|An alarm clock
suddenly blasts off. A lanky arm snakes out from beneath the covers, a
hand fumbles along the dresser top, encounters the screaming clock and
clicks off the alarm. Sleepily perched on the edge of the bed, Don Phillips
glances at daylight streaming through his bedroom window.
Sounds like a normal, early-morning rising? The odd thing about the scene is that it's three o'clock in the afternoon!
This is the mixed-up world of WLS disc jockey Don Phillips, who capably handles the midnight-to-five a.m. time slot on his East of Midnight show. Don's work day is just starting when most Chicagoland gents are ending theirs. While buses, trains and cars are jammed with homeward bound commuters, Don is having breakfast (usually consisting of juice, cereal and coffee) with his attractive wife, Doris and the four Phillips youngsters, Keith, 14; Sandra, 11; Donna, 10; and Brian, 6.
Don's reaction to his upside down schedule? "I love it," he states. "How many guys can have every afternoon off, to spend with his family, shoot a bit of golf, or just loaf?"
There's very little time in Don's schedule for loafing. An experienced pilot, Don is one of the two "birdmen" at WLS (Clark Weber also flies). He recently made a long-time dream come true by purchasing a Ryan "260" Navion, a four-place, single engine plane. (The other WLS disc jockeys kid Don about the picture of the plane he carries in his wallet. "I can't help it," he says, "I love her.") Don uses his "bird" flying to record hops and other personal appearances throughout the Midwest.
There's another Phillips talent - singing. Don was part of a vocal group in his home town of Milwaukee for several years. Two members of the quintet, called the Honeybees, invited Don to join them in another group being formed. Don declined in favor of a radio career. "These two friends later formed the top-rated Hi-Lo's," he reports. "But I'm glad I stuck with radio." During his record hops, Don occasionally tosses in a sampling of his singing ability, to the surprise and delight of his fans.
"I was majoring in speech at the University of Wisconsin when I decided to make radio my career," he states. A native of Milwaukee, Don had attended Nathan Hale high school in West Allis, Wis., before entering college. "After leaving college, I started a part-time job as an announcer at WRJN in Racine, Wisconsin. My next stop was with WAUX in Waukesha, then to WRIT and WOKY, both in Milwaukee. I joined WLS in May, 1963."
When planning his show, Don carefully blends in something for everything, including pop tunes, balanced with humorous chatter on the world of music, flying , golf, or any other subject that pops up. "We keep things moving right along," he says, "Our audience enjoys the fast-paced tempo of the show."
"When I first started the East of Midnight time slot, I was a little worried that the only listeners around would be truck drivers and bartenders. Well, it turned out that we have some of these, but we also get calls and letters from doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, and thousands of other people in Chicagoland who work while the rest of the world is asleep."
"The 50,000 watt signal of WLS booms out pretty far at night when the airwaves are less cluttered. I have had listeners call from as far away as Texas and California."
This close association with the Don Phillips "family" of loyal fans is the most enjoyable part of Don's work. "I don't go for that 'sophisticated-and-bored-radio-star' routine," he reports. "I still get a thrill from a letter or call, or walking out on stage for a record hop. Whenever I point that bird of mine toward a Midwestern town for a hop or benefit appearance, I'm grateful for the acceptance of listeners."
Here's a rough idea of Don's schedule: After his lengthy, 5-hour shift working over a "hot" mike, he arrives at his home in the northern suburbs about 6:30 a.m. Don usually unwinds by romping a bit with his four youngsters before the kids head for school. Bedtime for Don is about 8:30 a.m. "With the kids in school and the house quiet, I have no trouble going to sleep," he says.
Don's "morning" starts at 3:00 p.m., when, after breakfast, he handles some of his paperwork routine involved in the show and his many appearances. he might also take part in one or more of his outside activities - golf, flying, church work or, in the summer, coaching a local Little League team.
After a late dinner, Don begins preparation for his evening cruise to the WLS studios in Chicago. While this topsy-turvy schedule might be confusing to some people, Don thrives on it.