The Second Ultimate David Letterman Article

dr darrell wible ball state university broadcasting professor david letterman
This article, of course, is about David Letterman.

But it at once has very little yet everything to do with Mr. Letterman.

It's about Dave, myself, and 25 years of Ball State broadcasting students who were lucky beyond belief to have been educated by a gentleman of the highest ethics and purpose.

It's about how a generation of students were inspired by a man's time, commitment, effort, and unyielding dedication to his principles in educating others.

"I was barely a ‘C’ student at Ball State in the 1960s, with nothing productive going on at all, when I met Professor Wible. He became a mentor, and he introduced me to the world of broadcasting in a way that changed my life. He helped a poor student find a path, and that was the kind of guy he was."
—David Letterman

It's about the unforgettable Dr. Darrell Wible.

I remember my very first interaction with Dr. Wible. Certainly, I'd seen him roaming the halls--always with a suit jacket, tie, in a determined gait with a stack of papers under his arm. Except in warm weather when the jacket remained on the chair in his office and he sported a short sleeved dress shirt.

And murmurings from other students bespoke a gruff, unforgiving taskmaster who would delight in trampling your slightest of errors. Pretty much our John Houseman in the Paper Chase of what was then called the Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures department.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. This was simply a man of standards. An educator, not a teacher, he would tell you. A man that was laser-beam focused on the students. "Everything for the students" was his credo.

And when Dr. Wible had a credo, it wasn't just for show.

My initial baptism to this notion began SECONDS into my first class with Dr. Wible. Broadcast Law. The toughest class in the curriculum.

Dr. Wible strode into the room, placed his papers upon the lecturn, and the instant the bell went off, he went over to the door as I would see him do every single day, to shut it. And lock it.

He passed out the syllabus, and began going over the requirements of the class--and we'll get to that part later. About a minute into the class, a timid knock came at the door.

Dr. Wible went to do the door and opened it. "Yes?" he said in that direct manner of his. "I'm...um...in this class," a girl said timidly from the cracked door.

The door swung open, the girl entered and embarrassingly rushed to her seat. "Your NAME, young lady?" Dr. Wible had already taken role, you see.

The girl offered up, "Jane Smith." (Name changed to protect the innocent.)

"Well, Ms. Smith, you're late for contract day. The very first day of class. This is when I tell you what is to be expected of you, and how you may achieve success in this course. This is broadcasting, young lady, and there is no room for lateness in broadcasting. Do not let it happen again, without exceptionally good reason, or it could cost you a letter grade."

The room fell silent. Well, it was silent before that, but the silence now was mate and master to everyone's thoughts. However, my heart was leaping.

I had long had a chip on my shoulder about my fellow classmates. In that time, the academic standards were far lower than nowadays (thankfully for me) and there were a lot of students in the program for laughs. Fun. And so was I. But I was also there to be challenged. To learn things I did not know. And the man in front of me was now wearing a gigantic sign that said, "I will challenge you to be your best every second of every day."

This was an educator for me.

Because for some reason, I have always responded well to people with standards they could elucidate and demand compliance with. Never have I had more pleasure being challenged than by Dr. Darrell Wible.

Example: Some particulars of Dr. Wible's classes? EVERY day you came to his class, you were required to know EVERYTHING you had covered since day one of the course. And how, pray tell, would he hold you to this standard?

Pop tests. Any time, any day, on any subject. Oh, and did I mention he actually required you to SPELL properly? Yes. You could--and students I know did--get a negative score on a test if you didn't know the material and couldn't spell.

Normally a huge wiseacre in BSU RTM classes (apologies to Wes Gehring and Nancy Carlson), in Dr. Wible's I was silent as a church mouse unless called upon. I came to class prepared. I approached the course like Dr. Wible did--in a professional, businesslike manner with a specific purpose.

But that did not mean Dr. Wible didn't give me sleepless nights. He didn't stop once the bar was met. Far from it. He'd brace me in the hall.

"You and I know you're doing well in my class. But what are you going to do, today, to prepare yourself for your career when you leave here? What are you doing? I want you to come up with a plan and get back to me next week."

Then for the next week, whenever I passed him in the hallway, I'd get a brief glance and, "How's that plan coming along?" I'm thinking, "I'm getting a PERFECT SCORE right now in Broadcast Law and this guy won't let up. I'll show HIM..."

So I came up with a plan to be an advertising writer. (Rotten idea, but at least I had a plan.) Even before I won The Letterman, it was Dr. Wible who encouraged me to apply for the Production Manager position at WOKZ-FM. I didn't think I stood a chance. I'd been on the air before, I'd written and produced commercials before, but I never thought I could do it while still in college and get paid for it.

I took my meager demo on cassette tape and some scripts into Dr. Wible's office. "Pitch me. You've got five minutes." So I pitched like Goose Gossage for the five minutes. At the end, he said, "You did an A+ quality pitch, but you get an F because you forgot one thing."

"What one thing???!?!"

"You forgot to ask for the order, Tom. You didn't say, 'I am qualified, talented, and I want this job. What can I do to convince you to hire me right now?'"

Suffice it to say that I have never forgotten to ask for the order since.

Twenty-four hours later, the manager of the station leaned over and turned off the cassette tape while I was playing the demo, after the pitch.

"I've heard enough. You've got the job." I couldn't believe it. But the manager went on.

"This is the most creative demo I've heard in a long time." I was THRILLED. "And, Dr. Darrell Wible called over here yesterday and gave you his highest endorsement. So you pretty much had the job before you got here."

You see, unbeknownst to me, the station manager had also been a student of Dr. Darrell Wible.

He was instrumental in the establishment of the David Letterman Scholarship, and when Dr. Wible shook my hand after winning, it meant the world. Far more than glad-handing, it felt like I accomplished something.

I won't get into the 6,000 programs he broadcasted. The years he spent handling a turn in the Indianapolis 500 broadcasts. Or even that no-hitter he pitched for Coach John Wooden while at Indiana State.

Over the years, I'd visit Ball State and get to speak with Dr. Wible as not a peer, still a student, but with a different dynamic. His role was more of a professional advisor and he didn't spare the horses on his viewpoint.

All during my life, in times of doubt, all I have ever had to do is imagine looking at my world through the eyes of Dr. Darrell Wible, and the solutions seem very simple.

Have integrity, use intelligence, pursue your goals openly and deliberately, and spend less time maneuvering, more time accomplishing.

I could write for a week on Dr. Wible. When I last attended Alumni Day at BSU, those of my era shared so many stories of him. Each one punctuated with a precept or practice handed down by him that shaped their career.

Dr. Darrell Wible left this world August 4, 2013, and my unspeakable sadness was only lifted by the thought that he was likely giving St. Peter a lecture on his posture or vocal tone at the gates of heaven. 

As we've all learned over the last few years, I certainly can't speak for Dave--but I wouldn't be where I am, I wouldn't have done the things I've done, and I wouldn't have the perspective necessary to evaluate any of them had I not had the amazingly good fortune to meet an unmistakably amazing person named Dr. Darrell Wible.

Tom Gulley (recipient of the David Letterman Scholarship) is an award-winning writer, broadcaster, and journalist who regularly creates brilliant communications for some of the world’s biggest companies. Especially the ones you admire. He’s available for writing, creative strategy, digital communications, talk show hosting, voice talent work, kid’s birthday parties, and free 24-hour Martinizing. And his name never fails to get a big laugh when mentioned in small groups at parties.

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