Even though it's Saturday if you're into local radio and you're on the morning show, you probably still wake up like I just did at 4am and you're ready to go. I could put on a winter coat and walk the 2.5 miles around Wicker Park right now and clean out the garage and cook a green pepper and tomato omelette... all before the sun rises.
And since part of My American, Radio Life is that I'm a morning host, I know when the sunset is today. It's 6:30am, give or take a couple minutes. The sunset should be about 7:20. Go check if I'm right.
You do know, the three or four of you, that I want to be entirely open about what goes on in My American, Radio Life. But sometimes I just can't. Most of what I show you has to do with going on the air, programming, interaction with listeners and callers, public policy issues, funny stuff, the tradition of WJOB, Jean Shepherd, etc. But there's a whole 'nother river of happenings that co-exists with this. It's financial, legal, strategy, planning, regulatory, dealing with clients, trying to get clients and so forth. I wish that I could be totally open about all of this, but it's really not a good business strategy to tell you all of the stuff I'm working on to make the station better... and to protect it against some of the forces that might threaten it. These undulating hills and unforeseen cliffs can be equally as interesting as my bumbling life on the air and throughout the Calumet Region... but I just can't show it to you sometimes.
You know what this is, doncha'? This is a roundabout excuse for not blogging to the three or four of you all week. I've had so much to do outside of going on the air and developing innovative products and having funny phone calls with listeners. It is quite unfortunate that I can't show you EVERYTHING that goes on in My American, Radio Life... because when it's all said and done and radio as we know it rides on into the sunset, it might be interesting historical fodder to see what an independent radio operator goes through on a regular basis. I feel for these men and women across the country. There's so much legal and regulatory to ensconce in your brain and then there's the everlasting challenge of meeting payroll and managing talent and back-end support and going to public functions and serving on boards and trying to squeeze in a little time to drip some pizza down your chin with your wife. As rewarding as it can be - this is a higher calling, remember? - it can be exhausting. And it can keep me away from the three or four of you for a few days and I really don't like when that happens.
... I'm still reading the crap out of the Jean Shepherd biography. It's called Excelsior, You Fathead! I cringe every time I pick up the book in that I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to grammar and word usage and with that being said I never - NEVER - use an exclamation point. For nearly three years as part of My American, Radio Life, I served as publisher and editor of my own newspaper. Every week, I'd sit down on Tuesday afternoon and edit nearly the entire paper. Article after article, captions, sidebars, quotes, letters, columns, you name it. I don't know if I have a specific style that I edited to. I mean, if, say, one person edited the sports section day after day, would you get used to that person's editing rhythm? Maybe, maybe not. I suspect that you might be able to plug in to a writer's rhythm, but can you plug in to an editor's rhythm? Interesting question. Why don't you blog about that sometime, hotshot?
Anyways, it's difficult to tell your reporters and columnists exactly what you want from their writing. As a matter of fact, it's better if you tell them very little about what you want. That way they write what they want and that usually comes from somewhere closer to the heart than if you gave them directions on how to write the assignment. It's not like I had a handbook that I gave reporters and said - "Follow these rules."
All of the people who wrote for me did, however, no one rule - NO FREAKIN' EXCLAMATION POINTS! I can't explain my dislike for this rather innocent grammatical concoction other than once when I was little a teacher told me that if what you had to say wasn't already exciting, no amount of exclamation points was gonna make it so.
... Speaking of The Calumet Press... do any of the three or four of you remember when Billy Baker and I bought that paper and tried to make a go of it? It really was a lot of fun and it taught me more than a hundred years of graduate business school could, but in the end I took a real financial beating that stung for years. As good of an experience as that was, and as much fun it is to me to produce or read a good newspaper, I probably could have done without the financial hit. No, it's not a probably, it's a certainty.
... I did a week of local radio once again with probably 25 or so different guests. I changed a flat tire during the show, went to the unveiling of a statue where my mom used to play as a child, watched my wife talk on a panel of powerful women (that's a bit of a turn-on, by the way), JEDgolfed a couple times, rewired the audio streaming system, dealt with a bunch of regulatory stuff, met with a couple of huge potential clients, and recorded my first JEDcast.
JEDcast? What the hell is that?
Ryan and I are regularly amazed at how many local students, recently graduated communications majors, steelworkers, waitresses, hairdressers, lawyers, coaches, etc. come to us with an idea for a show or a segment for the radio. Most of the time we listen and then the person's enthusiasm goes away after a few days and we never hear from them.
But sometimes they come back. This is what happened with Rick Kubic. He's the guy on WJOB from 10pm to midnight. He came by to talk to me about being on the radio and then when I sent him away, he came back. Like a boomerang. Several times he came back. He just wanted to be on the radio. You could feel it in the conversations. Next thing you know he's playing music on the weekends and during the day and filling in for people... and now he's found a real home telling stories in the late-night slot as part of his "Region After Dark." It took a while for Rick to find a home, but he's found one and who knows where it could lead.
As a matter of fact, Rick said something to me the other day that I've been thinking also. He said something like -
"I want to send to the world what happens right here in the Midwest. It's really cool stuff."
This makes a lot of sense. As the three or four of you know, I've become somewhat obsessed with Jean Shepherd. Not only did he grow up just a few blocks from WJOB - and not only did he get his start in entertainmentdom on WJOB - but, as Joseph Conrad would say, "he is one of us." He left WJOB and the Calumet Region to gain fame (not as much as he wanted) and fortune (not nearly as much as he thought he deserved) in New York City. He went to New York and told stories about his childhood in Indiana. He also made a wildly successful movie that ports the happenings around the holidays in Hammond, Indiana, to the world. And it's not just Americans. The whole world watches "A Christmas Story" every season.
It's not just that Jean is a great storyteller (I say "is" even though he's dead because every night I read stuff by and about him and listen to his old shows, so he's not really dead to me)... Jean Shepherd also recognized that what happens here in Hammond, Indiana, and the Calumet Region is just so freaking interesting and the world should hear the stories. That's what Rick Kubic and I both stumbled on independently.
In telling you his stories about growing up in Hegewisch and the East Side of Chicago, Rick's doing the same thing that Jean Shepherd did... only in reverse. Shepherd left the Region and went to New York and told stories every night about the Region. Kubic and I stayed in the Region and every day we tell stories about the Region that we hope like hell people outside of the Region will find interesting... just as Shepherd's audience up and down the Eastern seaboard did. Kubic and I meet on this level - we are fascinated by this area of gritty characters and grungy landscapes, and we want to tell the world.
Rick does his monologue every night. I do my radio show and write this blog. And we both - along with the three or four of you, I suppose - hope like hell the world re-discovers the magic that Jean Shepherd knew was here and could tell the world about.
Either that or Jean Shepherd was just a masterful storyteller and no matter where he grew up he was gonna find interesting stories to tell about on New York radio. You tell me.
I did run across a passage last night in Excelsior by Eugene Bergman. It's Shepherd taking about his home area of northwest Indiana and the south side of Chicago and also the blast furnaces that dominate the area.
"It's a part of America that not many people write about and I don't know why, because most of America is an industrial world. Yet very little fiction is written about it. Very little drama is written about it - if they do, they call it 'blue collar drama,' which is a real putdown...."
I agree, and obviously Kubic does too. Why is there little fiction and not too many movies about living and working in industrial America? I don't know why. If you take as a given that there is high drama and interesting characters in these pockets of rail and smokestacks, then it's hard to figure out how few books, poems, short stories, film vignettes, country songs, rocks songs, major motion pictures there are about living and working and smoking and screwing among the smokestacks. Maybe we just don't produce enough people who can accurately portray the life in an entertaining fashion.
... Yikes. To make up for not connecting with the three or four of you all week, I got a little diarrhea of the blog. Last night, Alexis went to see "Earth, Wind and Fire" at the United Center with some girlfriends, so I got to stop by and see nephew Al. He just got back from his yearly whirlwind to his grandma's in Phoenix and he came back with autographed baseball cards from Kris Bryant and Chris Sale and a whole bunch of other baseball stars. I can see little Al getting to the ballpark before anyone else, standing there, waiting, waiting, and then pushing his Sharpie in front of the player and just hoping, hoping... and then when the player signs and Al has the result of his hard work in his hand... that elation. You should have seen the enthusiasm with which he showed me his wares last night. He broke out a box of baseballs that have all been signed and no one could touch them but they're real all the same.
"So you gonna pay for your college education when you sell this stuff, huh Al?"
"I will never sell my baseball cards, uncle Jim. They're MINE."
Ok, ok. Next year maybe I'll go with him. I imagine that I'll get a little embarrassed pushing my way through a line of kids to be with my nephew in the front of the line where the guys sign, but I'm guessing that it'll somehow all be worth it. The one thing I won't do, however, is take the cap off the Sharpie too early. That's what my sister-in-law Michelle did and she'll never do that again.
Evidently Al was waiting for a member of the Oakland A's to come out of the locker room for a long time. And when he did, he recognized Al as the kid who'd been there all day so he came over to sign. My sister-in-law Michelle had been holding the Sharpie for Al in anticipation of this life-changing event, so Al took the Sharpie from her, gave it to the baseball star, and he signed his own baseball card.
"Something's wrong with the pen, kid," this star said. He signed, but he left more of an outline of his signature than the full thing. Al glared at his mother.
"Sorry, Allan, I must have taken the cap off the Sharpie too early and it dried out in the sun. I'm sorry."
"Look at this card, Ma. It's worthless. I just don't know if I can trust you anymore."
... Anyways, I started to tell you about my first JEDcast and got sidetracked. Ryan and I talked last week about how we could turn all of this talent and enthusiasm around the radio station into something. There's so many talented people around us - students, interns, graduates especially, since we're located ON a college campus - and so many listeners and callers in the community with a passion for talking and radio and the Calumet Region... there has to be some way of turning that into something.
Ryan and I decided that we'd start with Jordan Beasley and Miguel Flores. To me, it was just another one of my far-off plans that we may get to someday. But that's not how Ryan works. If there's a plan, he'll execute it. So I was little surprised when I came off the show on Monday and there was Jordan and Miguel sitting in the producer's room.
"What's going on?"
"We're gonna talk about JEDcasting?" Ryan said. "Remember, we talked about it on Thursday."
"Oh yeah," I said.
"You forgot, didn't you?" Jordan said.
Anyways, Ryan and I told Jordan and Miguel about our strategy for them to produce five- to 12-minute "JEDcasts" that we can post on the web and play on the radio station. And by Friday, there was Jordan waiting around for Miguel so they could do their first installment, this one on the opening of the baseball season. Miguel was late, so I sat down with Jordan and did my first "JEDcast."
You can listen to it on my website JED.tv somewhere. It's me and Jordan talking about sports and there's not a lotta things I like better than to talk sports on the radio with Ryan or Jordan or Miguel... so you be the judge if it's any good. The point is that it's the first time I ever sat down and did a podcast, or a JEDcast, or whatever. I talk on the air on average about 22 hours a week. That's what we figured it out to be. And in the 12 years I've been on the air... and even when I worked at WJOB in the mid 1980s, I never really sat down and did a 10-minute taped segment. I've recorded a thousand commercials, and a ton of intros and disclaimers and ID's, and I've recorded interviews out in the field... but I've never really sat down to do a podcast for the internet. And I really freakin' liked it.
After Jordan and I finished the little JEDcast yesterday, Angel Jimenez stepped in and saved it and he'll do a little dipsy doo with his editing software and the first JEDcast will sound professional. Angel's part of all this talent and eagerness around us. One day it'll all turn into something. You watch, the three or four of you. You wait and watch.