Thursday, October 22, 2015

Radio Daze - Part Four

He opened the door and felt the cold air slap him in the face, like a dame with eyes flaring with hate and a heart burning with revenge. It was the kind of cold you only get at 3 AM when a man is alone and has nothing left to lose.  

The door opened onto a fire escape that overlooked a city that rolled the dice one too many times and came up empty. Lights dotted the dark like bullet holes in the side of a ’57 Chevy.  

Behind him, in the glow of a florescent lighting that would eat a man’s soul, he could hear singing.  

“Hello! Is it me you’re looking for?”  

The man sighed a long slow sigh of a man whose heart is tired but he has to still make the body keep moving.  

His name was David and it was time to face the music.  

And it's time for me to stop opening up these posts about my time in radio with 3rd person narration. I agree with you, it doesn’t make any sense.


My last job in radio was for a station called WMAG. It had an adult contemporary format which is just like Top 40 except the music is about 6 months older and vetted to not cause heart attacks or ear bleeds.  

There was a lot of Lionel Richie music played. I mean, a whole damn lot of Lionel Richie. Even today, I can’t hear “All Night Long” without entering a fugue state where my eyes glaze over and I lose all sense of self and reality. It’s kind like a war veteran having flashbacks to ‘Nam or something.

WMAG was located at the top of a 16 story bank building in High Point, a small city located near Greensboro. If Greensboro was a Wal-Mart of a city, High Point was a Goodwill store. Still, at night, it was a wonderful place to be. The window from the main control room overlooked the city towards the south while the door to the fire escape looked out towards the west. It was quite a beautiful view, at least before the sun came up.   

One time there was a power outage that hit the entire city. It was surreal being so high up and seeing only total darkness save for the random headlight or flashlight.  

On a semi-regular basis, WMAG would scrap the adult contemporary format for an all oldies weekend, playing classics from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Those were “fun” because older songs tended to be considerably shorter than modern songs so it was more work to keep the music going. Also people calling in to complain about where their  Lionel Richie was.  

Another time the regular format was given a breather was at Christmas. All holiday music all the time for two solid days, Christmas Eve and Christmas. A few years after I left WMAG for the last time, Christmas music began eating up more of the schedule. A whole week before Christmas. Then it started December 1st. Then it started the day after Thanksgiving. 

The start date for Christmas music at WMAG is now the first Friday after Halloween.  

I'm not kidding. 

WMAG was my first job once I was out of college. I called myself David Hall on the air so to protect my true identity and keep my loved ones from harm. Also, no one at that station used their real name. 

Saturday nights, the station ran a live oldies show hosted by a guy I'll call Rod. Rod was Ron Burgundy before there was Ron Burgundy. He had great pipes and a warm inviting personality that came out over the airwaves and wrap you up in a hug. Or so it was described to me. I just thought he had a ballsy voice. 

Rod was a ladies man. Sometimes when I came in for my shift, there would be a couple of impossibly blonde women that Rod would ask me to let in. Rod frequently cut out with the control room still a mess with music carts all over the place. "Hey buddy, sorry about the mess but I gotta go. I got you covered, next time." I don't know what he meant by me being covered but I was never covered in cash or by one of his spare blonde women.  

The job at WMAG was only part time and I was working overnights but hey, I had my foot in the door of a radio station that was doing quite well in a fairly strong mid-level market. It was not a bad position to start from. Unfortunately, I never got past start.  

I spent about 3 years coming in on Friday night to work the graveyard shift from midnight to 6 AM Saturday, then I did it again the next day. 12 hours of my life every weekend was given to the service of playing Lionel Richie.  

Of course one does not pay the bills working part time in radio so I had secured other work. I found a job with a financial services company that somehow became the focus of my career. It ate up more and more of my time. I was making good money which provided me with a sense of security, something that is definitely lacking in the field of radio. And I wasn’t going to make it any further up the ladder at WMAG. So something had to give so I walked away from WMAG. But not quite for the last time. 

About 2 years later, the pressures of working for the finance company began to become very overwhelming. I was young, stupid and emotionally fragile. I wound up leaving that job and burning a few bridges in the process. In a spirit of youthful resolve to reclaim my lost dreams but mostly in desperation to find work, I checked in with WMAG. No, there were no full time or part time jobs open. But they were having a bit of a time finding someone to fill in for the weekday overnight guy so I could help them out with that.  

In my previous time at WMAG, I had worked only weekends. All I had to worry about was if the 6 AM guy didn’t show (and sometimes that happened), I had to start up at 7 AM a  Best Of… tape of the weekday morning show. I would occasionally slip this into my overnight patter: “Later on WMAG, The Best of Bill Flynn starts at 7 AM. I have no idea what the program will be at 7:05.” For the most part, working overnights on the weekend was extremely low maintenance.

Apparently the weekday guy is supposed to know and do more. The live morning show on weekdays began at 6 AM. So it’s Monday morning at 5:00 AM and a  woman bustles in and begins flitting all about me, doing God knows what. She was the news reader and I was witnessing far more activity than I had ever seen at the station. There was a small control board with a mike adjacent to the main control room. This was from where she read the news. As she’s flying about the station doing this and that, the clock ticked forward. 5:15 AM. 5:30 AM, 5:45 AM. Bill, the actual host of the show, had not shown up nor had his female sidekick. It was just the newsreader. At 5:59 AM and 30 seconds, the newsreader pops her head in and says, “Looks like Bill is running late again. At 6 when I give the signal, bring up my mike and I’ll start the show from my news booth.”  And she immediately withdraws her head and secures herself at her news reading post without giving me a chance to ask an important question.

“Which control is for your mike?” There was nothing helpfully labeled “News Mike” or anything.  

With seconds to spare, I finally get her attention. With all the disdain an economist would have for someone who can’t 2 + 2, she said, “It’s the 3rd one. Now, hurry, we’re going on in five seconds!” 

So I rush back to the board and… 

The third one…what? I assumed going from left to right, it would be 3rd control from the left. But I actually knew what that control was for, it was for one of the cartridge machines used to play commercials. So she meant 3rd one for the left. Made sense as that was the side where my studio mike control was. The problem was the 3rd control from the right was in fact the control for my mike in the main studio.  

“What exactly is the signal?” was another question I should’ve asked. iI had hoped it would be obvious. While avoiding all eye contact so she couldn’t see the frantic person waving at her from the main control room, the newsreader held up a hand. Is that the signal? 

No, she points. Is the pointing the signal? 

Then another finger points out. Oh, she’s counting. OK, counting to what? Three? Five? OK, she goes all the way to five! The counting is to five! Five fingers is the signal! 

No, wait! She balls her hand into a fist and 2 seconds later is reading the news.  

I finally get her attention again to let her know that she’s not reading the news to anybody. At this point, she glares at me the way you glare at a cockroach and  rushes out of her control room with a handful of papers. She stomps her way to the main control board, throws open the mike to give the station ID and begins reading the news.  

Why she didn’t just do that in the first place, I don’t know. (By the way, her "news room" mike was the 3rd control from the right; there was a toggle switch that I never ever used before that switched it between studios.)  

So I’m standing there awkwardly unsure of what to do with my hands or any other parts of my body. At the first commercial break, I attempted to speak. The newsreader woman looked astounded that I was still there. “I’m sorry about all that. Is there anything I….”  

“You can just go,” she said with an edge in her voice that I’m sure could’ve cut a stick of butter if that stick of butter was made out of granite. So I made my way towards the elevator, It’s 6:10 and the host along with his sidekick are just coming in. They pass by oblivious to my presence as entered the elevator, pressed the button for the ground floor and saw the lobby of WMAG for the last time.  I later got a call from the program director thanking me for helping out but they had made other arrangements to cover for the weekday overnight guy. But they would call if they needed my help again.  

Of course, I never got that call. 

And thus ended my time in radio. I've never been behind the mike ever since. 

Tomorrow’s post is connected to my time at WMAG. It’s about the time that a police officer pulled a gun on me.  

Next week at this time, one more Radio Daze post. It’s about the radio job I didn’t get (and thank goodness!) and a few thoughts about the current state of radio. (Spoiler alert: I’m not a fan.)  

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.

I’m So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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