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Carl Wernicke: Home Is Where Everyone Knows Your Name

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Over many years during my career at the Pensacola News Journal my picture ran with my weekly column. So a lot of readers I did not know knew what I looked like.

As a result, it wasn’t unusual for people to come up to me in a store or on the street and start a conversation about some topic in the news. At times I suspect some of them played little games with me; more than once I found myself facing a smiling person in a grocery store or restaurant who would say hello Carl, and then wait as I struggled desperately to remember whether I knew this person. This was particularly nettling because while I have a pretty good memory for faces, I am terrible at remembering the names that go with them. In the moment it is not at all unusual for me to totally forget the name of someone I have know well for many years. So faced with someone who appeared to know me, while I was drawing a total blank, was unsettling.

Now, the up side of having such a poor memory for names is that I don’t worry too much, as I get older, that it indicates incipient Alzheimer’s; and even if it does, by the time I figure it out, it might not matter.

But that’s not really what I meant to talk about. I have now been doing these radio commentaries for several years, and I’ve started running into people who recognize me by my voice. It’s a strange thing to happen, but the trend seems to be accelerating.

I called the other day to make a doctor’s appointment, and the first thing the woman on the other end of the phone said was, your voice sounds familiar. When she heard my name, she said she listens to WUWF and recognized me.

Then recently I went to the offices of the Santa Rosa Island Authority to get a toll booth pass for my car. A woman sitting nearby overheard some of my conversation with the employees, and when I sat down to fill out the form, she asked me to say something. I think I managed to stammer out something profound like, What?, and she then said she recognized my voice from the radio.

I ascribe this trend to several things: one, WUWF has quite an audience in Pensacola, and quite a diverse audience at that.  I’ve had young and old people, male and female, tell me they have heard me on this station. It is particularly gratifying when , as happened with a credit union teller recently, I discover that young people are listening to public radio. And two, Pensacola is still a pretty small town, which is a big reason I so love living here. I imagine you can live in a place like New York or even many of the much smaller, but still big, cities and almost never run into someone you know by random chance.

In a place like Pensacola, it seems almost impossible to go for very long without at least seeing someone you know, on the street, in a store, or a restaurant. For me that reinforces the feeling that this is home, and that is a very comfortable feeling.

However, I now have a new problem. As bad as I am at remembering faces, I’m hoping no one expects me to remember who they are from their voice. That likely would leave me, uh, speechless.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.