The shy and quiet 14-year-old had been reading newspaper stories into a tape recorder in the basement since he was a child. Now it was the real thing — true, it was just reading fundraising pledges on the air for a few minutes, but it was radio. And he was hooked.
Doug Fain went back to WNVL-AM general manager Bill Laney to ask for a job, even if it was just emptying trash cans. Laney had Fain sit in for an hour on a Sunday with DJ Darrell Mullins, with the teenager watching how Mullins did things and even pulling a record himself in the last few minutes.
That was the only training Fain would receive.
“I went into the station the next week, and Bill said, ‘Did you come in and watch him?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Good, because this Sunday, you’re doing it by yourself,’” Fain said. “It was baptism by fire, and that’s how I started.”
The rest, as they say, is history for the 49-year-old circuit clerk whose career in local radio made him a public personality and spring-boarded him into local politics.
In 1977 as just a sophomore in high school, Fain began working full-time at the Nicholasville station, signing WNVL on the air at 6 a.m. and doing a two-hour show before driving to Jessamine County High School to attend his first class with teacher Terry Leitch, who could tell he had been up for a while.
“She said her class was interesting because I was the only one that was awake — I’d been awake and I’d been on the air,” Fain said. “I was kind of bouncing off the walls; everybody else was asleep.”
After his three classes, he would return to the station at 11 a.m. and work the rest of the day, producing radio ads and doing other off-air jobs. When he was on the air, he was DJing, though he did fill in once at age 18 for talk-show host Dale Wright, whose large audience was a bit intimidating.
“I don’t remember a lot about that show, because I was so struck with nerves I got sick sitting there in the chair and basically just let everybody talk,” Fain said. “I didn’t say much, because I thought I was just going to pass out; I was that scared, because I knew what kind of audience he had.”
But when he was behind the mic to DJ, he was able to come out of his shell.
“I think what it is was that I was behind the mic at that age — nobody was looking at me,” Fain said. “I could just express myself; I didn’t think about people that were listening. That helped me get into the public speaking; I kind of slid into that. If it hadn’t been for radio, I’d probably still be not out in front of the public.”
Fain started announcing the football games as a junior in high school in another baptism by fire. Laney, who was the announcer at the time, couldn’t be at the game one week and asked Fain to fill in for him.
“Well, yeah — I want to announce my teammates, my buddies right here,” Fain said. “So I did, and when I saw him that following week, he said, ‘How’d you like it?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, that was great.’ I wasn’t any good at it, but it was great. And he said, ‘Good; you can have it.’ And I’ve had it ever since.”
The football announcing — which Fain is doing for the 36th year this year — led into other announcing, like the Miss Jessamine County Fair pageant, of which he was the voice for 31 years from 1980 to 2010.
“If you have a fly-eating contest, I’ll announce it,” he said. “I may not like what you’re doing, but I like the announcing; I like that part of it ... That’s what I do. I don’t hunt; I don’t fish — I talk. That’s my hobby.”
Upon graduating from Jessamine County High School in 1980, Fain was accepted into Sullivan Business College in Louisville to attend computer-programming classes at a time when personal computers were a rarity. But Fain stayed home to pursue radio.
“I would have had a degree in computer programming in the early ’80s, and I’ve often wondered, ‘Where would I be now?’” Fain said. “And the reason I didn’t go was because I wanted to be in radio. Was that a good thing? I don’t know whether I made a mistake or not, because I’ve often thought, ‘Man, I might be in Silicon Valley or something; who knows?’ because I would have been on the ground floor of that, but that’s what kept me — radio.”
Fain stayed at the radio station, coming on as a co-owner with Laney and sales manager Al Snyder in 1988. The three also started a new FM station in Nicholasville, WCKU 102.5.
“That was unusual, because down here in Nicholasville, we had our old-time country music in one room playing, and right through a glass wall, you had the modern rap and hip-hop playing on the FM station, which none of us knew anything about,” Fain said.
The radio job was “monotonous” and was not the glamorous position some made it out to be, Fain said.
“There’s only so many ways creatively that you can say the weather and the time,” he said. “And the music, while you turn your radio on in your car and hear a certain song once a day, we heard it every day two or three times a day, over and over and over. It got old quick. When we had a new song come out, within about the first week and a half, we were sick of it because we’d heard it so much; people out in the community didn’t hear it like that.”