As David Letterman announces his retirement and the accolades start pouring in, the world is looking back on his impressive 32-year late night run. For residents of Letterman’s beloved home state of Indiana, however, his legacy goes back much further. Letterman got his start in broadcasting on Muncie, Indiana’s local NPR affiliate WBST—and then on Ball State University’s fledgling WAGO-AM after being fired from WBST for treating classical music with irreverence. Irreverence being one of Letterman’s trademarks (and the fact that the station, re-named WWHI, now operates out of the David Letterman Communication And Media Building), the move was certainly for the best.
Now a recording of a 21-year-old Letterman’s April Fools Day 1969 broadcast has surfaced on the “non-profit digital library” Internet Archive. And although the sound quality isn’t great (what do you expect from a 40 year old college radio recording?) this broadcast time capsule shows Letterman’s absurdist sense of humor in its infancy. Keep your ears peeled for an appearance by the future Mrs. Letterman (and even more future ex-Mrs. Letterman), Michelle Cook, in an on-air bit. Dig those wacky sound effects, Dave—and that righteous neckbeard.
David Letterman on WAGO Ball State University, April 1, 1969