ALTON – Tom Dehner, who has been in the media industry for four decades, says despite the “gloom and doom” scenario there always will be a place for the news…and those who report the news.
“Somehow, it just keeps on keeping on,” Dehner, of Alton, said. “If you are really a professional, you will find ways to adapt and stay afloat.”
Preserving some of his most indelible experiences and observations, he is putting the finishing touches on a collection of his radio commentaries, entitled “Just Call Me Harry Steinfeldt.”
“Tom Dehner” sounds nothing like “Harry Steinfeldt.” Huh?
As it turns out, the book has nothing to do with Harry Steinfeldt, a baseball player from the early 1900s who was born in St. Louis and once played with Hall of Famers Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chase on the Chicago Cubs infield. At least, not at first glance.
“He had a good, solid career, but never was a hall of famer or got a lot of attention,” Dehner said. “I identify with him. I am an ordinary guy who has had brushes with the extraordinary, but I still see myself as Joe Lunchbucket. This book is for Joe and Jane Citizen, as I am one of them. So that is where the title came from.”
“Just Call Me Harry Steinfeldt” chronicles over a year of Dehner’s radio show, “From the Sidelines,” which aired on 88.7 FM WSIE, a public radio station specializing in jazz music, from April 2012 until late last year.
Portions of the profits from what the author calls his “book in waiting” will go directly to the radio station (“They really need a new transmitter, for one thing,” he says). While he says he has a publisher interested, self-publishing as a first step makes more monetary sense.
“I am thinking of selling 1,000 limited edition copies of a self-published version with an advertisement section in the back to solicit ad revenue,” he said. “Then maybe I will partner with local high-end restaurants and libraries and organize book signings.”
Although the book is a reflection of his recent career, Dehner has spent nearly a half-century in media, something not originally planned.
“In college, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “I changed my major from this to that. One day I wandered into the radio station at SIU Edwardsville. They put me on the radio, doing weather that same day. I started doing news not long after that. I thought, ‘Maybe I should get a real job doing this.’ I cold called a station in Jacksonville, Ill., and it was one of those ‘right place, right time’ situations.”
Dehner worked for KSD radio, did play-by-play baseball broadcasting at Mississippi State University, spent 1976 until 1979 as an anchor at WRTH, and then as overnight news editor at KMOX radio. An 11-year stint at Union Electric as media spokesperson followed, which ended in 1991. He also created a PR class for adults at Lindenwood University.
“I enjoyed that very much, and until this latest project, was the most fulfilling professional pursuit of my career,” he said.
In 1996, he began working as news director for WSIE, retiring in 2011.
“They wanted me to remain with the station somehow, and that is how the show came about,” he said. “I started thinking about memoirs and musings from a 40-year career. I knocked out about 15 commentary submissions, and they liked them.
“The station has a loyal jazz audience, so running commentaries on there was definitely a test. The response from listeners and management was favorable, though.”
The show went into reruns, and Dehner realized he had amassed 183 entries in a short time.
“I started thinking, let’s take broadcast scripts, put them into print style, and make a book out of them,” he said.
Favorite entries include a story about his “Rule of 10 ½” (more than just his shoe size, it actually is his own unique management style), as well as a heartwarming tale of a young man with cerebral palsy asking for the broadcaster’s autograph.
“Some are real life lessons, and some are just fun,” he said.
Dehner grew up in Alton (“If there is such a thing as a homeboy, that’s what I am.”) and resides here with his wife of 32 years, Patricia, an art teacher at Alton High School. Daughter Abby is a teacher at Montessori Children’s House of Godfrey, while son Johnathan is a student at SIU Carbondale.