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Don Gill

Don Gill hosts “Big Band Spotlight” on NET Radio in 2010.

“Moonlight Serenade” was always Don Gill’s cue.

For 23 years the song opened every broadcast of his NET Radio program “Big Band Spotlight,” and every week for 23 years, that’s how he said goodnight — to the strains of Glenn Miller’s classic tune.

On Friday, three days after a massive stroke, surrounded by family and with his favorite music filling the hospital room from an online radio station, “Moonlight Serenade” began to play — and Gill said goodbye.

That’s how the radio icon, whose career spanned six decades, conducted himself. With kindness and finesse, style and grace.

At 84, that’s how he died.

Donna Gill, his wife of nearly 60 years and daughter Dara Glotzbach were with him. An hour later, when his other daughter Diane Williams arrived, the station replayed “Moonlight Serenade.”

“We said, ‘We got the message, dad,’” said Glotzbach.

He was an expert at delivering a message, breaking into radio as a young man in the Army stationed in Okinawa during the Korean War and later establishing a longtime career in Lincoln at KLIN and Nebraska Educational TV.

In the 1970s, he was the voice of the Huskers, doing play-by-play in a deep baritone voice that earned him five “Sportscaster of the Year” awards.

He also co-hosted the popular “Cornhusker Football” show on NETV, with highlights and interviews of coaches and players.

After becoming station manager at KLIN, he left in 1985 to become director of development at NETV, where he remained until he retired in 1997 — though he continued hosting “Big Band Spotlight” for NET Radio.

His reputation earned him a regular spot as emcee of various charities and banquets and in 2006 he was inducted into the Nebraska Broadcaster’s Association Hall of Fame.

He inspired young broadcasters like Jim Rose, who in the 2000s was the voice of the Huskers.

“He was a great mentor to me,” said Rose, who is now a fundraising officer for University of Nebraska Athletics.

When Rose was in high school, Gill would let him tag along.

“Don was a really generous guy,” he said. “He’d always give you the time. If you just wanted to hang around him, he’d always say, ‘Sure come along’”

Later, Rose said, he emulated Gill’s style, which was unusual at the time — even more so today.

He delivered the plays, he offered context and background, but then he’d get out of the way, letting listeners hear the UNL Marching Band play the fight song, or KU fans do the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant.

“He had such immense respect for the audience, he did as much as he could to make sure we felt like we were there with him.”

That style, Rose said, is one of the things that made him popular for so many years, and is a mark of his selflessness.

“He always put the subject matter first,” Rose said. “That was a unique characteristic of his.”

He was known for his deep voice, but also for his kindness.

“You could always hear the smile in his voice,” said his wife. “He was one of the true good guys.”

Years later, as host of the “Big Band Spotlight,” he created a show — using the shelves of recordings he’d collected over the years — that remained popular with NET Radio listeners for more than two decades.

“It was his niche and it was ours with him, kind of a signature hour that Don made great because of Don,” said Nancy Finken, NET Radio Network manager.

Gill’s love of music stems from his mother, who was radio vocalist in the 1920s. He filled scrapbooks with programs and posters from her performances in Denver and St. Louis and Chicago.

If there are themes that mark Gill’s life, radio, family and music are certainly among them. So is softball.

A native of Long Beach, Calif., Gill played fastpitch softball when he attended college for two years in Kansas, and it helped him land his first job at a packing company, which needed a pitcher for its softball team.

He had an amazing change-up, said Donna Gill, and he once pitched a no-hitter at a Kansas state softball tournament.

After he got out of the Army, softball helped him land a radio job in Kansas, said Donna Gill. He helped put a radio station in Concordia, Kan., on the air, then worked at other stations in Kansas, Missouri and Alliance, before becoming sports director at KLIN in 1972.

But years earlier, softball landed him his wife, too.

Before he joined the army, Donna was a scorekeeper in Salina, Kan., when she noticed a blond, blue-eyed California boy. She met him then, but he had a girlfriend. The next year, he was back but the girlfriend wasn’t.

“He said ‘Hello, Donna,’ and I fell off the bleachers,”

They married after he got out of the service, and over the next 59 years raised two daughters, and had two grandchildren.

His daughter, Dara Glotzbach, said she learned to love football because of her dad, whom she’d join when he would broadcast high school games in Alliance.

She could always go to him for advice, she said, and although his job kept him out a lot, it never felt that way.

“We had breakfast with him every morning he was on the radio,” she said.

On Friday evening, just hours after he died, he was on the radio again.

He had picked out an archive tape to play over the holidays, and his family decided the radio station should play it.

They offered a tribute to Gill, then played “Big Band Spotlight.”

And it ended, as it always did, with Gill talking over his signature tune, “Moonlight Serenade.”

“And this is Don Gill, signing off," he said. "Good night.”

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​Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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