Rick Fischer’s very first day at work ended with the broadcaster signing off as KMEM went off the air that night. Now after 35 years broadcasting over those same airwaves after KMEM first took to the air March 29, 1982, Fischer will be signing off for the last time as he closes out a historic broadcasting career with the Memphis radio station.
“It has been a heck of a ride,” said Fischer, who will call it quits at KMEM FM 100.5 on December 29th. “There have been moments of jubilation and celebration and times of tragedy and tears, and everything in between.”
The names Rick Fischer, and KMEM are synonymous for most area listeners, a fact that was almost derailed before it ever got started.
Fischer, who grew up in Luray and graduated from Wyaconda High School, was an aspiring actor, working toward a theatre arts and English degree at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mt. Pleasant, IA.
“I didn’t have any illusions of grandeur,” said Fischer. “I wasn’t planning on packing my bags for Hollywood, but I did have hopes of getting involved in theatre somewhere.”
That wasn’t always the case. Fischer started out his college life in pursuit of a teaching degree with thoughts of possibly becoming a coach as well.
That changed when one of his professors convinced him to take part in one of the school’s theatrical productions.
“I had enjoyed being part of a few productions in high school, but this was something entirely different, as the college performances drew huge crowds,” said Fischer. “I can still remember, my first line was in a comedy, and the crowd erupted in laughter. I was hooked.”
But while he was taking part in productions like Hello Dolly and Shakespeare’s tragedy Richard III, Fischer got his first taste of radio, doing “some work” for the campus radio station.
“It was just a small broadcast system that went out over the campus phone lines,” said Fischer. “Some of us would get together on Saturday nights and we’d bring our own albums and broadcast.”
But theatre was still the lure for Fischer. After graduating in 1981, he went on the road touring as an actor with the last remaining tent comedy theatre in America, the Tobie and Susie Show, based out of Mt. Pleasant.
“The group used to tour this area, and also played at state fairs in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Illinois.”
During school Fischer had worked with Showtime Talent, Inc. providing lighting and stage service for country music shows.
Fischer said it was thrilling to work on productions for the likes of Johnny Cash. But it was ultimately a bad experience in the field that ultimately led Fischer back home.
Fischer had contracted to provide lighting and stage services for a Waylon Jennings performance, but the singer was unable to take the stage, and the concert was canceled, causing the promoter to chose not to pay for the stage services.
“Who knows, I may have continued on that path if it hadn’t been for that,” said Fischer. “But after that I came home.”
Fischer was uncertain of his future career path until his mother, Venice Fischer-Barclay, spotted a small newspaper article in the Daily Gate of Keokuk announcing the start of a new radio station in Memphis.
But it went beyond her good fortune, as Fischer had to persevere to nail down the shot at what turned into his life-long career.
“I went to Memphis and met with station owner Sam Berkowitz,” said Rick. “I was persistent, I needed a job”.
Finally after his third round of interviews, Fischer landed the job as the station’s nighttime disc jockey as it prepared to go on the air in 1982.
Roughly a year and a half later, Jim Sears joined the station as its news director, and a spot opened up for the morning DJ services, two life-changing experiences for Fischer.
The two friends spent the next 13 years entertaining listeners with their popular morning show.
“I can’t fully explain how much fun that was,” Fischer said. It was craziness, but a wonderful kind of crazy working with Jim. He was the funniest guy I have ever known.”
The run came to an end after 13 years when Sears was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. Fischer took over as the station’s news director and then sadly had to report on his friend’s passing in a tragic auto accident less than a year later.
“It was difficult not being able to work with Jim anymore, but when I got the news of the crash that Wednesday before Thanksgiving, that was the saddest day I’ve ever had.”
For the next 20 plus years, Fischer served as news director at KMEM, serving through two sales of the radio station and countless life-changing stories such as the farm crisis and the Flood of 1993.
“I think that is what ultimately drew me to radio and kept me right where I’m at,” said Fischer. “I like being at, or near the center of things when they are happening.”
That was the case one afternoon in Wayland when Fischer was among a throng of reporters present for a campaign stop by presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
He explained how the buses were late arriving and when they finally did appear, it was just momentarily before pressing on to the next stop.
“Clinton answered a few questions before finally getting to me,” said Fischer. “He told me ‘fella it is going to have to be quick, we’re running out of time’. I asked a quick question and in that 60 seconds he convinced me he was going to be the next president of the United States.”
Later Fischer found himself seated across the table from Willie Nelson for an interview with the iconic country music star during a benefit concert event in Unionville.
Over the years he had similar meetings with the Oakridge Boys, Lorrie Morgan and one of his favorite interviews of all time, Aaron Tippin.
“I am very blessed,” said Fischer. “I was lucky enough to be the person in this seat, who got to be a part of all of these amazing interviews and to meet all of these famous folks.”
KMEM also put Fischer front stage for some memorable celebrations via the station’s sports coverage including Mizzou college athletics and St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
Fischer spent nearly 30 years broadcasting Clark County football and was there for the 2008 state championship.
“I can’t do justice trying to explain the joy and the excitement generated by these championship seasons,” said Fischer. “I was at Faurot Field in 1989 for Putnam County’s state championship loss and then I got to experience the ultimate celebration in 2008 at the Edwards Jones Dome in St. Louis when the Indians won it all.”
It was times like this that were at the heart of Fischer’s drive to be a good steward of his community.
“A wise man told me once that the way to make a radio station successful was to support the community and its activities,” said Fischer. “That became a life mission for me. I’ve always tried to be a best friend to this community and an avid supporter of everything that goes on here.”
Fischer said he was blessed to have worked with three different ownership groups which all understood the connection to community. It started with founder Sam Berkowitz, continued under the leadrship of Keith and Ruth Ann Boyer as well as Jeff and Denise Boyer of the Boyer Broadcasting Group, and remains imperative with current owners Mark and Karen McVey and Mark and Lisa Denney.
Now after 35 years behind the microphone, Fischer said it is time to sign off for the final time.
“I have been dealing with some health issues, but let me assure you I’m not dying,” Fischer said. “It has just opened my eyes to the fact that it is time to step away, to finally spend some more time with my family.”
Fischer praised the thankless sacrifices made by his wife, Teresa, over the years to support his career.
“She worked her fingers to the bone and always did so behind the scenes,” Rick said. “I can never repay that kind of devotion.
“When I got married 30 years ago, I told Teresa that I loved her but she had to know what she was getting, and I was already married to this radio station. For all these years my family has waited for me while I was covering the news. Now it is time for me to reciprocate. It is time to do some healing, some resting and to get healthy and it is time for me to make up for some of the things my family has missed out on.”