The International Writers Magazine: Radio Head
This thing in my gut is killing me.The cheap Chinese food gave me gutrot just when I needed to be my most focused. I’m in the middle of Afternoon Drive. I have to read the news in a few seconds. Huey Lewis and the News are winding down on “Doing it All For My Baby” and it’s time for news on the quarter.
One of the tenets of pop hits in the seventies and eighties is, no cold endings. Take the last line of the song, repeat two or three times and start fading out on the fourth through the whatever. Somehow I guess it implies that the group would continue the song forever and ever.
Doing it (Doing it) DOING IT DOING IT DOING IT, YEAH…(rinse, repeat…)
I tap my mic open and pot up. “Ninety-two-five Kay Cee OOOH ARRRR!” I’ve been doing this for so long that I can back-announce a song in my sleep. Shoot straight into the news, a live-read commercial for aluminum siding and a PSA featuring Hollywood Schmuck #47 telling us all not to drink and drive before we’re right back into a 7-song super set featuring all your favorites from the seventies, eighties, nineties and today!
I guess I should be grateful. Unlike a lot of studios, this one actually has a window with a decent view. I glance up between carted commercials at the mammoth gray storm clouds piling up on the horizon. Flood Advisories have been issued; I might need a raft to float out of my apartment in the morning.
The studio smells like electronics; that dusty, tangy smell. Electronics, plastic, sweat and Chinese food. It’s about the size of a walk-in closet. There’s a space on the other side of the studio, behind glass, for a board op, if I had one. I remember back when I had one…times are different now.
Four hours in a hot little studio. Three or four hours of show prep…a staff meeting about some live remote that I really don’t want to go to. The gutrot is getting worse – those really painful cramps. The program manager was fired last week and we’re all discussing the very real possibility that we’ll be fired as of this time next week. Rory the Janitor has more job security than we do. Rory helps me remember that I could always have it worse.
I hate the radio now.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of it. The two wacky-morning-DJs of my town seemed so cool and awesome that I knew what I wanted to do. Out of high school and into the state university to get a communications degree. Intern during the summer working the 95 Fun Booth at the county fair, the car show, the art and wine festivals. I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming – I was so in love with the idea of being on the radio, having a show and being Person X of the “X & Y…Mornings on KPUTZ!” format.
No one ever tells you what you should do when your dream not only sucks, it’s over, and your college degree doesn’t translate well into another line of work. I feel like I want to punch every career advisor in the face who, when I told them I wanted to work in radio and they give you the air fart response of “well…have a backup plan” and didn’t reach across the desk and take me by both ears and go “RADIO SUCKS!”
I wish I could go back in time and do that for me.
I wish I’d made different choices and now I have a really difficult one in front of me. I’m not sure I’m ready for it. Chuck the job, admit I was wrong and go get some schooling for a different career. Spend the next 20 years trying to pretend that I don’t hate my job with a passion.
I was cruising home as the rain began to fall. No more take-out for me. I’m still driving the old Dodge 4X4 that my Dad gave me when I left the state. We had a fight last week, over the phone, about why I haven’t found a better job yet. Four years and sixty grand in student loans he co-signed…he’s still looking for a return on his investment.
Not everything is an investment, Dad, I told him. He started to respond but I hung up, I’m sick of hearing it. He left a voicemail the other day, asking me to call – I’m letting him dangle. The Dodge’s fading yellow paint job was making me think about that last visit home and there’s no need for me to call him with that going on.
Dad’s claim to fame – other than being an insurance claim adjuster – is his “Life is a cabernet!” column that gets published once a week in the local paper. I guess I couldn’t equate success with being a wine snob for a cut rate paper. It murders him when old ladies recognize him in the supermarket. There’s a winery in California that has the same tagline – I secretly hope they’ll sue him.
I arrive home with a plastic bag from the market. A bagged salad and a bottle of the pink stuff. I slipped an older Chow Yun Fat movie into the player and watched it with the sound off. The dialogue is about as necessary to the movie as my grade-point average to this job. I think I unconsciously picked out my apartment for its cave-like qualities. Bottom floor of a squeaky-floored ex-motel. There’s a bright orange light that glares into my apartment all night. Until I bought heavy curtains for the place – the evil thing was giving me a tan in my sleep.
My brother – the younger one – is a famous rock star…another irony. He was the slacker kid, smoking pot and skating 8 hours a day. Picked up a guitar and found he had some talent. Turned his aspirations from skater to rock god. Almost made it – I was hearing his first single on the rock top 40 for a few minutes. As far as music goes, my tastes are so far away from what actually sells that it’s not even worth looking at the back page of Rolling Stone anymore.
I don’t talk to him either. My on-air name is different from my real one, but since my real name is about as common as “Johnson” I’ve never had anyone come up to me and go “Hey, are you related to…?” Puke that he is, he never calls anyway. I guess we both arrived at music through different avenues. I never got out of the garage-band/coffee-house scene, myself.
I slipped some Chow Yun Fat movie into the player with the sound off. Salad and half of a bottle of the pink stuff later, I’m semi-comatose on the sofa. My buddy Chad called and we commiserated about the job situation at the station. He’s already got check tapes out to all the other stations in our market and he wanted to know what I had done about it. When I told him ‘nothing’, he about hit the roof.
“Dude, what are you gonna do then?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I hadn’t thought of it.” The silence from his end meant that I was making a huge mistake in his book. He’s my friend because even when he thinks I’m being a retard, he won’t call me on it.
“Well, good luck with that, bro,” he said. That’s about as close to a rebuke as he gets. He hung up and the phone rang again a few minutes later. I picked it up thinking that it was Chad again.
“Hello, son,” my dad said. I grimaced…I am definitely not up for this.
“Hi, Dad. What’s up?”
“What? Did he OD?” Dad was being very terse – it wasn’t good news. The drug issue was legitimate – my brother had been in rehab twice. I’m sure you read about it in a few glam rags.
“Hold on.” I held the phone to my ear and fired up my old laptop. “Is he okay?”
He sighed. “No, Don.”
“So is he…” I began.
“Jake’s dead, Don!” Dad shouted – his voice breaking. “He died an hour ago.” I wish I could say that I experienced a shock of some kind. Aren’t you supposed to feel that when your brother dies?
“I’m sorry, Dad,” I said after a moment.
“Just come home, Don,” he said and hung up.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t spare you,” John the program director said. Picture a twin of John Candy, only fatter and wearing a red cabana shirt. The smell of old greasy hamburgers is making me nauseous – I don’t want my resignation to come in the form of puke.
“My brother just died, John,” I said, trying not to whine.
“I know…can we mention that he’s your brother?” he asked. “We’d get some great coverage.” I was outraged, but not surprised. John the weasel…he’ll never pass up a chance to pimp his little bump in the FM fuzz.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” I said, massaging the bridge of my nose. It was a monstrous suggestion and I’m ashamed to say I took a couple of seconds to consider it. My brother’s ‘career’ and my ‘career’ were always something I kept separate. I didn’t want him to think I was riding his tails. A moment of silence passed between us.
“Well,” he said finally, “there went the single reason I might not be firing you right now.”
“You’re firing me because my brother died?” I shouted.
“No, I’m firing you because you won’t be here to do your job,” he shot back. “What, I gotta deal with your dead weight and then hold the job open because you ask me to?” He waved in the general direction of the main office. “I can replace you with 5 different kids just out of radio school and each of them cost half as much!”
Tactical error on his part, I thought. The whole office could hear our conversation. Maybe he was right or maybe he was wrong but just didn’t care. Either answer didn’t change the outcome.
“Go on, get out of here,” he said, his attention suddenly on his half-eaten Whopper. Listening to him chew was like hearing a dog munch it’s way through a bowl of raw meat…sickening.
“I’d say it was great knowing you,” I said, standing.
“The misery was all mine, chump.” He stood and slammed the door in my face just as I left. 2 years on the dial and that was all I could expect.
I should have left months ago.
The night receptionist, a nice kid just out of high school, was staring at me with wide eyes. I guess it must be nice to be 18, still living at home and have all this drama be your greatest source of entertainment. My face was burning…without a word, I turned and left the office.
I was on the road for home about an hour after that.
© Daniel Haight April 2010
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