Fall into the Kishwaukee River, and you’ll never leave DeKalb. It’s a local legend, origin unknown. I did this my first day in town, in 1987, when I arrived as a transfer student at Northern Illinois University. Too much beer, not enough beer nuggets to soak it up. Oh look, a river. Let’s stumble over and check it out…
I thought I disproved this folk tale when I moved to Kentucky last May after retiring from WNIJ, an NPR station licensed to NIU. But I guess I don’t understand the workings of things foretold. On Tuesday, Sept. 12, I’ll be back in town, in my old radio station, asking for your financial contributions during the fall fundraiser.
How did this come about? I seem to recall making — not a promise, mind you — but a sort of vague statement about an autumn homecoming if the station wanted me for anything. It’s the kind of thing you say on your way out after working 30 years in the same building. I never thought my former boss would hold me to it.
Still, I’m thrilled to rejoin the action and the plain old scenery. Mid-September is harvest season in the Midwest, and the academic year is still new enough at my alma mater that you can feel the optimism among students and faculty (believe me, that’ll change as the semester grinds toward finals).
September is also when WNIJ departs from its normal programming to remind listeners that more than 40% of the station’s budget comes from donations — from those who tune in, or use the web site or app. It’s often hair-raising for staffers who work extra shifts and managers who fret about the hourly totals. But it’s also fun because everyone’s pulling toward the same goal: to pay for another year of the news and entertainment you get from WNIJ. And somehow, the station manages to do it. Every year.
I’m thrilled to be part of this after going away for a few months. And who knows? If I don’t make a mess of it, I might come back next year. If they want me. Even if they don’t, I’ll probably succumb to the call of the Kish. It doesn’t let go that easily, as I’m learning.
If you’re new to DeKalb, I hope this article helps you make an informed decision about putting down roots. If you’re not sure, stay away from the river. But if you’re feeling adventurous, step on up to that rare waterway that flows northward. Walk right to the edge. Let’s see what kind of a grip this place will have on you.