CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It would seem silly to start something new on April 1. It’s questionable anybody would take you seriously if you decided to undertake a new endeavor on April Fool’s Day. Yet, I did.
Saturday, April 1, 1994 I sat down behind the microphone in the talkshow studio of WAJR-AM and MetroNews in Morgantown, West Virginia and launched a brand new show called West Virginia Outdoors. The show had eight affiliates on what at the time was still a fairly young and developing radio network. I was a fairly young and developing broadcaster.
At the tender age of 25 I had been on the job with West Virginia Radio Corporation as a news reporter for four years. I cracked the mic, unsure of myself and amazingly nervous. I had always wanted to host my own outdoors show, but when it came time to pull the trigger I was scared to death. What if people don’t call? What if I freeze up and run out of things to talk about? An hour is a long time to talk about any topic if you have no help. I run the risk of looking pretty stupid if I don’t know what I’m talking about. I really should have gone to the bathroom before I came in here. All of those thoughts played in my mind as the opening music ran and the guy with the booming voice introduced me and when he was done I was off and running. Thankfully, I’m still running after 20 years worth of Saturday mornings.
The beginnings of West Virginia Outdoors took some discussion. The seed for the idea was planted in my head by Dr. Dave Samuel who at the time was the head of the Wildlife and Fisheries Department at West Virginia University. I met Dr. Dave for a discussion about the possibility of attending graduate school. He informed me with my undergraduate degree in communications I’d probably have to take so much science and math it would be akin to starting all over. I quickly dismissed a Masters Degree in wildlife.
But not wanting to dash the dreams of any young person, Dr. Dave offered an alternative idea. Samuel was aware of my passion for hunting and fishing from our brief discussion in his campus office and suggested our company, with the new MetroNews Radio Network, would be the perfect outlet to create a hunting and fishing show in a state with 350,000 licensed hunters and anglers.
It took some convincing of my superiors, but soon they agreed and the show was born. The show’s success or failure all hinged on me. Adding to the difficulty was radio outdoors was new ground. I’d grown up watching Curt Gowdy and Bill Dance put on masterful performances. The two were influential and inspired my desire to be an outdoors reporter, but they were on television. I really hadn’t heard of an outdoors radio show. I literally had to invent it as it happened. The show was a bit experimental. I tried various ideas and approaches. I went back and forth on whether it would be a radio talkshow or an informational show. I still can’t completely identify it as either one, it’s a bit of a hybrid of the two.
But, we’re 20 years into the West Virginia Outdoors experiment. Today we have 20 affiliates, including several FM stations across the state. We have also welcomed the folks at Ram Trucks as our official name sponsor. The daily Outdoors Today program has been a staple since the beginning, now boasting more than 25 affiliates statewide. This website has been added allowing for the expansion of hunting and fishing coverage in the state with articles and video. We’re also on social media with a healthy Facebook and Twitter following.
When I started the show in 1994 deer were only starting to become abundant and the antlerless hunting season was one week which came after buck season. The DNR was at the end of the trap and transfer program for turkeys and they were only starting to be established in all 55 counties. Bear were scarcely thought about except in nostalgia and few people in West Virginia had seen one in the wild. Today, there is an abundance of deer, bear, and turkey statewide and I’ve had the pleasure of reporting the progress along the way. During those years as the game increased, it was the number of hunters and anglers which started to fall off. The bigger stories we cover today are how to control over abundant game populations and recruit more young people to the ranks of hunting and fishing.
West Virginia Outdoors takes a lot of time and energy to produce. However, it is a labor of love. The shows and the websites are what I have always wanted to do. I’ve been able to hunt and fish in some fantastic places and share the experiences with you. I’ve built a rapport with many of you and many others have been loyal followers and listeners over the years. I cannot thank you enough for your support. The show’s opening says “dedicated to more than a quarter- million hunters and anglers across the Mountain State.” It certainly is and I hope in another 20 years we’ll all still be here enjoying the state’s two most popular activities hunting and fishing. God willing, I’ll still be reporting to you stories about both.