Three months before I began my freshman year at Seattle Pacific University in the fall of 1970, I went to work for Bob Sumbardo, the general manager at KUEN radio in Wenatchee.
As the youngest announcer at the station, I was encouraged to create a top-40 format for my four-hour shift spinning platters while adding my ad lib patter. The learning curve was steep, but the climb was worth it. I loved my job.
When I went away to college, I signed up for the campus radio station and was given my own weekly show. It was a gig much like I’d had in my summer job back home. Imitating the deejays I listened to on KJR was a hoot.
One “channel 95” disc jockey in particular who captured my attention was someone by the name of George Toles. I was impressed by the casual Christian references he made to secular songs whose lyrics had spiritual values. His easy-going style and his voice were noteworthy. As I would later discover, George wasn’t actually a regular KJR deejay. He was the station’s sales manager who filled in for the on-air personalities when they were on vacation. Nonetheless, he was my favorite.
The summer after my freshman year at college, I returned to my summer job at KUEN. One Friday evening, as I was working my shift, someone knocked at the locked front door of the studio.
The stranger introduced himself in his deep resonate voice as George Toles.
“George Toles? Really?” I responded in disbelief. “I know who you are. I listen to you on KJR!”
The surprise visitor went on to tell me that he and his wife Liz had randomly tuned into my radio program while driving over the pass from Seattle. He wanted to stop and tell me what a good job I was doing. Needless to say, I was blown away.
George asked if I was free to join him and Liz for breakfast the following morning at the hotel where they were staying. Of course, I was free. I wondered why would this virtual stranger interrupt his weekend getaway with his wife to spend time with me.
As we visited over eggs and pancakes, George gave me a guided tour of his journey as a Jesus follower. He told me how his life as a broadcaster began. In the course of conversation, he mentioned he was the courtside announcer for the Seattle Supersonics. He offered to get me into a game or two once the new season began. I confided to my new friend that I’d sensed a call to ministry since I was 12. But I also confessed how much I enjoyed working in radio. My new friend assured me I would discover God’s plan in God’s time.
George’s encouragement to follow my heart still rings in my head. And George’s encouragement continues to this day 51 years later as our friendship lives on. Although he is battling Parkinson’s Disease, he still finds the strength to speak into my life. On that morning at the Eddie Mays Hotel coffee shop, I had no way of knowing how the next half century would play out. My life as a pastor has seamlessly incorporated countless opportunities to use my voice in radio and studio work.
And all along, George Toles has been a sounding board and the voice of reason.
I look back on that chance encounter in the summer of 1971 as a “Godwink” that changed the course of my life. That 33-year-old radio veteran who reached out to a 19-year-old radio novice reminds me of another 33-year-old who looked for ways to encourage others. Just as that first century carpenter-turned-rabbi graced others with his belief in them, I want to do the same. I want to pay it forward. You too?
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.