Air Your Opinion: The local pioneer of talk show radio
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Air Your Opinion host Mark Marek makes a point during his last Air Your Opinion show on April 2.
Air Your Opinion - "The No Bullpucky Zone" - drew WLSH listeners in for decades with lively debates about everything from school board politics to bleenie recipes. But when Mark Marek, its host of seven years, decided to move on, the show's future was, well, up in the air.
Marek has become Director of Marketing with the Weissport-based Educare. His last Air Your Opinion show was April 2; he started his new job on Monday.
He said he had suggested that Air Your Opinion producer John Owens take over until he leaves for college, or that WMGH on-air talent Kerry Dowd-Lasky do the show, or that Owens and Dowd-Lasky work as a team. WLSH and WMGH share studio space at the station on Route 209 between Lansford and Nesquehoning.
On Saturday, Marek didn't know if the show would stay on the air.
On Thursday morning, WLSH Program Director KC Stewart said the wildly popular program is history.
"There's going to be a new program, it's called Saturday Edition, from 10 a.m. to noon," he said. "The program will be hosted by Kerry Dowd. She'll have guests to discuss specific issues."
Listeners will be invited to call in with questions and comments for Dowd and her guests, who range from elected officials to business owners to community leaders.
"We're hoping eventually to have that show go out on the road," Stewart said. "If there's a big event out in the community, she just may take the show out there."
The decision to retire Air Your Opinion wasn't made lightly, but Stewart said it was the right choice.
"Air Your Opinion was an institution. We didn't feel it was appropriate to have somebody just step into the role of Mark Marek. He did it so well for so long it just didn't seem fair to try to continue it without him," he said.
WLSH will also move up the Dutch Trader program one hour, so it will now air from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturdays.
Air Your Opinion had a long history
Marek typically opened the show, which ran from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, with the Twilight Zone theme playing as he intoned "You are about to enter the No Bullpucky Zone." The often contentious show's foundation could be summed up in a quote from the Federal Communications Commission publication The Public and Broadcasting: "If there is to be genuine free speech, people must be free to say things that the majority may abhor, not only things that the majority finds tolerable or congenial."
Air Your Opinion was first aired with Marek as its host in July 2003. He's missed fewer than 10 Saturdays since its inception.
The show was started in the late 1950s or early 1960s by former station owner Bud Angst. "You didn't have talk shows back then," Marek said. "He was a pioneer with that."
Angst was a part of Miners Broadcasting Service that put WLSH on the air Dec. 24, 1952, Marek said. Angst bought out his Miners partners in the mid 1970s under the name Pocono Anthracite Communications.
In 1985, Air Your Opinion went off the air when the station was put up for sale. "Bud took it off the air because he didn't want to saddle a new owner with the unpleasant decision of taking the talk show off the air," Marek said.
The station was eventually purchased by Lehigh Valley businessman Harold Fulmer.
In 1989 /1990, the show returned, with Tom Tkach as its host. Then, in the 1990s, it died again. In the late 1990s or early in 2000, Lansford businessman Bob Silver persuaded Marek, who has sold advertising for the station since the early 1970s, to bring the program back.
In spring of 2003, the new management decided to give Marek a shot at the show. "So, in July of '03, Air Your Opinion was back," Marek said.
Air Your Opinion can be likened to a radio version of the social networking site Facebook. 'You've got a problem or a question the first thing you know, people call in with an answer," Marek said.
"The best part of the show is not so much the political, and the school boards and the Lansford council. It's when somebody calls up and says, 'Mark, I've got a problem, and how do I fix it? Where do I go for help?'," he said. "If I don't have an answer, we have callers calling in - 'well, try this' or 'call this' or 'I had that same problem and here's what I did.'"
"That's what I'll miss the most," Marek said. "Going home knowing that I've helped somebody else today, or put somebody on the right path to something."
Helping his advertising clients falls into the same category.
"I was more than just a sales rep writing up an order," he said. "They'd call me up, 'Mark, what's the weather forecast?'"
One of the biggest issues he's dealt with on Air Your Opinion was the mine fire across from the Panther Valley High School. Also, talk on the show prompted officials to remove several suspicious barrels found on high school grounds.
Among other popular shows were those in which Summit Hill attorney Joe Matika gave advice to senior citizens about wills and other matters, Marek said.
"Talk about bang-up shows," Marek said. "I'll bet you that each time he was here we took over 30-35 calls."
Marek said he'll miss the show, especially the callers. He usually doesn't know their names, which are not given on the air.
"I have favorites in Summit Hill, I have favorites in Hazleton, I have favorites in Lehighton. Sometimes, we disagree, and that's what makes the show," he said.
Marek also hosted the popular Dutch Trader on WLSH, a kind of on-air Craig's List. "That's going to continue, no matter what," he said.
He did the station's weekly editorials, which he started in October 1997. Marek keeps hard copies in his basement of each of the more than 600 editorials he's done, along with the research materials used to write them. He continued to write editorials even while he was housebound for 11 months after a 1998 bus accident.
"I was lying in there and I would dictate it, and on the radio it went. I never missed a beat," he said.
Marek started on local radio while still in high school in the early 1970s, doing the Panther Report. Later, he worked for the TIMES NEWS and TV 13, and then did a 3-year stint in the garment industry, at the former KaiJay Pants Co. in Nesquehoning.
In 1978, he went back to WLSH, this time as an advertising salesman.
"I liked it - I did well," he said.
He also did radio sports shows with Nick Young.
Now, after 33 years at WLSH - a tenure Stewart called 'miraculous" given the fluidity of the radio market - Marek is leaving.
Change is the constant
Change has been the constant in Marek's life lately. His wife, Nan, passed away on Dec. 21 after a lengthy illness. In September, he married Rose, whom he'd met on New Year's Eve.
"Nan's last wish was that I meet somebody and be happy for the rest of my life," he said.
Last Saturday, after Rose, her mother and Marek's co-workers threw a surprise farewell party for him, Marek wrapped up his last show after getting calls from 33 listeners, including Carbon County Commissioner William O'Gurek. Every one of the callers spoke of how much they enjoyed the show, and wished Marek well.
"Mark has certainly been a presence in the region in many capacities, including as a talk-show host, sports announcer and advertising salesperson. I am sure many people will miss him and especially the manner in which he helped to create lively chatter on almost every topic and subject of Air Your Opinion," O'Gurek said. "We all wish him good luck in his new endeavor, and want to thank him for the valuable role he played in broadcasting. Most importantly, I think we will all see that he will continue to have an impact on people in his new marketing role locally. I think you will see he will continue to help people and have an influence on programs that will be beneficial to the residents of the area."
One longtime advertising customer, Lansford businessman Bob Silver, said "I'm going to miss him. The job he did was excellent in promoting the needs of the area. Things that normally would not come out were brought to attention. And I enjoyed the way he addressed the needs of seniors. I'm going to miss Air Your Opinion very much."
Angst didn't call in, but in a telephone interview days later pointed to Marek's work as host of Air Your Opinion.
"He carried it on successfully for many years after I disassociated myself from the station. I would call him a pioneer in that regard," he said.
At 1 p.m., Marek signed off the air, taking off the headphone's he's worn since the 1970s.
"If there's anything I learned from the late Joe Plasko, it's 'take one day at a time'," Marek told listeners. "Remember, every day that goes by is one less day we have left here on Earth, so make it count. Have a good life, folks! Hopefully, next week, there will be something here for you to enjoy."