My Most Memorable New Year’s Eve, 30 Years Ago Today

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve, 2015.  We celebrate the 16th anniversary of Y2K tonight and into tomorrow.  Most everyone has a New Year’s Eve that will go down as the one that they’ll never forget…unless they drank too much every New Year’s Eve to remember a New Year’s Eve.  As for me, my most memorable New Year’s Eve was one for which I was in a state of absolute sobriety, because I was working.

It was 30 years ago tonight, in fact, when I was hosting a countdown of “The Hot 98 of 1985” on radio station WSPT-FM in Stevens Point, WI.  Scanning over a list of the year’s hits on Wikipedia, there’s a plethora of songs by Madonna, Wham!, Bruce Springsteen and Phil Collins, among others…truly, one of the last great years of Top 40/Contemporary Hit Radio, which was the format that WSPT aired.

So I had things timed out to start at 5:00 P.M. CST and finish at midnight.  Then, well into the evening, the bell on the Associated Press teletype at the station begins to ring, meaning that an urgent story is being conveyed.  I check the wire, and find that Rick Nelson, member of Ozzie and Harriet’s family, and concurrently a teen idol and solid rock performer, died in a Texas plane crash.  I take the story to the studio and mention it on the air, during the countdown.

One other point (no pun intended) to make about WSPT.  Every Friday, the station aired its “All-Oldies Friday” programming…and if high school sports didn’t get in the way, I hosted an “All-Oldies, All-Request Friday Night” program on the station.  With this in mind, after I mentioned Rick Nelson’s demise, the phone calls start coming in to the studio, basically saying the same thing:  “Why aren’t you playing any Ricky Nelson?  You play oldies, don’t you?  So play Ricky Nelson.  You’ve got to play something as a tribute to him.”  And, to every caller, I had to explain that we were doing a countdown of the top hits of 1985, and it would be a challenge to wedge one in from (possibly literally, in this case) 1958.  But I told these listeners, who were growing increasingly agitated as the night passed without hearing a Rick Nelson song, that I would try to find an opportunity to wedge a Rick Nelson song in.

Eventually, I found an opportunity at around 10 P.M. to honor the wishes of the many callers who asked to hear a Rick Nelson song.  And I was able to provide them with what is, and will always be, my favorite Rick Nelson song.  The tune also seemed rather apropos for the circumstance I was playing it for.  It’s a sparse, sad and haunting tune that I’m afraid was hijacked for a television commercial years later.  But I think (and hope) it satisfied those wanting to hear a Rick Nelson song that night of December 31, 1985…Rick Nelson’s last on earth.

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