(Slight edit since first posted.)
Did I ever tell you about the time I interviewed for a job at WGN?
WGN in Chicago is one of America’s legendary radio stations, a Midwestern powerhouse for 80 years (at least until recently), home to enough famous names to fill an entire hall of fame. One fine day in 1994, The Mrs., a dedicated WGN listener, came home from her afternoon commute all excited. It seems the afternoon guy had mentioned he was looking for a producer, and he’d said that if you knew anything about radio, you should apply. Ha ha, very funny. We lived in Iowa at the time; I was job-hunting at the time. But because a man’s got to know his limitations, I know there is no way I am going to get a producer’s job at WGN. Nevertheless, mostly just to please my beloved, I print off my resume, cobble together a flippant cover letter, stuff in an aircheck tape, put the package in the mail, and forget all about it.
One fine day weeks later, the phone rings. I answer it, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t the assistant PD of WGN. “We got your package,” he said. “We don’t think you’re right for the producer’s job, but we always like to talk to people we think have something to offer. If you’re going to be in Chicago anytime soon, let me know and we’ll set something up.”
I mumble something, hang up the phone, and stand there in the dining room with a dumbstruck look on my face. The Mrs. isn’t there, but my brother happens to be. He sees the look and wonders who died. When my reason returns I tell him, “I think I just got The Call.” The Summons, the Invitation to a potential job at the greatest radio station on Earth.
Needless to say, I arrange to be in Chicago in fairly short order. A few days later, I find myself walking into the Tribune Tower, going into the WGN lobby, introducing myself, and telling the receptionist I’m there for an interview. I meet the APD, he gives me the tour, we talk. I can’t remember who was on the air at the time, or who was in the newsroom, or much of anything about the tour at all, because I couldn’t believe I was there. (I can’t remember the APD’s name now; I am not sure I could remember it then, either.)
The APD is kind enough to ask me about my career and my future plans, even though it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that this is mostly a courtesy interview. The current opening they have is for a production assistant, a job that pays $10,000 a year. “I doubt you’re interested in that,” the APD says, and he was right. “We realize it doesn’t pay very much, but we don’t have to pay very much because this is a place people want to work.” He doesn’t say this in an unpleasant or egotistical fashion, but as something both of us know to be the truth. After maybe 45 minutes, we part, he escorts me back to the lobby, and I head for the door of the Tribune Tower, which also is the portal back to obscurity in Iowa.
But as it turns out, I won’t be leaving yet. Come back tomorrow to find out what happens next.