by Philip Wilson Chase
Chronicle Staff Writer
August 24, 1995

WILLIMANTIC -- Like so many other kids of his generation, Wayne Norman played at being a radio jock, spinning his 45 rpm's and adding his own commentary.

Walking to his Hollywood home from church one day, he wandered behind the city's big rock 'n roll station (KFWB).  In the dumpster he found commercial logs, radio playlists and all the other things used to run a radio station.

Although his find made his imaginary radio station seem a lot more real, Norman, like many other kids, got older and lost interest, and his station eventually went "off the air."

But later, while attending the University of Connecticut, his interest was again sparked.  he then spent many hours at the college's radio station, WHUS.

"I remember the first time I went on the air" Norman said, pausing and shaking his body in a imitation of the fear he felt.  "You get over it."

Today, Norman celebrates his 25th anniversary at WILI-AM.  "I'm kind of proud of it," Norman said about his long-time conection with the station.  "In fact, I'm not just kind of proud of it, I AM proud of it."

"I can't go anywhere without people knowing me," Norman said.  "It's an honor."

He came to the station in 1970, from another in Ansonia where he was doing the afternoon show.  In August of that year, he got a call from program director David Evan, who he knew from WHUS.  Evan offered Norman the afternoon show at WILI.

For the 22-year old who had been living at home with his parents, going to WILI was a chance to live on his own for the first time since college.  "It wasn't a tough decision," Norman said.

When he first started, he followed a radio classified program called Tradio on his 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. shift at the station until a little more than a year later,, when he returned from vacation.

Station management took him into the back room.  Take a few more days off they said, 'you're going to start the morning shift -- temporarily -- until we can find someone else.'

The station never did find anyone else, and since then he has been the voice for the station's morning show -- the most important time for an AM station.   "I guess they are still looking," Norman said.

In those early years, he played music between news, weather and sports information breaks.  But starting about five years ago, he began having one-on-one interviews with local and national personalities.

"The best time of my day is when the guests are on," Norman said.

He has had everyone in studio -- from Jesse Jackson to Jim Calhoun to a man with a 16-foot python -- as guests.  He even spent one whole morning show talking with a guest about the origin of street names in Willimantic.

It is one of the reasons he has chosen to remain at a smaller station and is one of the things that keeps his job interesting from day to day, he said.

"I am able to pick some of the brightest minds of people in the area.  How many people get to do that?" Norman asked.  "(And) hopefully I get a chance to ask the questions the listener wants asked."

An avid Boston Red Sox and sports fan, Norman said another reason he has stayed is because he broadcasts University of Connecticut men's basketball and football games statewide on the UConn Radio Network, which are also heard on WILI.

"That's my taste of the big time," Norman said.  "It's a plum job and I work hard at it."

He also broadcasts Norwich Navigators telecasts for the New England Sports Network (NESN) and covers Eastern Connecticut State University baseball games--including play by play broadcasts of the Warriors' 1982 and 1990 NCAA championships.

Over the years, he has developed a love for downtown Willimantic.  And that shows on his broadcasts.  He was the first Cupid award winner.  The award goes to someone who promotes a positive image of downtown Willimantic.  He is also the grand marshal of the July 4th Boom Box Parade, dressing up in outrageous costumes.

"I'm a city boy who likes the country," said Norman.  "I like the trees and the birds."

Even after 25 years, Norman is clearly someone who enjoys his job.  On vacations he frequently tapes interviews for playback on his shows.

"As long as I am happy, I'll keep doing it," Norman said.

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