MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - A gawky, lanky Ball State freshman by the name of David Letterman walked up to senior WBST student program director Al Rent in 1965 and told him the radio station needed to change its format.
WBST played only classical music and Letterman wanted rock ‘n’ roll. Rent preferred rock ‘n’ roll, too, but he said there was no way WBST management would agree to the switch, so he came up with a compromise.
The radio station signed off at 10:30 each night, and Rent offered Letterman a rock ‘n’ roll show at midnight. He and Letterman posted fliers all over campus for “David Letterman’s Make It or Break It.”
Turns out, it wasn’t the night a star was born. The program lasted only a week. But even then, Letterman showed glimpses of what was to come in his remarkable career as a late night talk show host.
The Ball State alumnus announced on a Thursday taping of his “Late Show” on CBS that he will step down in 2015, when his current contract expires. The 66-year-old Letterman has the longest tenure of any late night talk show host in U.S. television history. He has been on the air for 32 years since creating “Late Night” at NBC in 1982.
The comedic icon has made a long climb up the ladder since “David Letterman’s Make It or Break It” debuted nearly 50 years ago on Ball State’s campus airwaves.
Rent said Letterman had a segment in which he picked the worst possible rock ‘n’ roll songs, aired them and then let the first caller determine whether to make it or break it. The first few nights the callers picked “break it” and listeners could hear Letterman respond by crunching the 45s.
One caller, though, said, “Make it” and Letterman responded by telling the caller he would give him the 45 if he met him the next morning at the radio station. Letterman didn’t show up nor did the caller, but a line of students greeted Rent and Bill Tomlinson, the head of the department.
Tomlinson asked Rent why all of the students were there, and Rent told him they were fans of the station. Rent then kept the charade going by sliding the 45 into a classical musician’s album cover and giving it to a student.
“I was the first guy to hire him and first guy to fire him,” Rent, now the director of relationship marketing and community relations for BSU, told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1gZzWyA ).
Rent decided to move Letterman to the news department back then, and he soon regretted that decision, too.
Letterman compiled national and state wire copy for the broadcaster to read on the airwaves. He pulled pranks on his fellow students by putting stories he wrote into the pile.
“They were perfectly nonsensical and they’d get halfway into it until they realized they were had,” Rent said.
One of Letterman’s favorite pranks was to make up information about classical musicals while reading their biographies on the air. Rent said the station took a few calls from professors in the music department reporting that Letterman’s information was incorrect.