Times Bulletin News Writer

Area residents have been listening to Chris Roberts on the radio for more than 35 years. The former WOWO-AM announcer has been in Van Wert since 1995 as owner, engineer, programmer, and morning host at WERT-AM and WKSD-FM.

It has been 35 years since he took the moniker Chris Roberts when he reported for work at WOWO in 1973. The man, who is also known as Rick Ford, had his new name handed to him when he arrived in Indiana.

"I was going to be Rick Ford here in Ft. Wayne," he remembered. "The station had hired another Chris Roberts from KSTP in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but he got a better gig on the way down [to Fort Wayne]. They had already ordered the $300 jingle for Chris Roberts. So I was coming into Ft. Wayne and the program director asked me if I'd mind being Chris Roberts. I told him I'd be anybody he wanted!"

Spending 23 years on the air at a powerhouse station like WOWO molded an association between the familiar voice and the name Chris Roberts, so when he made the move to Van Wert radio, buying the station in 1995, he kept using it on the air. That does occasionally cause some confusion. "Well, you wind up with a bunch of different names," he admitted. "In a small town like this, half the people know me as Rick, the other half know me as Chris, and you don't really know what to answer to, so you answer to everything!"

For Ford, one day is pretty much like another. Wearing so many different hats at the radio station means he has plenty of responsibilities that cannot be pushed aside. The most prominent role he plays is his time as Chris In The Morning weekday mornings.

The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. and by 4:45, Ford is at the station to start the new day.

The first duty is to make sure the station equipment is operating correctly. Automated equipment means that if the station goes silent at any point during the day, Ford's cell phone rings to tell him of the problem.

After the 30 seconds or so of checking the equipment, it is time to prepare for the news hour which begins a 6 a.m.

Ford explained, "I start with the stock market report. That is called in from Edward Jones the night before... I make sure that has transferred into our automation system and that it is the right report. Then I record Greg Shoup's weather forecasts, then after that is getting the agri-business reports... When that is done, it's sports time, and time to get the sportscasts together. When that's done, it's usually around 5:20, and I spend the next 40 minutes putting the newscast together."

After getting through the first hour on both AM and FM stations, the formats split, and it's Chris Roberts taking over as morning disc jockey from 7 until 9 a.m. This is the time that really excites the radio veteran, playing classic rock and roll hits that date back to his beginnings in radio as a teenager in Cleveland..

"This is kind of a soundtrack of my life," he explained. "Each one has a specific memory and I can quote a memory from each one of them. And there are thousands and thousands of them."

Even though he has played some of these tunes literally thousand and thousands of times, Ford says he enjoys them differently than he used to. He shared, "I don't look at them the same way. To me, they are standards. Standards, to me, used to be "Misty" and stuff like that. But you don't hear those on the radio anymore, so they aren't standards. "Lightning Strikes" by Lou Christie is a standard to me."

The music may be the same, but the technology has grown by leaps and bounds during Ford's broadcasting career. Radio stations used to require room after room of storage for records, broadcast equipment and the like. Today the computers make broadcasting and storage much simpler.

Pulling a small card from his pocket, he said, "This has every song and every commercial the AM and FM station plays, and every ad and file the Van Wert Independent has on it. This is the total backup of everything we do here in my pocket. That's insane, when you think of it. I back it up every two days or so. If anything were to happen I'd get right back on the air or whatever. That's the crazy thing about this industry."

Technology has even made it possible to work from a condominium in Florida or from his lake house in Indiana. Ford revealed with a smile, "Other than physically putting paper in a printer or physically taking a CD and putting it in a computer, there is nothing that I can't do with this radio station in every capacity from someplace else with a computer and high-speed Internet. When I go to Florida on vacation or my lake cottage, I do the news from there."

Most days though, Ford is at the Mendon Rd. studios for his morning shift. Once 9 a.m. hits, there are other responsibilities to handle. Ford's voice is widely used all over the country by various restaurants and businesses. There are commercials to be recorded, the time and weather line to be updated, computer ads to be made, and plenty of electronic work.

It was the electronics that originally drew Ford to broadcasting. "I was always amazed at how you could speak into a microphone whether it was a ham radio or a CB or whatever and someone could hear that reproduced miles away. I don't know what it was, but I was always fascinated by that," Ford remembered.

Knowing electronics landed him a job at a Cleveland radio station as a teenager, where he read news. It was news that was Ford's mainstay in the early years. But a desire to play records pushed him to take a pay cut. "In 1971, I went from 350 bucks a week to 175 bucks a week just because I wanted to play records on the radio. My mother thought it was the dumbest decision!" recalled Ford.

In 1973, he took the job to do afternoons at WOWO, turning down the opportunity to work at the big Chicago ratings leader WLS. He came to Fort Wayne, expecting to stay one year before returning to his native Cleveland. He ended up staying 23 years.

When WOWO changed to an all-talk format, Ford left. He ended up back on the air in Van Wert even though he had intended the investment as something to tinker with as engineer.

There is still plenty of time to take care of the broadcast equipment for Ford. Even though he is off-mike by 9 a.m., he stays through the afternoon working. "I'm here at least 11 and usually 12 hours a day," he said. "And it's fun. It does by very quickly. I don't notice it. I'm always doing something. And I get back up the next morning and jump right back in here again because it's just fun to do. This isn't work, this is fun."

The day is over for Ford by 10 p.m. most nights. Then he is up again early the next morning. Waking up at 4 a.m. is easy for him these days, after doing it for so long. Eventually it was the voice of Chris Roberts taking over the morning show at WOWO when legendary voice Bob Sievers retired in the mid 1980s.

Radio is his life. "I don't know what I would do if I wasn't doing this," he readily admits. But Ford insists that radio is not a way to feel self-important. "I never really had the ego to have people listening to me, I just wanted to be on the air," he shared. "If nobody was listening, that's fine too. I really don't know if anybody's listening and I really don't care. I come in here and have a real good time and that's what counts."