PRAIRE DU CHIEN — Had Norb Aschom retired 10 years ago, Friday might have been a little less hectic.
Preparing and delivering radio news with a steady stream of phone calls, visitors bearing cards, flowers and cookies and an office bedecked in balloons can be a bit distracting.
Aschom, 73, was hoping to slip into retirement with a short announcement at the end of one his newscasts. But a posting a few weeks ago to Facebook by Aaron Kramer, the city’s administrator, ensured Aschom’s 52-year radio career at WPRE/WQPC would end anything but quietly.
The City Council also declared March 1 as “Norb Aschom Day.” It came nine years after Facebook was founded in 2004.
“Life is good,” Aschom said before recording his final 12:30 p.m. newscast. “When you like what you do, it’s really not work.”
History here is defined by the Villa Louis mansion, and the quality of a hamburger is measured against those that have been sold at Pete’s hamburger stand in the city’s downtown for more than 100 years.
For five decades, radio at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers has meant Aschom.
When the stations were sold in 1998 to David and Jane Robinson of Viroqua, Walt Schlaugat, who founded WPRE in 1952 and later added WQPC-FM, stipulated in the sales agreement that Aschom remain with the stations.
Over the years, the Lansing, Iowa, native and Brown Institute of Broadcasting graduate has used his baritone to tell the story of the region. He has announced births and deaths, birthdays and anniversaries, car crashes and city meetings. He’s called the winning shots of countless basketball games and felt the letdown when a football game he was broadcasting came up short for the home team.
Molly Wasechek, who occasionally serves Aschom pizza and Coors Light at Coaches Family Restaurant where she works, was among those who stopped by Friday to wish Aschom well. She was in tears. It was Aschom who announced the birth of her two sons, Jack, now 15, and Alex, 17.
When she was a child growing up in Harpers Ferry, Iowa, she remembers her father telling her to hush when Aschom delivered the news and farm reports.
“I’m 48, so he probably announced my birth,” Wasechek said. “All of my life, he’s been on the radio.”
The radio station has always been on the north side of St. Feriole Island but in the floodplain of the Mississippi River.
Aschom began his radio career in Albert Lea, Minn., but four months later landed in Prairie du Chien for what would be his second and last radio job.
When he arrived, there were a couple grocery stores, McClure’s and Winneshiek’s taverns and dozens of homes on the island. A flood in 1965 forced the radio station to the owner’s home basement for six months. Now, the station and Villa Louis are among the few things remaining as most everything else was relocated out of harm’s way.
A second story was added to the station building after the flood to put the studios on higher ground. Aschom’s newsroom, however, has always been on the first floor. With no elevator, every newscast was also a workout.
“I like that it’s kept me fairly healthy,” he said.
Aschom is active at St. John’s Catholic Church where he sings in the choir and, at this time of year, helps out with the Friday fish fries.
His radio stint will go down as one of the state’s longest. Karl Schmidt, 90, has been a part of “Chapter a Day” on Wisconsin Public Radio since 1941 and Bob Uecker the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. Ralph Schoenleben did a weekly classical music show on Sunday nights on WRJN in Racine since 1955. He died in 2010, but his show continues in recordings.
Aschom leaves the game breathing and with a smile.
“He is the epitome of true localism,” said Michelle Vetterkind, president of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association. “He will be missed.”
There are plans to move the radio station downtown, but Aschom will be spending more time with his wife, Nancy, whom he met while doing a remote broadcast at the Piggly Wiggly shortly after joining the station.
He was the guy with a microphone who came to the store three times a week to interview the produce manager about the price of lettuce and tomatoes. She worked the checkout counter. They have two children and three grandchildren who will now get a little more attention.
For Aschom’s listeners, Monday will be a bit different, as he told them in an emotional on-air farewell on Friday.
“We won’t be here after today, but we’ll see you along the way,” Aschom said. “Thank you so much for everything.”
Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at email@example.com.