Now and again, I will use this space to share with you Actual True Stories from my long radio career. You can tell I’m excited about this, because I capitalized some letters right smack dab in the middle of a sentence. Am I excited because the stories are multi-layered fables, fraught with hidden meaning and symbolism, offering life lessons couched in humorous terms?
Heck, no. I don’t even know what that means.
Actually, I’m excited to offer you Actual! True! Stories! From my long radio career (notice the exclamation points? I got extra excited that time) because of one simple reason: I don’t have to think up anything for this week’s column. Instead of trying to come up with a topic, then massaging the truth until it is a polished little nugget of entertainment, I just open the vault, pull out one of wacky things that actually happened to me, dust it off and then I can stretch out on the couch and watch American Pickers.
(That reminds me: I originally wanted to write this column about an odd fella I worked with several years ago. This guy had many interesting quirks, and one that was very disgusting. My wife, who is much smarter than I, suggested that the good-looking readers of this fine publication would not enjoy a column titled American Nose Picker. So you’ll have to ask me about that one when you see me standing at the one open lane at Wal-Mart.)
So sit back, get comfortable and prepare yourself to take a peek behind the scenes of the thrilling world of Small Town Radio! Small Town Radio is a field like no other, full of good people, unusual people and people who apparently suffered blows to the head early in life.
Here’s one example. Many years ago, a man who claimed to know a lot about radio actually uttered the following sentence to me in complete and total sincerity:
“We have to stop saying the word “country” on the radio because if people who don’t like country music tune in and don’t hear us say “country”, then they will have no idea they’re listening to country music!”
Believe me, I was looking around the room for the hidden cameras, but it was not a goof.
Want another story?
At one point in my career, I worked with a young man named Opie. Opie was an interesting guy. He, like me, knew early in life that he wanted to be on the radio. In fact, when he started at the radio station, he was so young that his parents had to drive him to work. He was enthusiastic, full of great ideas and he loved to be on the air. Eventually he joined me on the morning show.
But he was still young. Really young. This becomes important in just a bit.
First, I have another digression, but it, too, has a bearing on our story.
Sometimes in radio, individuals have been known to utter what my grandmother called “naughty words”. This probably doesn’t happen where you work, so feel free to be shocked and/or appalled. Maybe it happens because those individuals know they can’t say these words on the air and the repression and censorship foments into a brain soup of rebellion and anarchy.
Or maybe some people just like to cuss.
In any case, Opie had a small issue with knowing what was appropriate to say on the air and what was not. One morning, near the end of the broadcast, we were discussing ideas for the next day’s show. Every morning we tried to have a certain number of comedy sketches–or “bits”–ready for the show. As I recall, we had a good idea for a bit, but we hadn’t decided on a title.
Opie chose that moment to say, “What don’t we call it ****?”
****, by the way, is standing in for a naughty word. To be more specific, THE naughty word. And I don’t mean the one you’re thinking of. See, I know you think I mean ####, which was represented in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story by Ralphie saying, “Oh, fudge!” as the lug nuts from the family car went sailing into the night.
That’s a bad word, to be certain. The second worst. The worst is the one Opie said. This is the word that will cause an otherwise mild-mannered woman to stand up, smooth out her skirt, then stab you in the eyeballs with knitting needles.
And Opie thought we could use it on the air. I don’t know why. I could speculate, but this is the Freakin’ Beacon not Psychology Today.
I said, “We can’t say **** on the air.”
“What’s wrong with ****?” Opie said.
“If we say it, every woman in the audience will come to the station, carry us out to the parking lot and repeatedly run over us with their mini-vans,” I said.
Opie shook his head and smirked the smirk of the very young, confident that everyone older than him was a senile fuddy duddy.
If he hadn’t smirked, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did. In my defense, I was a lot younger then, and less responsible. I’m so much more mature now. In fact, I now only smirk three times a week.
At that time, the office manager of the station was a woman we’ll call Consuela. Consuela was, and is, pretty, smart, funny and sweet. Consuela also occasionally has what could be charitably called a short fuse. Especially when it came to dealing with Opie.
At this point in the day, Consuela was in the office with a gaggle of sales people and others who had business with the radio station.
“Okay,” I said to Opie, “Why don’t you go run your idea by Consuela? If she says okay, then we’ll do it.”
Opie’s face lit up. The senile fuddy duddy was caving in.
“Sure,” I said.
He hopped off his stool and practically sprinted to the office. I closed the studio door. I knew what was coming.
The way it was told to me by the survivors, Opie ran into the office where Consuela was having a conversation with someone in sales. Opie wasn’t big on patience, so he immediately interrupted.
“Hey, Consuela,” he said in his outside voice, “is it okay if we say **** on the radio?”
Inside the studio I was already under the console, curled into a fetal position with my arms over my head, increasing my chances of living through the shockwave.
My memories of the next few seconds are unclear. I recall a horrendous scream. The entire building shook as though it were resting on the San Andreas Fault. I heard another horrible noise, one that was eerily similar to the sound of a young man’s head being rammed repeatedly into a wall.
All I know for sure is that I eventually climbed from under the console and stood on shaky legs. My senses were rattled.
The studio door opened. Opie hobbled into the room. He looked older. He was slightly hunched over. His hair stood up in patches. His eyes were glazed.
We never spoke about what happened. And Opie never, ever said **** again.
Some day I have to ask Consuela for her side of the story. You’ll understand if I’m a little reluctant to bring it up.