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10:17 a.m. - September 27, 2005
Radio Daze
Unlike many people, I do not have a fear of speaking in front of groups.

It’s probably because I have a big mouth.

I give presentations at regional and national conferences (regarding exciting topics like Campaign Reporting and Finding Lost Alumni – you know, gripping stuff!) and sometimes I have audiences of 150 to 200 people. Not a problem.

At the conference I am attending as we speak in Toledo (yes, I am essaying LIVE from the Radisson in downtown Toledo), as the agenda chair I have to address the conference. I also give away the door prizes, so I act like a big time game show host - unctuous, smarmy, the whole nine yards.

I do the PA for the Wabash football team, and have since I was a junior in 1986. For our big rivalry game against DePauw (the evil, loathsome DePauw Tigers) we have had crowds of 11,000 people. I developed my own shtick when Wabash gets a first down:

“It’s a gain of 15 yards and another Wabash College…….FIRST DOWN!”

The crowd chants with me and does the first down signal as they are saying it. This developed eventually – I can’t remember when I started doing it but when several parents and students said to me, “I really like that first down thing you do!” well I just had to keep doing it.

I used to do PA for the basketball team, and that was neat because I always loved to do the starting lineups. You focus on a good name (one that is polysyllabic) and really stretch it out. However, I gave up that so I could sit with Katie at basketball games. But in basketball, when there was a crowd, I got to be loud. When it was a small crowd, I had to turn on my NPR voice (picture Corey Flintoff announcing a starting lineup, in a lush, sonorous voice. Yeah, that was me…)

My love of speaking started at an early age. I learned to read when I was 3 and always loved reading out loud. I did a lot of theater in junior high and in high school I did the PA for a lot of the sports teams (girl’s basketball, wrestling, volleyball, and gymnastics).

And as I said above, I just LOVED game shows, especially the announcing. “IT’S A BRAND NEW CAR!!!!!!” (I just wanted to say that once in my life, for real!)

Of course, I was involved in the speech team in high school. Yeah, it’s a gathering of a lot of nerdballs, but we had fun. Our team always had the best music, (multiple boom boxes, best mix tapes) and we were social animals, for speech team nerds. We had some successes but it was always a fun time no matter how well we did. But that’s what ran me ragged in high school, because I also was the stats man for the basketball team. So I usually had to go right from the speech team bus to the basketball bus. Hey, it kept me off the streets. (And the mean streets of Crawfordsville, phew…)

When I got to college, the campus had a small radio station. Of course, I signed up for it, and thus started my career in radio.

After my first couple of shifts doing the college radio station, I knew that this could be fun and I could see myself doing this for a living. Of course, in college, one could impose their musical tastes on people (heh!) but in reality I enjoyed the whole radio thang. I wrote and recorded some promos and some commercials for the campus radio station (at that time, it was a commercial station for some God-awful idiotic reason) and I had a voice that naturally projects well over a microphone.

My dad worked with the dad of the program director at the local radio station, and he let me know there was an opening for a part timer. So I applied and got an audition.

Unfortunately, for my audition, I had laryngitis. But I went ahead anyway. I’m sure the PD heard me on the campus radio at some point because in about a month, I was hired to do Friday night overnights (10PM – 6AM) and Sunday mornings (6AM – Noon).

Not the best schedule in the world for a freshman in college. Weekend sleep and parties were rather much shot for me, and living in a fraternity that made it all the more interesting. But I accepted the job and started my career in radio.

For those shifts there wasn’t a lot of actual DJ work. At that time from 12-6 the station played national talk shows and my job was to just be sure the commercials were played and the news was potted up at the proper time. On Sunday from 7-10 there was the “God Squad”, which was all of the religious programming.

There were a lot of picayune duties as well. The overnight guys had to empty the trash and put it in the dumpster. We had to keep clearing copy off of the wires, and last but not least, we had to tend Igor.

The FM station was automated, and Igor was the name of the automation machine that ran the show. You had to program it, keep changing the reels of music so the station was on the air, and record a weather forecast every hour.

The “DJ” in Igor was a generic sounding dude. He sounded like he was reading the phone book. And they wonder why ad sales were slow!

After about six months of that, the station changed hands and it was decided to eliminate the overnights and close up the shop at midnight. They fired the overnight guy and had me and another part timer share the 8PM – Midnight shift, and I still did Sunday morning, but I was asked to do Sunday night as well.

But I was still a part timer. And I still had to take the trash out.

Yeah, that’s radio. Work five days a week as a part timer.

But that allowed me to do more DJ work and more production work and I really enjoyed that. Mind you, the music on this station wasn’t the hippest in the world. Adult contemporary was definitely a perfect description. Air Supply, Chicago, Bread…the hip trendy sounds of the 80’s.

I got my fix for that by still working at the college radio station as the morning guy. So from 6 – 8 in the morning I blasted the hip sounds of today. This after getting out of the station at 12:15 the night before most of the time.

More personnel changes happened, and I was asked to do the Saturday morning news for a while. Now that was an experience, because I had to get to the police station at 4:00 AM to collect the police blotter (which was the most popular segment on the news – nosy people trying to see who got arrested the night before!). Now a college student in a police station on Saturday morning usually means bad things. What it meant for me was a lot of breath mints after a party.

As time went on, I filled in as the sports guy for about three months. This meant I was working about 40 to 50 hours a week, since I kept some other duties. I also learned how to read the commodities screen when I did some afternoon DJ work. I became the roving reporter at the 4-H fair, interviewing winners of the hog show and the queen contest. I did play-by-play and color commentary for football and basketball games for the local high schools.

So basically, I did it all. It was quite an experience.

But I knew after a while radio was not going to be my full time career.

They had so many changes at the station that it was hard to make any relationships or continuity at the station difficult. The management cut the news staff, cut the DJ staff, made the part timers do more WITHOUT paying overtime (which I should have pressed, but I didn’t).

I got one raise in four years. I was making .50 cents an hour over minimum wage.

Yet I loved it. I just knew I couldn’t make a career out of it. I knew I wouldn’t have the patience for it and I didn’t like to live in fear of being fired for no apparent reason. I still do some odd football road games for the College radio station, which is kind of cool.

That local station is still around, having made about 23,128 changes since the late 80’s. Right now, it’s run on the cheap, and they don’t treat anyone very well.

And with the current state of radio (for the most part) – I knew I couldn’t work in that industry. The conglomerates of radio have made radio a very blah listen. There’s no local flavor and programming for the most part. The DJs aren’t taste makers, they’re just sheep. NPR is great for news, and I do like some shows on ESPN radio, but for the most part radio is either taking heads yelling at people, sports guys yelling at people, or DJs yelling at you while playing the same 10 songs over and over again. Yuck!

There are people who read me who are professionals in radio, and some part of me still wishes I would have stuck with it. However, I’m sure if you ask them, they are not getting rich in radio. They work long hours. They are not the ones that you hear nationally, the ones that have their own satellite radio. They do it for the love of radio, which I still have in my heart.

When I’m traveling, sometimes I turn off the CD player or iPod and listen to the local radio to see if there’s a station out there that still serves the local markets while providing good entertainment. Sadly, they are few and far between, as this country moves toward being a Generic America.


 

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