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.