Listen to 21-Year-Old David Letterman’s College Radio Show (1969)

letterman in college

Over thir­ty years at the desk of his very own late-night talk show, mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions of fans, the respect of come­di­ans the world over: David Let­ter­man has had, by any mea­sure, an awful­ly good run. Though they had to know it could come soon­er or lat­er, thou­sands of view­ers, since Let­ter­man announced last Thurs­day that he plans to retire in 2015, face the immi­nent prospect of a world with­out the Late Show as they know it. For the young and young-ish among them, many of whom didn’t come into the world them­selves until after Letterman’s 1982 nation­al debut (see video at bot­tom), this con­sti­tutes an entire­ly new and trou­bling­ly less absurd tele­vi­su­al real­i­ty. But the mas­ter com­e­dy host didn’t sim­ply emerge on to the scene, ful­ly formed, those 32 years ago. Any­one who’s watched long enough to notice the fre­quen­cy of Letterman’s ref­er­ences to Indi­anapo­lis, his home­town and the media mar­ket that grant­ed him his first “big” chance as a weath­er­man, knows that he nev­er for­got his roots.

As with many illus­tri­ous careers, Letterman’s hum­ble ear­ly shot fol­lowed even hum­bler, ear­li­er shots. Just above, you can hear the 21-year-old “Dave Letterman”’s broad­cast from April Fool’s Day 1969 on WAGO-AM, the closed-cir­cuit radio sta­tion he helped to found at his future alma mater, Ball State Uni­ver­si­ty. Though only a five-minute clip, this record­ing show­cas­es not just Letterman’s preter­nat­u­al micro­phone pres­ence, but his way with the near-psy­che­del­ic walls of sound effects, seem­ing­ly free-asso­cia­tive speech, and pure wack­i­ness that so came into its own in the late six­ties and ear­ly sev­en­ties. (The Fire­sign The­ater would soon per­fect it.) Let­ter­man fol­low­ers who must know every­thing — and they cer­tain­ly exist — should note that, when he calls a deliri­ous-sound­ing woman in this seg­ment, he calls none oth­er than Michelle Cook, the very first Mrs. Let­ter­man. Though we have yet to learn the iden­ti­ty of Letterman’s Late Show replace­ment, I feel cer­tain, after this lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence, that the Let­ter­man of twen­ty years from now will rise from the ranks of pod­cast­ing. Lis­ten out for him; he may not drop col­or­ful phras­es just like “horse den­tures falling into a rust­ed how­itzer artillery shell,” but you’ll know him when you hear him. Or her.

Below you can watch Bill Mur­ray’s appear­ance on Let­ter­man’s first 1982 show.

via WFMU’s Beware of the Blog

Relat­ed con­tent:

Tom Waits and David Let­ter­man: An Amer­i­can Tele­vi­sion Tra­di­tion

R.E.M Plays “Radio Free Europe” on Their Nation­al Tele­vi­sion Debut on The David Let­ter­man Show (1983)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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