Doomsday DJ

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The Kids in the Hall, the Canadian comedy troupe whose TV show ran from 1989 to 1995 and who have reformed for concert tours and a couple of other projects since then, have released a new season of eight episodes, and they’re profiled in a new documentary Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks. It’s all on Amazon Prime. The new episodes are a wonder: it’s a little jarring at first to see the Kids all 30 years older, but it quickly becomes clear that time hasn’t robbed them of a single iota of their unique comedic sensibility.

The single most talked-about sketch in the series is “Doomsday DJ,” in which Dave Foley is on the air following some sort of unspecified apocalypse. It’s a funny premise, but it works as art because Foley gives the acting performance of his life. (You can watch it and read Foley’s comments about it here.)

If you have read this blog for a while, you know that I take the service responsibility of my radio job very seriously. If I see a tornado out the window, I may hide under the desk, but I’m staying in the studio; if I can get out of my driveway in a blizzard or an ice storm, I’m going to the station. During the early days of the pandemic in 2020, I was happy to keep working because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

But the pandemic was hard for some radio jocks, who had trouble with the new reality. Not a lot of them, but certainly a few. “Service responsibility? I got into this to do entertaining things in creative ways, not to talk about life and death.” But now that wasn’t going to be enough. There was an all-consuming struggle going on, and there was no avoiding it. But how to talk about it? Having to do so made them uncomfortable, or sad. Some had trouble on a more fundamental level: it was tough to function while coping with the unrelenting fear of getting sick.

On the most basic level, radio work is fun. It’s why we do it, and it’s why we love it. But it’s a lot less fun if you feel shadowed by fear and doubt every day.

I understand the self-doubt one might feel at being forced into an unfamiliar role. I even understand a person being afraid of getting sick or seeing loved ones get sick, because we were all afraid of that. But this thing we do isn’t only about ourselves and the gratification of our own egos. There are other people involved—and those people are depending on us. They depend on us for entertainment and companionship, which are the easiest and most fun things we provide. But there are times when they will look to us for information. We shouldn’t shy away from providing it just because it’s deadly serious.

Today, it feels like we’re on the other side of the pandemic. (We aren’t, not really, but what we feel guides us more than what is true.) New roles have been learned, and many old roles are appropriate again. We radio jocks have, for the most part, gone back to doing our jobs as we did them before March 2020. But there are almost certainly other crises yet to come, other matters of life and death, and we’ll be required to respond to them just as we did to the pandemic. It’s not optional. If you bought the ticket, you’re obligated to take the ride.

And as I watch the Doomsday DJ one more time, I know what, at the end of the world, my service responsibility will be.

After the war in Ukraine began, in those tense days when it was easy to imagine a nuclear faceoff between the United States and Russia, The Mrs. and I had a conversation about it. We live in a state capital city. Somewhere out on the Russian steppes, it is likely that there’s a missile with the word “Madison” on it. If we heard it was coming, I asked her, what would you want to do?

She would not want to hide in the basement, go to a shelter, or flee to the countryside, she said. “I would want to sit on the couch with you and the cat and wait to be vaporized.”

It’s what I want, too. But I think she knows, if that distant early warning blows, and I’m on the air somewhere, I won’t be coming home.

8 thoughts on “Doomsday DJ

  1. Scott Erickson L Erickson

    Very thought provoking as I would expect from you, Jim. As to the last statement, I’m not sure what we would do. My conflict avoidant personality and ability to compartmentalize would keep me from thinking about it until I absolutely had to. Our state capital, Frankfort, doesn’t even have 30,000 people in it, so Louisville and Lexington would be the targets.

  2. Don Collett

    I’ve spent all my career in Tornado Alley. I’ve never left the studio when a twister was coming, even if it meant my life was at risk. I’ve spend three days snowed in at work, on the air 18 hours at a time because no one else could make it in.

    The fun parts of the job are enjoyable, but in the end, I also appreciate the time I’ve spent helping others get the information they need in dangerous situations. It’s then I know I haven’t wasted my life in this career, because maybe I helped save a life. I’ll never know, but that’s OK.

  3. T.

    The world we live in is changing into a scary future and the radio is going to be an important element for forces both evil and good. This up-to-the-minute computer age is a house of cards, no matter how convenient. Keep a radio handy. The cell phone will be dead.

  4. Tim M.

    I think one of the highlights of my career was in ’07 when some disturbed soul took a bunch of children hostage at a day care facility in Mad-town. Someone called the newsroom with a tip. I called the secret cop number to confirm it, and when the OIC (Officer in Charge) answered, it was obvious he was on a mobile phone running toward the scene. He quickly confirmed the situation and I said, “how can I help?” He said “tell people to stay away. The guy’s got at least one gun.” I told him I would, thanked him, and began the process of getting the info out on the seven stations that were in the building at the time.

    Later that morning, the cops held a news conference after they’d talked the guy down and secured the safety of the children. After a few impromptu remarks, the OIC said he wanted to make one more point. He said all the media outlets that called him that morning wanted either a quick quote, a sound bite, or information on where they could set safely set up a camera location. He said only one newsperson – and he named me – asked how they could help. He said he understood that reporters have a job to do, but that it was refreshing to hear from someone asking how they could help.

    The reporter who was at the news conference from our radio group had been taping. When she came back to the station she made a copy for me. I still have it.

    I always understood that an on-air job, as well as the station, had the responsibility to operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Your post is testimony to that principle.

  5. mackdaddyg

    Given how relatively few stations have live dj’s anymore, I’m not sure where I would look for information if I had to rely on the radio. How sad is that?

  6. “We live in a state capital city. Somewhere out on the Russian steppes, it is likely that there’s a missile with the word “Madison” on it.”
    Unless your state capital has major defense capacity, like a nuclear missile installation, I don’t think it will be near the top of the list of targets … possibly not on it at all. If Madison can’t launch a counterattack, it won’t get hit first.
    Of course, I also don’t know whether the Russkies have so many missiles by now that they could hit every place listed in larger than 2-point type on the map.
    (This was a long-ago subject of discussion on my blog — people’s frequent belief that something about the city where they live makes it a prime nuclear target.)

    The info you can share as the missiles approach will be only as accurate, useful, and correct as trusted sources can provide.
    I hope that, should you greet the day in harness, it won’t be to say: “All the lines of communication are down. Stay home or don’t — I got nothing for ya. Except some Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s fourteen before nine here at Madison’s Classic Hits…”

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