroom of old First Federal Savings in Downtown Peoria.
Hammond was attending Illinois Central College and aspired to be a television weathercaster. On a lark, he filled out a WPEO job application and auditioned for the program director.
“He sits there for a few seconds and he goes, ‘That sounded OK. Can you start tomorrow?’” Hammond said.
Thus began a career that simultaneously was nomadic and Peoria-centric. Sports play-by-play and playing host to music programming comprised much of those early days.
Hammond’s experience in radio news started in earnest in 1981, when he landed at WIRL. There he learned from two big names in Peoria broadcasting history, news director Ira Bitner and Bradley University basketball play-by-play man Mort Cantor.
“I just kind of rolled with the flow and took the punches that went along and tried to say yes to just about every opportunity that came along,” Hammond said.
The training Hammond received at WIRL and later at WXCL helped prepare him to become news director at WMBD, a position he’s held about five years. It also led to his coverage of the Peoria area’s biggest stories over the past four decades.
Among them were the mid-1980s recovery from the Illinois River of missing Morton couple Elmo and Edna Batterton; the 1987 killing of Peoria County Sheriff’s deputy John Sack; and the 2013 Washington tornado.
That latter event in the Hammond portfolio was particularly important, according to Wild.
“Literally, he has probably saved lives,” Wild said. “To me, it’s almost mind-blowing to think about nearly five decades of that type of service and how many people he has impacted and touched over his career.”
Never during that career did Hammond consider working in a different market, he said. If things didn’t work out in Peoria broadcasting, he’d just do something else locally.
After retiring, Hammond doesn’t intend to do much else, except spend more time with his two daughters and his grandson. But he’ll still be on the radio, in limited doses.
Hammond plans to continue as play-by-play voice of Bradley women’s basketball on WMBD, including the upcoming season that begins in November.
Perhaps time away from slaving over a hot microphone will give the humble Hammond a chance to assess a local-media career that might be close to unparalleled.
“People tell me, ’You’re a legend,” he said. “That’s not what I was trying to do, but I guess 45 years in this business is something to look back on and be pretty proud of, because there’s not a lot of people that can say they were in the business that long.
“But I’ve never been one to talk about myself or go, ‘Hey, look at me.’ (It was) ‘Here, go cover this.’ That was basically all I did. Thankfully, different bosses thought I was doing a good-enough job to keep me there.”
Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/2ysXZEe
Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com