Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earning my pay at the local radio station

     I answered to the name, “Hey You,” collected my paycheck and thanked the station manager for the opportunity. I was a tiny cog in the voice of community broadcasting.
     My job while in high school was at the local radio station, WRIV, 1390 AM on the dial. It is one of the oldest stations on Long Island serving the public with music and information for over 60 years.
     Our neighbor was the station manager, and he hired me for after school and summers. The station was a small, start-up operation, not at all like its AM-FM mega business today. 
      “Hey You” didn’t sit right with me, and looking back, I was a decade ahead of the feminist movement.
      My official title “Girl Friday” meant that I did mundane tasks such as putting stacks of vinyl records back on the shelves after the DJ had spun the weekly top 10 on the chart. The DJ would haphazardly deposit them on the studio floor and continue on with the usual broadcast chatter – weather, traffic and beach forecast.

     Certain announcers were sloppier than others in their broadcast booth habits, and I figured out which ones required more of my time. The weekend guys were the worst of the lot, and often they were the ones that lacked common courtesy.
     “Hey You, pick up my half-eaten sandwich and go fetch me an Alka-Seltzer.”

     Talk about broken records. It happened. When a DJ’s hand reached into the wall stacks, he expected the records to be in the proper slots. I made a mistake or two in alphabetizing, and had to observe a DJ going bananas, threatening the incompetence of everyone in the station— including the business manager —while searching for his music.

     Once the latest Johnny Mathias record “Heavenly” was nowhere to be found, and after a violent rant in the main office, the station manager calmly told the DJ that he had forgotten to return it from home. I sat cowering at the secretary’s desk frightened at such furor coming out in grown people. My innocence was being shaken firmly by the roots, and since then, I’ve never tolerated volatility and rudeness in the workplace.
     On-line male personalities no females yet ­ were like prima donnas compared to the technicians and office staff, and I bowed down to their every whim, or get a screaming tirade right in my face.

     There was one particular Saturday morning on-air guy that frequently felt the effects from his late night partying. I had to listen to his incessant talk about his latest love mishaps while tiptoeing in wide circles around him. It was way more than a seventeen year old needed to know. Professionally however, with a blink of the eye he was able to watch the clock for the second hand’s cue and his “golden broadcast tones” would resonate over the airwaves.
     I was growing up by leaps and bounds in an adult world and my sheltered childhood was eroding quickly. My dad warned me not to let anyone lay a hand on me, or say anything off-color, and I wisely stayed alert.
     Going downstairs to the tavern on the first floor for cups of coffee for the on-air personalities was a problematic situation. First, I was entering a bar under age and secondly, dad’s store window intersected the building. He didn’t miss a trick from his teenage daughter. I had to explain to him after my first coffee run what I was doing racing into a bar at eleven o’clock in the morning.
     Besides, I didn’t care to be in the local watering hole with a few   barstool regulars making cute comments while I nervously jumped back and forth on two feet waiting for the bartender to pour the coffee. I would have walked happily down the street to the brightly lit cafe, except the coffee at the bar was free for station staff and that is where I was instructed to go.
     I did a lot of answering the phone, and I developed quite the repertoire of phrases that could put off complainers and those wanting to talk to the on-air host right then, or else.

     When guests were coming for an on-air interview, it was my job to entertain them, and occasionally, I would go home to find out from my parents which adult celebrity, artist or writer from their generation sat across from me. Summertime on Eastern Long Island brought out the rich and famous.
     Carl Yastrzemski, local East End hero from Bridgehampton and future Boston Red Sox star, visited while still at Notre Dame. I should have trusted my instincts and gotten his autograph.
     I gathered news pertaining to the area from the AP wire, and as best as I was able, rewrote copy and handed it to the on-air newsreader for the top-of-the-hour. If the bell sounded, I knew to tear the sheet out of the machine and run directly to the booth. I liked the adrenalin rush, and I self-taught how to write quickly. As for accuracy, I was in the early learning stages and should say no more.
     One sleepy Saturday afternoon there was a serious boating accident and train wreck at approximately the same time, and the reporter on duty worked along with me pulling the news all together by a mere few seconds before airtime.
     It is at that small radio station that I started studying for my third-class broadcast license, and I went on to college to be an on-air personality at WGSU, SUNY Geneseo.