I didn’t have many perks when I was News Director at WPGU, but I did have access to the station van. It was used primarily for promotion events and remote broadcasts, but the news department got it on occasion to ferry people to Springfield to cover the workings of the state government or Chicago for election coverage. I also used it for donut runs in the middle of the night.
My favorite time to work at WPGU was overnight. I’m a night owl by nature and I did the midnight newscast. Afterwards, I would hang out with one of the overnight jocks, Scott (better known as Weasel) and Mark the engineer (better known as Watchdog). I didn’t have a nickname; sometimes I felt left out. Nadya did one of the midnight specialty shows. She played house music from 12 – 1 in the morning then played the normal fare until dawn. She smoked cigarettes and would invariably forget them.
“Can you guys get me a pack?” she’d ask. Weasel and I would generally look affronted at the mere thought (Watchdog smoked too). We considered smoking a “dirty and foul habit”. We could not – in good conscience – contribute to her eventual demise at the hands of them. Besides, the station van was not supposed to be used for personal business. This would mollify Nadya… for awhile. As the night wore on, she’d get a little more jittery.
“How about you guys pick up some donuts?” she’s say finally. “I’ll buy.” Now, that was something we could get behind. We applauded her altruistic nature… and if we happened to see a stray pack of cigarettes on our way – well, what were friends for? I’d get the keys to the van. “Station business” was a nebulous term; the way I saw it, WPGU ran on donuts, coffee and cigarettes just as much as electricity.
There was a Dunkin’ Donuts in Urbana. It was the safest donut shop in America; stationed across the street from the Urbana Police Department, next door to the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department and kiddy-corner to the Courthouse. We tended to be the only civilians in the place after two am. Generally, we’d jump in the van, drive to get a dozen donuts, stop at Super Pantry for “mighty beverages, worthy of kings” and pick up Nadya’s cigarettes and then back to the studio where we’d partake of our snack in the programming office, sitting on the plaid couch that had once been made of fabric.
One night, one of the programming staff – Jason Croft – accompanied us in the back seat of the van. Normally, overnight was his time to get some work done around the station without all the bothersome people. Weasel was riding shotgun and I was driving. We headed north on Fourth Street. There were several old bars a couple of blocks off Green Street, the main drag in Campustown.
I know it’s hard to believe, but a lot of students at the University of Illinois would drink before they turned 21. They skirted the law by using fake IDs. Periodically the Champaign police department would run out of crime in the rest of the city and take that as an opportunity to raid the campus bars and make a bunch of arrests. It was a slow night. A dozen police cars lined the street; window mounted spot lights illuminating a hundred underage drinkers lined up unhappily on the sidewalk outside of the bars as twenty police officers roamed the crowd, writing them up. Of course we thought this was funny. We all had a good laugh and I returned my attention to driving… right as I cruised through a red light.
Now, you’d think that with twenty cops and a hundred witnesses, driving a black van with “107” printed on the side in bright yellow, someone would have noticed. However, no one did. Mercifully, no one had been going down the other street that had the right of way (this was two o’clock in the morning, after all). The rest of the drive was uneventful except for my shaking hands and Jason who was laughing in the back.
“I hope you don’t need any more luck in your life,” he said. “I think you just used it all up!”