As WKSU's Mark Pennell Retires, He Considers His Perspective on History from Behind the Mic
After almost 24 years on the air at WKSU and more than four decades in radio, Mark Pennell is retiring.
On the day of his last shift here, we wanted to take a moment to look back at that time in radio and some of the history he’s witnessed during that time.
Where it all began
Pennell's radio career began over 43 years ago. He went on air for the first time the day Elvis died. Being his first day, Pennell tried to stick to the playlist his music director created.
"People were calling me and were furious because none of them were Elvis songs. So it was trial by fire, I guess."
Changes in broadcasting
Pennell says one of the biggest changes he's seen is the amount of journalists working in broadcasting.
"They were huge news departments with real news people, journalists trying to put together stories ... And then of course it all died out on the commercial end of the dial," Pennell says.
When he went to visit a station he used to work for, he found that station had been turned into a computer in a closet, with no news staff.
A witness to history
To Pennell, 9/11 marks the biggest historical event in his career. It happened right as he was about to go on air. NPR was having a hard time getting on top of the story, but CNN wasn't.
Pennell potted up CNN, which he notes was probably against the law. However, it allowed them to go directly to what was going on before the news team could take over.
"I stepped back, and the moment I stepped back after being on the air for like 45 minutes, I started to cry. It hit me, and it was very emotional."
One of Pennell's most embarrassing moments was when he was working at a jazz station. He had just introduced a song, but something wasn't working right. He dropped the f-bomb, during the beginning of the song.
He went to his boss immediately and said, "I think you're going to have to fire me."
Pennell's boss responded that so long as no one called in to complain, he could keep his job.
"I didn't get a call, and I saved my job," Pennell says, maybe because the song was playing over him speaking or maybe because people didn't care enough to call in.
A life of radio
Pennell says he'll miss most the people and the camaraderie.
Somebody once told him that radio was fine until you get a real job. Pennell thinks of broadcasting differently.
"I thought that if you did right, you could turn it into a craft, almost an art," Pennell says. "If you had the theater and the mind like the WKSU news staff does, then you'd accomplish what radio is all about. It's sympatico ... I was able to try to paint pictures as I could every day, and I'm going to miss that."
While we’ll miss Mark, he’s not going to be gone entirely. You’ll be able to continue to enjoy his trips back in time, Monday through Friday, on Mark’s Almanac.