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No more wakeups with Zeman & Pups

“It’s local and I can directly impact people’s lives. I think one of the things that makes this station relevant to people is the relationship we can have with (the community).”
— Bruce Zeman

MIDDLEBURY — After 2,084 morning radio shows, each preceded by a skull-rattling 2:45 a.m. alarm blast at home, longtime 92.1 WVTK-FM disc jockey and animal rights activist Bruce Zeman made his bittersweet exit from the Addison County airwaves this past Thursday to the beat of K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s 1975 anthem “That’s The Way (I like It).”

The April 18 departure tune seemed particularly apt, because Zeman, 54, liked virtually every minute of his lengthy WVTK gig, during which he and his beloved dachshund sidekicks became popular fare in cars, homes and businesses in our area.

Well, Bruce, his wife Tami and his dogs Calvin and Gracie won’t have to bark at the alarm clock anymore. The family has relocated to Lewes, Del., where Tami will continue to work in the medical records field while Bruce will remain plugged into ice hockey, making new friends and lending his voice to animal welfare issues, with an emphasis on dogs.

BRUCE ZEMAN AND his rescue dog Gracie on April 18 make their final appearance behind the mic for the 92.1 WVTK-FM “Wake Up Crew” show. Zeman and his beloved posse entertained lots of people and raised thousands of dollars for animal welfare causes during a 2,084-show run at the Middlebury radio station.
Independent photo/Steve James

“I’ve always believed what makes someone ‘Important’ is making the lives of others better, and I hope I’ve done that — for animals and people,” Zeman wrote in his farewell Facebook entry.

“I may not ever have that huge bank account, but I’ve been part of a radio station I love that’s changed the world for animals, terrific friends, and rescue animals who love me — so I really am very wealthy.”

Zeman was just 17 when he broke into the radio business, as an intern at 95 WXXX-FM in Burlington. He was introduced to Ken Barlow, chief operating officer of VOX Media — the parent company of several radio stations, including WVTK, WXXX and WVMT.

“I was doing weekends at triple-X, and (Barlow) called me up one night and said, ‘I like your voice, would you like to come work at Q-106 in New Hampshire,’” Zeman recalled.

That’s where he got to be a real on-air presence while doing a lot of the grunt work — from cutting commercials to selling ads — that goes with the radio biz.

Barlow and VOX have been a fairly consistent presence in Zeman’s career. Zeman has left the company on occasion to work at other stations and even briefly explore a career in education, but he’s always returned to the VOX fold.

Barlow helped Zeman reminisce during the final hour of his last WVTK “Wake-Up Crew” show on April 18.

“He’s been my mentor in radio forever,” Zeman said.

His entrée into the Addison County airwaves came in 2009. Zeman had moved to Middlebury and was prepping to become a history teacher. But he closed the book on that career change upon learning that VOX/Barlow owned WVTK.

Zeman needed to scratch a radio itch and offered to join the WVTK as a part-time DJ.

Barlow countered: Would he like to do the morning show?

“Of course I said, ‘Yes,’” Zeman recalled.

There he remained until 2013, when he chose to try other stations on Vermont’s radio dial. He worked stints at WOKO, Froggy 100.9, Eagle Country, Farm Fresh Radio, and other spots before deciding in 2017 that WVTK was the best place for him to be.

“It’s local and I can directly impact people’s lives,” Zeman said of his WVTK landing spot. “I think one of the things that makes this station relevant to people is the relationship we can have with (the community).”

Through interviews of local leaders, inspirational words, and passing along local news and weather, Zeman said the station has been able to become useful — if not indispensable — to Addison County residents. The “classic hits” music format hasn’t hurt, either.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

“We’re a big station, but we’re not that big where if someone has a problem, we can’t help,” he said, citing folks looking for lost dogs or to promote a fundraiser.

“That’s why we’re here; to make a difference,” he said.

While Zeman helped plenty of Addison County residents and charitable causes during his long WVTK run, he was literally a lifesaver when it came to dogs.

It’s a passion he developed as a child back in New Jersey. The Zemans always had dogs, and Bruce learned to treat them with love and respect.

“They were part of the family,” he said.

And Zeman has made the four-legged members of his family part of his morning show — beginning with his beloved dachshund Hobbes. Their first meeting was in 2009, at Homeward Bound, Addison County’s Humane Society. This was a tumultuous period during which Zeman had finalized a divorce from his first wife, had moved into new house and was transitioning to a new job.

“We went over to see him,” Zeman said. “He had bloody welts and pieces of skin missing from the back of his head. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I can’t leave him here.’”

He called his future wife, Tami, who validated his desire to bring him home. After what he’d been through, Hobbes was understandably skittish during his first few days in his new home.

But the breakthrough was breathtaking.

“After two or three days, he ran out from behind our couch, jumped on my lap, put his head on my knee and let out a big sigh,” Zeman recalled.

Bruce Zeman cuddles his rescue dogs Gracie and Calvin.
Independent photo/Steve James

The rest is heartwarming history. Hobbes became Zeman’s constant companion and the co-star of “The Wake-Up Crew with Bruce & Hobbes.” Bruce and Tami would co-write a children’s book, called “Hobbes Goes Home,” celebrating the pup’s rescue and his impact on others. The duo brought Hobbes’s story into hundreds of schools throughout the country.

Zeman has place proceeds from books sales and other pup-related merchandise into a “Bruce & Hobbes” fund to help pay medical bills for dogs from low-income households, rewards for info in animal cruelty cases, and to secure rescue animals slated for destruction in kill shelters.

“It’s my way of giving back,” said Zeman, who still gets calls out of the blue from distraught pet owners or people supplying tips about imminent euthanasia cases. Like this past Christmas Eve, when a caller from Alabama appealed to him to help with an animal rescue case there. He was asked for a $60 donation, whereupon he wrote the check and popped it in the mailbox.

“It never ends,” he lamented of the mistreatment of animals.

The Vermont Legislature in 2010 and 2014 recognized “The Wake-Up Crew with Bruce & Hobbes” with resolutions honoring them for their community service work, and dedication to helping animals.

NOT A GIMMICK

While some wondered if a dog-and-human radio pairing could catch on with listeners, Bruce & Hobbes proved quite the ratings juggernaut.

“It was never a marketing gimmick,” Zeman stressed. “We did everything together.”

Several years ago, the Zemans added another dachshund, Calvin, to the family. Bruce joked that Calvin served as Hobbes’s “stunt double” as the senior pup got older.

Sadly, Hobbes go sick and passed away in 2020.

Zeman was devastated.

“It was very hard,” he said. “(Barlow) had the entire company come down to pay their respects.”

The Zemans still have Calvin, now 11, but went through the joy — an inevitable heartache — with another pup, Zoey. She was another rescue dachshund, adopted on Christmas Eve of 2017 from a shelter in Connecticut. Bruce Zeman has her case number tattooed on his left wrist. The Zemans were able to give Zoey — who was starving, had a heart murmur and severe dental problems — four great years. She, too, became part of the WVTK wakeup crew before succumbing to an illness last year.

“Saving this baby was, by far, the most difficult and trauma-filled rescue I ever did, but I would do it again, because Zoey was always meant to be my little girl,” he said.

MANY PEOPLE WISHED longtime WVTK DJ and local animal-welfare activist Bruce Zeman well during his final on-air shift on Thursday, April 18. Among them were Homeward Bound Development Director Hannah Manley, left, and Addison County Home Health & Hospice Development Director Maureen Conrad.
Independent photo/Steve James

After Zoey’s death, the Zemans opened their hearts to another dog in dire straits — Gracie, a 6-pound Havanese. The pup was targeted for euthanasia because its custodians didn’t want to spend $8 for eyedrops to solve her vision problem.

Zeman saw a photo of the tiny white fluff-ball and had to have her. Fortunately, Calvin and Gracie have become friends and were a big part of the morning show.

Bruce, Tami and their pups will be missed; they’ve relocated to Delaware for its ocean views and more tax-friendly climate. Bruce will continue to produce and star in his “Full Press Hockey podcast,” dealing with all things National Hockey League. He will maintain a remote relationship with VOX and WVTK, but the details are still being figured out. Ted Richards will take his place his place on the Wake Up Crew.

Among those wishing the Zemans well are their friends at Homeward Bound. Hannah Manley, the organization’s director of development, noted Zeman and his pups raised thousands of dollars for local animal welfare causes.

“Bruce is a champion in the animal welfare world and has used his position at the radio station to put a spotlight on the issues impacting companion animals for many years,” Manley said. “As the humane society in his backyard, we have been the beneficiary of this attention and it has been a huge help to us. From educating the community about the dangers of leaving an animal in a hot car, to staying on-air for 24 hours straight to raise money for our shelter during Cash for Paws, and promoting animals that have been lingering at the shelter, Bruce has stepped up every time we have needed him. We are incredibly grateful to him and to WVTK.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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