My first career (if you don’t count the time I was a cashier at the local Sizzler) was in radio. I was a radio announcer for sixteen years, at eleven stations, in six cities, in three states. I worked at stations that played top 40, adult contemporary, country, oldies, and classic rock. I worked with the nicest people and the craziest people I had ever met. It was an experience I would never change – and if I had it to do over again, I might opt to stay in the business a little longer.
I never set out to be in radio. My dream job when I was younger was to be a flight attendant – a stewardess, as they were more commonly known “back in the day”. I thought it would be a dream come true to jet around the world – for free – seeing exotic places and meeting exotic people. There was nothing more that I wanted than to get out of the small valley where I had spent most of my youth and be a part of the real world. However, it was expected that I would go to college and get my degree – so I packed my bags and joined my sister at Brigham Young University – the place where both my father and my mother had gone for their undergraduate work.
When I was at college, my parents paid for my tuition, housing, and food – but my dad told me that I also needed to get a job. He came from an era where children earned their way – it was a good character building and life skills lesson. I briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a treasure hunter, and then visited the state-run “Job Service” – a place where employers would register their openings and the state would attempt to match up the unemployed with gainful employment. I browsed the openings, but nothing sounded glamorous or cool – and I had finally accepted the fact that I might have to continue working in the food service industry. With a heavy heart, I made my way to the counter to get the particulars on the jobs I seemed qualified for – but after helping me, the gentleman there asked me if I had ever thought about a career in radio, as he had just heard about an opening. He explained that women in radio were still a fairly new thing and every radio station had to have their “quota” in women to meet federal equal opportunity employment guidelines – so I would have a leg up on the male competition. I immediately handed back the information on the restaurant openings and walked out with the particulars of the radio job clutched in my hand. I was going to be a STAR!
My dreams were dashed almost as soon as they started. I made an appointment to meet with the program director at KEYS – the local AM radio station in Provo, Utah. He was a nice enough guy, but when I told him I had absolutely no radio experience, he kindly suggested that I get that experience somewhere else. He let me know about a tiny little radio station in the neighboring city, saying that he had heard they had an opening for an announcer. I immediately made my way there – and found this particular radio station in a neighborhood of older homes, housed in a….house. The living room was the lobby and the bedrooms were the offices, with the master reserved as the radio studio. The radio tower was in the backyard – much to the frustration of the surrounding neighbors who felt that it was not only bringing down their property values, but also causing them untold health issues. This was a station that only had a broadcasting radius of about ten miles and, as no self-respecting, established and experienced DJ would be caught dead working for them, they decided my warm body was better than none. In no time I was working the mid-day shift – with basically no training and no idea of what I was doing.
I picked up some skills along the way and was feeling pretty good about my newfound career – and then The Loser entered my life. He had recently been fired from a radio station in Wyoming where he had been working the overnight shift. Apparently, he had a habit of drinking on the job and had been pleasantly relaxed after a 6-pack of beer. During a particularly long song, he had fallen asleep – and soon the overnight workers in Rock Springs had become alarmed at the very long period of dead air after the song ended. More than one person called the police to report their fears of a medical emergency, break in, or murder – and soon squad cars converged on the station and police, with guns drawn, broke down the door to find The Loser in a drunken snooze on the floor of the control room. As you can imagine, the station owners were not very happy when they were informed – and The Loser was told his services were no longer required. He came back to his childhood home in Utah and started looking for another radio job – and ended up at the crappy station where I was working. The owners were ecstatic that a “real” DJ had opted to apply, he was quickly hired, and we started dating not long after. However, then the station owners decided that a “real” DJ was better than filling their female quota – so I was first moved from my air shift to being the station receptionist – and then fired shortly after that.
One of the few good things The Loser ever did for me was to tell me that I could not give up on my radio dreams just because I had been fired. He encouraged me to apply to every radio station in town – so I returned to KEYS, wondering if I had enough experience to be hired. The program director I had met with before was in a meeting, so I drove to the next prospect – a popular FM Top-40 station where I really felt I had no chance of being hired. I explained to the receptionist why I was there and she invited me to have a seat. Soon a very strange man with wild hair came out and called my name introducing himself as Jim Sumpter , the program director. He told me to follow him, saying “Walk THIS way!” as waved his arms and legs reminiscent of Steve Martin when he was a “wild and crazy guy”. Jim set me up in one of the production rooms and had me read some news copy, and then shocked me to the core when he hired me for the 10pm-2am shift.
Jim went on to be my mentor in radio, teaching me everything he knew. Over my sixteen year career, I worked for him at four different stations in two states. When I was younger, he was not only my professional mentor, but also a father figure. Our professional relationship lasted longer than my marriage to The Loser. However, like me, he had his vices and issues — and eventually disappointments, broken promises, and disillusions on both ends brought our working relationship to an end. I am grateful to have met him – he launched me into an interesting career, helped me on my way to becoming the person I am today, and gave me some interesting stories to tell.
I left radio when I was 32-years-old and pregnant with my last child. I just didn’t feel like teenage listeners could relate to me at my age and that I should have a “respectable career” to set a good example for my children. It may have been a mistake. There were other, “more mature” radio formats I could have moved to — and I could have pursued freelance voiceover work (which I loved). Technology has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past twenty years — making me feel like a dinosaur in comparison — but maybe it’s not too late to stick my toe back into the radio pond — just to get the feel of things.
Have you had more than one career in your life? Have you ever left a job and later felt like you made a mistake? Or have the changes in your life always led to better, more fulfilling things?