Rest in Peace John (Johnny B) Bryson

I need to stop going to the back pages of my Marquette alumni magazine whenever I crack it open for the first time. I sometimes discover the passing of a classmate and my generation (Generation X) isn’t that damned old yet.

And so I saw the passing of John Bryson. As per the obituary provided by the funeral home, John succumbed rapidly to ALS. It’s what Dr. Stephen Hawking has had most of his adult life.

The timing of discovering couldn’t be more relevant too. It was 30 years ago when we had a falling out over WMUR’s direction. WMUR used to be Marquette’s pathetic excuse of a radio station…three-watt carrier current you could only hear via AM and if you lived in the dorms. I don’t want to dwell on the specifics on what else was involved. The short version is that it was 90% (or more) my fault and I quit WMUR under a cloud as I scored an internship (translation: free labor) at WQFM, Milwaukee’s struggling AOR station.

However, I want to go back to those great times in 1987 when we first met. If I recall, Mike Wukitsch (sic) was the General Manager and John landed a spot as a production person. Since I was not part of the inner circle of assholes led by Music Director Dave Breen (sic) and Mike’s self-righteous prick brother Matt, I couldn’t be involved in the programming/music, but John needed people to help make spots. In English, spots are usually commercials (WMUR practically had none), station IDs, public service announcements and what have you. I decided why not, I did have some ideas. So with John’s leadership, a few of us banded together and made almost a dozen station IDs. This was the Eighties too, digital editing was expensive and Marquette only supported its darling, the money-losing pretend newspaper. If we had access to Eighties-level analog gear, we could’ve done what we made faster and more easily but the university thought early Sixties with a cassette deck was just fine. Despite the old stuff, making a 30-second spot was exciting, having to time multiple elements all at once while being quiet as someone spoke into the microphone. Yeah, the studio didn’t have a separate booth.

Through all those spots and wanting to be more inclusive with the station was how we became friends really. The latter was an impossible task. Who wants to be on a radio station that only plays in the dorms while half the Marquette population lives in apartments. Getting diversity becomes a fool’s errand since everyone wants to be heard, just not on a limited range. The definition of inclusive is also slippery. Every other person who wanted a time slot insisted on getting to play the crap Milwaukee’s three shitty AOR stations were bludgeoning to death. Plus, what entails expertise in Jazz, Blues and Americana? To give you an idea how elitist those formats are, Illinois State’s NPR station makes you take a written test on how well you know the history Jazz before even considering you the chance to read the news, little wonder people hate Jazz. Rap’s popularity was rising yet few Black students bothered, reinforcing the “Whitey only club” perception.

I’m going off course and I apologize. It was a wonderful and tumultuous time then.

John was a tremendous person. Often effervescent. I rarely saw him angry and when he was general manager after Mike, this was an incredible feat to stay smiling given the job of trying to wrangle his fellow students, egos and all. After he graduated (a year ahead of me), I think he landed a job with a radio station in northern Wisconsin. Somehow, I uncharacteristically felt mudita for him. I was probably busy with my gig at Stardate but even if I wasn’t, I campaigned to cheer on our fellow graduates, including him. If my peers were succeeded, it could cascade on to us younger students. It seems in the synopsis from the funeral home, John succeeded in doing what he loved as this goal changed which was the real lesson I think we all needed at WMUR.

Well John. I’m sorry you’re gone. You were a great person on many levels and we’re all going to miss you. I personally want to thank you for giving me a chance as a member of your production staff and how you willingly shared the opportunity to meet Emo Phillips in person for recording a live spot. I wish you were around for me to tell you, when I met Emo last year, he remembered the show and various details 30 years later.

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