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Radio personalities ham it up

It’s 5 o’clock on a summer morning when KAUS-AM personality John Wright ambles toward the door of the studio. A half-hour later, Duane Germain, the other half of the station’s morning on-air routine, is sifting through faxes after just getting in.

Between then and 6 a.m. the two busy themselves with various amounts of production, recording and preparation. Then, at the top of the hour, the day begins. Their intro is to the point, but in that short time, they’ve already laughed.

“I look forward to getting up in the morning and working with Duane,” Wright said. “We have fun together and that makes all the difference in the world.”

Early on in their careers, Wright and Germain were in two different parts of the state and on two different paths to Austin.

Germain started earlier, graduating from the Brown Institute in 1969 and taking his first job in Austin in 1971. A year later, Germain was back in the Twin Cities, going to school at the University of Minnesota and taking a generic string of classes that would later lead to a degree in applied studies.

Germain worked in a manufacturing job that made parts for ice cube machines — “terrible,” he said — but in 1973 he started part-time at WLOL 1330 AM. This later led to full time work.

A year later, however, Germain suffered from being the “low man on the totem pole” and was let go.

“I was out of radio for a couple years and I missed it,” he said.

But for Germain, it seemed all roads led back to Austin.

“Dave Daniels called me up and asked what I was doing,” Germain recalled. “I told him I finished up school and I missed radio.”

Germain was back in Austin.

Wright got his start in Hibbing, Minn. at WMFG in 1981. This came after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh and a small detour as an assistant manager at a jewelry store.

“I got out of college, and there were not really a whole lot of jobs in broadcasting,” Wright said. “I was hired as an assistant manager at a jewelry store, and I thought, ‘Dude, you have no idea what you’ve done.’

“I got to a point where I thought, there has got to be something better,” he continued. “One day, I heard about a job opening at the station and literally did a U-turn and got an interview without an appointment.”

That continued until he came to Austin in the spring of 2002. It wasn’t as a voice of the airwaves, but rather a face — getting a job with the public TV station in Austin. That’s when Wright’s and Germain’s paths first crossed.

Specifically, it was a televised funddrive.

Germain was asked to appear with Wright on air during the drive, something Germain wasn’t very enthusiastic about.

“I hate doing TV,” Germain said of the experience. “I don’t like selling things.”

“But, we hit it off,” Wright said.

And now it’s just another morning — Thursday, June 24, to be exact — and Germain has given the AM side over to Wright as he goes about fishing through various sports reports for anything relevant to the interests of the listeners. Wright, meanwhile, brings a live news report to listeners.

That’s where it comes back to — the listeners. While both admit to having fun on the air, neither looses that humble track that their voice is just a conduit to what the listeners are tuning in for.

“We (media) sometimes forget that it’s not our radio or TV station,” Wright explains. “Without our listeners, we’re a bunch of guys in a closet talking to each other.”

That’s a pretty close analogy.

The broadcast booth the two spend their mornings in is a cube just big enough for the necessary equipment and broadcasters. Anything else and it gets pretty cramped, so the ability for the two on-air personalities to work and have fun together is that much more important.

“It beats working,” Germain laughs. “It’s true. We have fun. I think you have to, so we ham it up a bit.”

Germain seems to go out of his way to prove that point. Sitting in front of the control board, waiting for a radio spot to finish, he suddenly spreads his arms and adopts a face of some 1950s Hollywood monster and then gives it up for a satisfied chuckle.

“I hate serious things,” he said.

Of course, like all media mediums, there are the points that stick out. Germain can still remember when famed baseball personality Joe Garagiola was in town and joined Germain in the booth at Marcusen Park to call a semi-professional baseball game, or talking to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

“All of a sudden it was, ‘Hi Duane!’” Germain said. “He didn’t know me from a hole in the ground but the way he talked to you, you felt like he knew you.”

Wright has his moments of memory as well, but Wright enjoys hearing a story as much as he likes talking about them.

“From 10 to noon I have ‘The Wright Place,’ talking to various people in the community,” he said. “That’s the gravy for me. There are a lot of great stories to tell.”

At around 7 a.m., the author of this story begins to pack things up to head back to my own place of work when Germain signs off to a commercial with a cryptic, “You ever get the feeling someone’s watching you?” It’s out of the blue from what he had been talking about and a person gets the sense the listeners have cocked their heads toward the radio in a inquisitive manner.

It’s part of the fun.

“That is a good day when we have had a laugh over something,” Wright says, and it explains everything.