Maine radio news legend (and lousy car salesman) Mike Audet signs off
SCARBOROUGH — Mike Audet took a simple view of his career in broadcasting.
"I went to work, I did my job, I came home,” he said upon retiring last month after more than 50 years on the air in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut.
A Waterville native, Audet, 70, first stepped to the microphone as a high school sophomore in the mid-1950s. At the time, the first TV station in Maine, Bangor-based WABI, was barely on the air.
Audet also spent time in the U.S. Army in the late 50s and worked as a corporate driver for for cosmetics manufacturer Elizabeth Arden about 50 years ago.
"Then I thought it would be fun to do radio,” he said, and returned to the air in Flagstaff, Ariz., at a station that eventually went bankrupt. He also worked in New Haven, Conn. But most of his last 40 years were spent on Portland airwaves, reporting and reading news on WPOR and WGAN.
"I left WPOR once to sell cars," Audet said. "I didn't sell many, which is why I got back into radio."
At WPOR and WGAN, Audet teamed with morning disc jockey Bud Sawyer for a show that consistently ranked close to or at the top of local ratings. Sawyer played music; Audet packed six or eight news stories into each hour.
His tone and style put listeners at ease, former WPOR colleague and current Maine Public Broadcasting Network producer and reporter Irwin Gratz said.
"A lesson I learned from others, but Mike reinforced, is to have a relaxed style on air. It's not just reading to them, you are having a having a conversation," Gratz said.
Sawyer and Audet are members of the Maine Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and share mutual admiration for each other.
"Mike Audet's retirement equals the end of an era," Sawyer said. "He is one of the last of the real broadcasters. It was impossible to stay 'down' when he was in the same studio."
Gratz is now perhaps the longest tenured broadcaster on air or TV in southern Maine. He started in Sanford in 1978, and Audet helped recruit him to WPOR.
"I walked into the newsroom, and Mike had been on that morning. He looked over and said 'hello Irwin Gratz, I'm Mike Audet, we want hire you,'" Gratz recalled.
Audet also spent time as a TV reporter and weekend news anchor on WGAN (now WGME). The late newscasts on Saturday night sometimes came after he and his wife, Frances, had been out for the evening.
She would sit out of camera range, and a director would work in the booth. During commercials, the couple could chat.
“Franny might be sitting next to me and we might be having an argument, and then (the director) would tell me '30 seconds,'” Audet recalled.
Frances Audet teaches in Westbrook, and the couple have a grown son living in Tennessee.
Audet's career began when FM stations were unheard of and news arrived by clacking teletype machines feeding wire-service copy through one phone line from Boston to all the radio stations in Maine. A malfunction at one station could mean copy had to be re-sent, blocking new stories or important developments from getting through.
“It is amazing now, you can get a lot more news," Audet said. "But you still have to write it.”
Audet also covered press conferences and local news often forwarded from listener tips.
“You would get calls from people. They would give you the bare essentials and you would get the rest," he recalled.
In 1975, Audet covered the murder trial of Herbert R. Schwartz and Truman Dongo, who were accused of shooting Jon Pownall. Pownall had come to Maine to make a movie and the two were accused of killing him to collect on an insurance policy.
“I found out just how boring trials can be,"Audet said. "It's not like TV. I had a hard time staying awake. I was doing mornings at WGAN, then covering the trial, then do a standup for TV news.”
Audet said reporting tragic stories was always more troubling for him.
“It's part of the job, to get the soundbite. It's a nasty part of the job,” he said.
Sawyer said Audet remained composed no matter how hard his colleague tried to make him laugh during a newscast.
"After the newscast was over, the laughter began," Sawyer said.
One loss of composure on a story cost him a week's suspension, Audet recalled.
“I dropped the f-bomb once. I recorded the piece for the umpteenth time and the editing on it was flawed,” he said.
Audet said he won't miss being on air, because the time to retire had come.
“I got up at 2 o'clock for decades," he said. "I enjoyed going to work until the last day I was there. You have to have a professional attitude, whatever problems you have, leave them at the door. You just do it.”