People in the radio business are crazy. I know this because I spent sixteen years in the business and there is just a certain kind of crazy that only radio employees and owners exhibit. The announcers tend to be a bit narcissistic– it’s hard not to be when you are a minor celebrity in your town or region. You develop fans and stalkers, who call daily and come to see you at public appearances. You are asked to be part of small town parades and you meet or talk to major celebrities who come to town for concerts. Advertisers pay you directly to endorse their business or products and, if you have any input on the music that is being played, record companies and their representatives will court you – providing trips and merchandise “to the station” – but making it clearly known that these gifts are really for you – basically payola to try to get the single they are promoting on the air. Many announcers wholeheartedly buy into the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” philosophy, so there is a lot of substance abuse and even groupies.
Radio owners and general managers inhabit their own realm of craziness. Perhaps this is not as pervasive these days, when so many smaller stations and chains have been purchased by mega groups like Clear Channel, Cumulus, CBS, and ABC and, one would hope, are run more like actual businesses instead of small dictatorships. However, when I was in the business, I worked for stations that were either individually owned or for small companies that owned no more than 7-8 stations. The individually owned stations were the worst – purchased by men who had more money than sense – and absolutely no background in radio. They weren’t content to hire a professional manager who had radio experience and a proven track record – no, that would be too easy. Instead they wanted the glory and power of running the radio station themselves…and they often ran it into the ground.
Arnold M. was one of the worst of these – he was an elderly retired attorney who had decided the way to further his fortune was to be a mini-media-mogul. He purchased a station in Ohio and then purchased a second station in Corpus Christi – building an apartment perched in the rafters of the warehouse that was attached so that he could stay there on his frequent visits. Arnold did have the sense to hire an experienced General Manager, my mentor Jim – but Jim was battling his own crazy, as he had been a disc jockey and announcer in his younger days.
Often we would have no notice when Arnold made one of his trips to the station – I think he enjoyed coming unannounced in the hope that he would find us doing something he didn’t like. The first clue that Arnold was in the building would be hearing his distinctive muttering as he came down the hall – Arnold talked to himself, A LOT, and most of it was indecipherable. Arnold also had a HUGE problem with gas – so each step he took would be accompanied by his very own, very audible “Song of the South” – if you get my drift. Before long, Arnold would shuffle around the corner, wearing his ratty slippers and robe. Usually his hair was sticking straight up, as he tended not to shower or perform any hygiene task until later in the day.
One of Arnold’s favorite things to do was to visit the control room – usually when the red light was on indicating the announcer was on the air. He would let the door slam open and then pick up a 4×6 card file we had on the counter that held our PSAs – public service announcements. Every radio station was required to provide free public service announcements in order to show that they were a benefit to the community – and often these were about community events – fund raisers, pet adoptions, festivals and farmer’s markets – you get the idea. Arnold had decided that although we were a radio station and our business was talking, these PSAs involved TOO much talking.
He would stand at the counter, ignoring the announcer, and flip through the cards. Very few passed his inspection unscathed – and Arnold would whip out a pen that he kept in the front pocket of his robe and start to scratch at the card, crossing out words and sentences as he muttered to himself. Every few moments he would loudly exclaim, “Too verbose! Too Goddamn verbose!” This was occasionally accompanied by a glare at the announcer, as if they were the offending party who could not economize on their vocabulary. If he found a PSA particularly chatty, Arnold would rip the card in two and place the remains in his other pocket – I guess to make sure we did not attempt to repair the card and put it back in the circulation.
When he finished with his task, Arnold would turn and leave the control room – never closing the door behind him. One could clearly hear a loud heinie hiccup with every step he took, as well as the occasional, “Too Goddamn verbose!” as he made his way down the hall – usually on his way to the conference room to see if there was a sales meeting he could interrupt.