Lost in Love

It’s what you get when you fall in love with a girl who turns out to be bad for you.

She will steal your time and batter your emotions. You know she’s going to do it, because it’s how she is with you. But you want her anyway—against every bit of common sense and good judgment, despite of all she’s done to you and all she’s going to do—you want her.

Sometimes you see yourself clearly, and the fix you’re in. You realize that you have the option—and the need—to get away from her, as fast and as far as you can. And maybe you even manage to make the break a time or two. But then she looks at you just so, or she does that thing that makes you crazy, or she’s just there to scratch the itch you have at the moment it really needs scratching. And you’re lost, in love all over again.

Forty years ago today, I did my first real radio show, at the end of my first semester in college at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, a three-hour morning-show fill-in on the campus station during final exam week.

I say “real” because I’d done some less-than-real stuff before that. I’d imagined myself as a DJ from the time I was 11 years old, and I frequently pretended to be one. As a result, long before I sat down in an actual working broadcast studio, I could talk up a song introduction and ad lib the weather. In 1976, I had purchased 15 minutes of airtime on our hometown station in a fundraising auction for some club at our high school. I used my time to play some songs I liked and to crack wise. But it wasn’t until December 14, 1978, that I got to do real radio in real time in a real studio over a real transmitter. The next day, I did a six-hour show that was the single most exhilarating experience of my life. Nothing else, in radio or in life itself, has ever come close. My long-awaited radio career had begun.

I got my first paying radio job less than three months after that, and I worked part-time all through school. My full-time radio career began in 1982 and ended on the first working day of 1994. I got a couple of other full-time jobs after that, one at the end of 1994 and one in 2013, but neither one of them was meant to be, so I gave them back. But for 25 years now, I have been mainly a part-time radio guy. I have been a part-timer more than twice as long as I was a full-timer. And for a eight-year stretch of those 40 years, from 1998 to 2006, I didn’t do a DJ show at all—just a few sports broadcasts and a tiny bit of voiceover work.

So it may be 40 years since my first show, but I don’t think I can call it 40 years in radio. Forty years around radio, maybe.

I never really had a career plan. I wanted to climb the market ladder, but I had no idea how best to do it. Although I learned a lot from lots of people, I never really had a mentor in the traditional sense. I had the attention span of a goldfish and the work ethic of a hobo. (Still do.) So I blundered along.

And after many years of blundering, I come to this anniversary.

I am under no illusions that my career has been anything like a success. I look at certain friends and colleagues in the industry and see the sort of careers I wish I had today, and I regret that I do not.

I am under no illusions that this is anybody’s fault but mine, however. It’s what you get when you fall in love with a girl who turns out to be bad for you.

Forty years on, I still love radio. She’s the only thing in my life that gets me jacked up. Radio work seems meaningful in a way that all the other work in my life does not.

But even now, when I keep her at arm’s length, she is still capable of breaking my heart. And if I keep hanging around her, she’s almost certainly going to do it again.

7 responses

  1. Excellent !

  2. What does the Mrs. think about your assertion that radio is the only thing in your life that gets you jacked up? I’ll hang up and listen.

    My lull between radio gigs lasted for 26 years, and if you’d asked me a year ago if I could have foreseen going from retirement to full-time on-air again, I would have told you… yeah, that. Not only have I found that you CAN go home again, it’s better than ever. And before you take another trip down Blunder Boulevard, jb, I owe you a huge “thank you,” because your March 19th post titled “Purpose” came at precisely the right time. It was about the importance of both having a purpose in mind before the mic was cracked open, and in scripting. It was the latter that I’d never previously done, outside of a rare special program or two.

    The comment I made on that post concerned a bit I’d heard about platypus milk that ended up going nowhere. It happened to be made by a personality on the station I knew I was going to be working for, but had been delayed from starting for several months due to family commitments. I debated for several weeks whether to mention that lame bit to my future boss, and when we met for lunch, I decided to do so, I wasn’t even done relating the story, when he said he’d taken the guy off the air, since he was basically sleepwalking from working two full-time jobs. He then informed me that I was going to take over that time slot. I felt a little guilty, but at the same time, it made me that much more determined to avoid Lame Lane at all costs.

    I bookmarked and re-read your Purpose post several times before hitting the air in May, and the two personality bits per hour we were required to do (mine average a minute to 1:15 each) are ALWAYS scripted. It’s essential for setting up a funny or offbeat entry, adding my own punctuation to the story, then sending it on its way with a double dollop of wit. That allows time to look over the initial draft, improve it, give it a final once-over before printing and a full dress rehearsal or two before airing. I seriously doubt I would have made such a firm commitment to doing the best possible job every time, were it not for your timely post.

    I don’t always script every non-bit break, but whenever there’s more thought that I want to put into a given one, I do commit it to paper first, if only to avoid tripping over my own tongue. Those 26 years of rust in the pipes and the rest of the delivery system aren’t *entirely* gone yet. But I can’t tell you how great it feels to do a show the way I should have been doing it decades ago (yes, the boss insists each personality has a show, and not just an airshift, since personality is just essential as the music.) That’s one great thing about wisdom acquired over many years: the ability to grade yourself honestly and take advantage of that “if I had it to do all over again…” wishful thinking by actually *doing* it all over again.

    Thanks for the mentoring, j.b. Happy Blunderversary, and I really will hang up now and listen.

    Happy Blunderversary!

    1. My experience pretty much mirrors that of Yah Shure. Ten years of blissful baby jock-ism (ages 15 to 25), thirty years of TV news, followed by the inevitable end (twice) and, miraculously, the door opens a tiny bit to radio—with a job a lot of us would have passed on (part-time weekend overnight traffic reports for $12 an hour).

      But I took it—and that one step put me on a path back home to California and seven promotions in four years leading me to News Director and afternoon co-anchor at KFBK, Sacramento. Six years into my second go-round in radio, it is, as Yah Shure notes, a better experience than ever. It is, as it always has been, a risk (unlike the Mickey Mouse Club, EVERYDAY is “Anything Can Happen Day” in radio), but so far, the rewards outweigh that.

  3. […] years ago this week, I was only a few weeks removed from my first real live radio shift the past December. I had a regular gig on the campus radio station, but all was not entirely rosy […]

  4. […] something, but I can’t find any, so it must be OK.) There was also the 40th anniversary of my first real radio show, the 40th anniversary of my first paying radio job (as distinct from college radio), and an […]

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