When the final school bell rang at New Albany High School on the 2013 term, another legendary teacher left the building for the final time. He had a profound impact on me as a student and one of the few teachers that when I see them out in the community, I want to go up and engage him in conversation.
Next year someone new will come and take over at WNAS radio, but it will not be the same now that Lee Kelly has decided to hang up the microphone.
It is not an exaggeration when I say that I may not have made it through high school without his class and I am a better person for having him as an instructor. I was a kid that had a lot of potential when it came to studies, but I didn’t always apply myself as much as I could. A lot of the classes I took I thought were boring and did not interest me until I discovered radio. Although I did not pursue a career in broadcasting, I feel like that class helped me in many aspects of my life including writing this column every week.
I still remember the first day of class my junior year of high school. I had radio class second period and walking into the “station” back then was a little intimidating. The class was a mix of experienced seniors and the new juniors that all had to audition the year earlier in order to get in. As you walked into the suite of rooms that held the offices, transmitter, television production, editing and television and radio studios, you no longer felt like you were in the same building as the other 1,200 or so students in high school. You were part of something special.
At the top of every hour you were required to say what is called the “station Identification.” Everyone has heard it a million times; it’s just so common we don’t seem to notice anymore. The “station Identification” consist of the call letters and the city of license. The FCC requires all broadcast stations, television and radio to announce this as close to the top of every hour as possible. Mr. Kelly’s first job was to teach all new students how to pronounce it properly. Nearly everyone on first try would say dubya N-A-S when the correct way to say it is “double U” N-A-S.
Mr. Kelly helped with my interest in politics as part of our radio/television class. In conjunction with Mr. Dusch’s government class, we invited candidates to come and tape statements to play on the local cable station. It is still a huge part of local elections. I was a big part of that in my two years in his class and I later returned to tape my own segment when I ran for county council several years back. That was in the same studio that I used when I was a student with much of the same equipment. Construction had begun on the new studio and Mr. Kelly took the time to take me to the studio that was being built that they would move into the following year.
Back then Mr. Kelly planned and chaperoned a spring break field trip to New York City every couple of years. Looking back it must have taken a lot of guts to take a bus load of 17- and 18-year-olds to The Big Apple like that. I was part of the group back in 1987 and I still have many fond memories. Besides seeing the usual sights we saw two Broadway plays, “A Chorus Line” was in the middle of its record run and Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound” — the third part of his semi-autobiographical trilogy staring Linda Lavin and Jonathon Silverman. We also caught a glimpse of Morgan Fairchild during a tour of the NBC building “Thirty Rock.”
We were able to see how a television show was produced when we got up early one day and went and saw “The CBS Morning Program.” Back then Mariette Hartley was the host and Mark McEwen was the weatherman. A pre “Full House” Bob Saget had a comedy segment in that program and warmed up the audience before the show. Recognizing that everyone was wearing our station logo sweatshirts he started a conversation with members of our group. He even joked with one of our other chaperones about how unfortunate it was to be a teacher with a name that was phonetically the same as a feminine hygiene product.
When I was in grade school we would listen for our favorite song on WNAS and even called the request line to hear it. We would wake up in the winter when there was snow on the ground to hear Mr. Kelly tell us whether or not school was in session during his “Coffee with Kelly” morning broadcast. For years before high school I would listen to him announce basketball on 88.1 and still do to this day especially during tournament time. Following Bulldog football and basketball will not be the same now that Lee Kelly has retired.
The moniker “Voice of the Bulldogs” was given to the radio station many years ago. I believe that it should be permanently retired along with Mr. Kelly as a tribute to his years of service to the radio station, the school and to our community.
I wish Mr. Kelly all the best during his much deserved retirement. With his voice I am sure he could have had any job he wanted in broadcasting and made as much money as he needed. He chose to teach high school and was able to touch thousands of lives over his 40 years at WNAS New Albany. I am a better person for having him as a teacher and proud to call him a friend.
Matthew Nash can be reached at email@example.com