Ball State to create ‘David Letterman Collection’ to honor late night TV host’s retirement

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By Nicole Pence

MUNCIE, Ind. (May 19, 2015)-- Wednesday will be a historic day at CBS4: Indiana’s own David Letterman will retire from The Late Show. May 20 was declared "David Letterman Day" in Indianapolis.

Letterman holds the record for as the longest-running, late-night talk show host in TV history. His love for broadcasting started in his home state, more specifically, at Ball State University in Muncie.

Letterman co-hosted a program on Ball State’s radio station in 1968. Letterman’s passion for radio actually started two years earlier during his freshman year.

“We saw in him someone who caught on quickly, extremely bright but was extremely funny,” said Al Rent, former manager at WBST, Ball State's public radio station.

Rent gave Letterman his first job at WBST.

“The chairman of the department said to me, we have this young kid who is very energetic, and we need to hire him and put him to work,” explained Rent.

But there was a challenge.

During the day, WBST played classical music, but Letterman liked rock 'n’ roll.

Let’s just say he put his own spin on things!

“His job was to put together the biographies of the classical composers. Every biography he wrote he tended to embellish and change the composers lifestyle. Such as Claude Debussy.  Letterman’s line was, a little known fact was Claude wrote a song for Clair de Lune and all their little loons. I was the only guy who hired Dave and fired Dave, but I actually just reassigned him,” laughed Rent.

WCRD – Cardinal Radio Dave – is Ball State’ student run radio station. Letterman helped start the station more than 25 years ago.

“Dave had limited opportunities to showcase his broadcasting skills. It was frustrating for him. WCRD in an earlier form was started by Letterman. 25 years ago he provided the seed money for a fledgling radio station. He provided opportunist for kids that he didn't have,” said Barry Umansky, faculty adviser at WCRD.

Every semester, 130 students like Junior Zach Huffman work at WCRD. Students host their own variety shows, write their own newscasts and create their own broadcast future.

“It's very encouraging because Dave came from a very humble background he wasn`t a superstar. He wasn`t the God that everyone pictures. He was somebody just like me or another student,” explained WCRD General Manager and student Zach Huffman.

Letterman is very proud of WCRD as well. The station won 2015 Indiana College Radio Station of the Year, and Letterman talked about it on The Late Show.

“Listen to this, WCRD the college radio station. The pulse of the Ball State was named Indiana College Radio Station of the Year. Congratulations to Ball State University! Way to go Everyone!" said Letterman.

In 2007, Ball State dedicated the Communication and Media building in Letterman’s name.

Letterman also funds The Letterman Lecture series. The series brings big names to campus to engage students in conversation and critical thinking. Letterman even returned to Ball State in 2012 to sit down with Oprah.

President Paul Ferguson says Ball State is working with Letterman and his team to create The David Letterman Collection on campus, right inside The David Letterman building. The exhibit is a tribute to the school’s most famous and supportive alumnus.

“At the end of the day, Dave Letterman still believes in the student experience. Thanks Dave for making this institution student-centered and sharing with the world that Ball State can transform anyone that has big dreams,” said President Paul Ferguson.

Every year, Letterman also gives away three scholarships, one of them a full ride to Ball State University.

Ball State officials are working with Letterman’s team in New York to figure out what artifacts from the show, whether it’s his desk or a microphone or several Top 10 Lists, they will display in the David Letterman Collection on campus.

See more of CBS4’s David Letterman coverage.

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