Recently, Ken Levine posted some videos of TV people being seized by laughing fits while on the air. Sometimes these fits are spontaneous, as a result of something in a story, or some kind of behind-the-scenes accident or blooper. When I was doing the afternoon show in Iowa 20 years ago, my newscaster and I used to talk about the last story of the newscast for a minute or two before I went back to music. One day, something in a story about a guy who collected air-sickness bags from airlines struck me funny, and I completely lost it, dissolving in uncontrollable laughter. I could hardly catch my breath, and the newscaster ended up doing play-by-play as I whooped like a madman with tears rolling down my face, before I finally struggled my way out of it.
(Alas, I didn’t save the tape. I have a clip of it on a promo for my show, but I’m not sure where it is right now.)
The other kind of laughing fit is deliberately caused. It used to be a fairly common radio thing to see if you could make the guy on the air break concentration or laugh while his microphone was open. Most radio old-timers have stories about being either victim or perpetrator. For example, back in the day, when it was still OK to smoke in the studios, setting the newsman’s copy on fire was not uncommon.
One famous story (which I think comes from Larry Lujack’s autobiography, Superjock) involves a newsman who resolutely refused to break up no matter what his colleagues did. He just kept calmly reading his copy and placing each story in a stack on the desk. So one day, one of the jocks crept into the studio while the guy was on the air, unzipped, and placed his member on the stack of copy. The unflappable newsman was ready. Between stories, he briefly cut his microphone, picked up his steaming cup of coffee, and poured it on the stack.
Whose concentration is broken now, fella?
One night in college, as I headed into the news booth, a colleague of mine said, “I’m gonna break you, Bartlett.” Somebody had been doing carpentry in the studio and had left a few tools there, so the first time I looked into the studio during the news, I saw that my colleague had found a brace-and-bit and was drilling it into the side of his head.
I didn’t even smile. I just went back to reading—although now I was worried. The next time I looked up, this is what I saw: the jock on the air standing on the studio chair, bent over with his hands on the console, while my colleague with the brace-and-bit is standing behind him, drilling him squarely in the ass.
That did it. The last thing listeners heard of the news that night was me choking out the words “play a PSA” amidst an uncontrollable gale of laughter. I went on after the next record, explained what had happened, and apologized, but I wasn’t all that sorry, because the whole thing was pretty funny.
We don’t do this kind of thing anymore, at least not at the stations I work for, although every time I look through the window at one of my colleagues getting ready to talk, I’m tempted to make a silly face. Never to unzip, though.