One Thing Right

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This is the second part of a thing. Read the first part here.

It must be true for other careers, not just radio: when you choose it as a young kid, when it becomes the dream of your life, you idealize it. I certainly did. When I pretended to be on the radio, up in my boyhood bedroom talking over the songs on WLS or WCFL, I had all the fun of being a radio jock—cracking wise, hitting the post, just generally sounding cool—without all of the reality I would eventually learn about.

To wit: off-air responsibilities, sometimes tedious or unrewarding. Weird working hours that put you out of sync with other people in your life. Weekends and holidays on the air, which can do the same. Difficult colleagues. Clueless bosses. Small paychecks. Playing music you don’t particularly like. The ratings. Wondering if your talent is enough. The feeling that nobody, listeners or management, understands or cares about the effort you’re putting in.

Practically nobody ever quits radio because they hate being on the air. What drives out most of those who leave is overwhelmingly the other stuff. But being behind the studio door, headphones on, microphone cracked, talking to the people—the process and the feeling of making a show—that’s what keeps us coming back to work every day, and to the industry itself if ever we leave it, in spite of the other stuff.

For a radio lifer, being on the air can be like chasing the dragon. You want the rush you get when it feels like it feels when you dream of how it should feel. You won’t get it every time and probably not even very often, but when you do, it’s like nothing else. The specifics depend on who you are: music jock, talk host, play-by-play announcer. But the realization is the same: you’re an addict, and you know you’ll never kick.

I was on the air a couple of Saturday nights back, doing my 70s music show. I was talking over the introduction of a record, delivering the bit I had scripted a few minutes before. I hadn’t thought about it in advance, but as I spoke, I found myself instinctively reaching for the post I knew was in the intro, hitting it, and then finishing the bit right as the vocal began, with my best boss-jock flourish. And as I did it, I flashed on the way I had done that very thing 50 years before, upstairs in my bedroom at home, while I was pretending to be on the radio, probably with that very same song.

In that moment, I caught the dragon.

Anyone who is even halfway self-aware, no matter who they are or what they do, sometimes has doubts about the choices they’ve made. About a career, or a particular aspect of that career. About a relationship. About how they responded to a situation or answered a question. Lying awake at night, or during those long hours behind the wheel when the mind wanders, we wonder: did I do the right thing? What if I got it wrong? Should I be doing this thing that I am doing? Or should I be doing something else?

In 2011, I wrote this:

We have moments in which we see our lives whole. The dreams we had and the way they came true—or didn’t. The ways in which we have succeeded, and in which we have failed. What we have done, and what we have left undone. We see the faces and hear the voices of those we love and those we have lost. Everything that was, everything that is—and, perhaps, everything that is going to be—rushes in on us all at once.

That Saturday night, everything that was, everything that is, and everything that is going to be rushed in on me, all at once. I was reminded that in my life, amidst all the missteps and regrets and better roads not taken, I got at least one thing right.

4 thoughts on “One Thing Right

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