3:21am on Thursday morning.
Radio initiates life.
I know these three words, if you think about them, might be better off in reverse order. But that's only if you're on the outside of local radio. If you live it every day, then you could actually experiment with
Radio controls your life
Radio hinders your life
Radio expands life
Last week, Al Hamnik the sportswriter of 44 years and I took a call from Carl from Hessville, who served in Iraq a few times. He asked if we had seen 13 Hours the movie and when we both admitted that we hadn't, Carl proceeded to tell us that it was an accurate depiction of what it's like to fight in the Middle East.
"You should both go see it," Carl said.
"And since you gave of yourself to serve for our country, Al and I will commit to go see the movie before we next appear together on these WJOB airwaves. You in, Al?"
That's how he we wound up sitting next to each other in a surprisingly crowded Showplace Theater 16 yesterday. You can tell Al has a routine when he goes to the movies. Most people who love the movies do. Al ordered a hot dog, medium popcorn, and a medium diet Coke. And he led us to seats about halfway up the bank of seats and had to sit on the left aisle.
"I gotta have room for my leg." Al's a big guy, not fat, but tall and wide. A former high school basketball center/forward. I'm not sure who likes going to the movies more, Al or me.
And that's part of the conundrum. Al, the grizzled local sportswriter, has shared with me that when it's all said and done he'd like to write about movies or even do a TV or radio show about them.
Me too, Al, me too.
There's something all-absorbing about going to the movies. It's an event. The process of
taking a shower
combing your hair
driving to Schererville (almost always with your wife by your side)
dropping your wife off in front
waiting while she butters the popcorn
having a small, almost imperceptible argument about where to sit
sipping on Diet Coke
and losing yourself in someone else's story.
It works for me. Billy "Buzzkill" Baker on Monday said on the air that he hadn't been to a movie in years, since his kids were little. "Last one I saw was Lion King, I think." Lion King came out almost 20 years ago.
"How could you go without the movies?" I asked him.
"Too much hassle."
13 Hours is about what went wrong in Benghazi. You should go see it, if for no other reason than Carl deserves that the three or four of you do. Radio initiates life. Life initiates a blog. The blog initiatives you going to the movies.
.... This brings us, since this is essentially My Radio, American Life, to a discussion about what I should do with my Radio Life. As the three or four of you may know, I host the morning show on AM 1230 WJOB in Hammond, Indiana. My wife and I own the station. I spend about 22 hours a week on the air, if you include all the games I announce and times I pop on the air for special things like anniversary shows and big news event.
It's a really fulfilling life. You don't make as much money as you could doing something else. But then again, you get to feel that you're doing the right thing, that daily you immerse yourself in something that is good, pure and beautiful. That is, I suppose, what most people say to themselves when they don't live according to their best and highest use. It's a rationalization, I know, but it's a rationalization that is good, pure and beautiful.
Every once in a while as a radio host you have to analyze yourself as if you are a radio program. Are you doing your program with rhythm? Do you bring the right you to the show every morning? Does the show reflect what you are? Can you do better radio?
These are important questions. And when the show feels like it's heavy, a bit of drudgery, sometimes you don't like your own answers. And sometimes the show's chugging along okay and you still feel like there's a couple of things you might want to work to change.
That's where I am right now, I think. In less than two hours, I'll start up the microphone machine and start talking. I'll spit out the mental rambling going on behind my eyes. I'll give the weather (no sponsor right now), traffic sponsored by Laborers Local 41, the business update brought to you by Peoples Bank - a top 200 community bank in America. I'll mention some news stories. Lately, it's been a lot of murder of women - Val and Lana Taneff - and a reported dramatic suicide by a woman (Karen... oh Karen) and a lost woman and child (Diamond and King). The other news stories today could be anything from the state of Indiana passing gay rights legislation to some kid making it on The Voice. Who knows.
I might have a guest in the first two- and a half- hours. Yesterday, Jackie Ruiz the principal of St. Stanislaus School came in and we joked about the guilt of being a Catholic, and the challenges of running an inner-city private school. My mom went to St. Stan's a zillion years ago, and writing this now it seems as if my mom died about a half zillion years ago. For some reason, when St. Stan's calls to promote their upcoming open house, I feel the calling to make it happen. The three or four of you will understand that if you just take a moment out of your busy day to think about it.
Then Michelle Quinn came on and we talked about how a bunch of guys on Facebook threaten to boycott my show if I continue to bring "that commie left-wing wackjob writer from the Post-Tribune" on my show. Oh well. After Michelle, I was gone. That's the beauty of Wednesdays. I do two and a half hours of radio and then I go. I don't sit for another hour or two hosting what we call the "Community Programming Initiative."
Yesterday, I left the studios and went to work out immediately at Planet Fitness. Then I rushed back to the studios to host the first edition of "Sports Broadcasting" with 14 Purdue Cal students. I give them a little ten-minute pep talk about what talking on the radio is all about... and then Geno sets them up in groups of three and they go at it. Some of them are scared shitless. That's natural. Some of them take to it like they've been waiting to get behind a microphone all their lives. Sometimes they get calls, and that lights up their faces like the three or four of you wouldn't believe.
Radio is good, pure and beautiful.
Radio also initiates life.
That's how I wound up rushing down US 41 to Showplace Theaters to go on a man date with a sportswriter of 44 years. We shook hands and proceeded with the ritual. Instead of waiting for my wife, it was Al buttering his popcorn, putting ketchup on his hot dog, placing a plastic lid on his mammoth Diet Coke.
Where is all of this leading?
It's leading to an honest talk with the three or four of you about my future in radio. I've been doing the morning show in its current format for more than eight years. I did the afternoon show in 2004-05... and I did some radio hosting in my first combat tour in the mid 1980s at WJOB. But the show like it is now is in its ninth year.
Six years ago or so ago when the recession smacked us all square in the face we started that something called the "Community Programming Initiative." That's when we sell time to local cities, towns, agencies, school districts, businesses and so forth. In other words, I talk alone or with guests until about 8am, then we sell the time to groups and I still talk, only with the people from those groups and for a specified amount of time.
In a weird way, the CPI works. The towns of Highland and Griffith come in regularly, as do the cities of East Chicago and Whiting. Some of it is not ground-breaking radio, but in the end it's a way to get out announcements about what's going on in each of these municipalities... and since they're all Region people we can make it kinda fun. The Teamsters do a show, as does the local Hospice organization, a local pharmacist, the local domestic abuse shelter, and a whole lot more.
Some of the shows I host, and some the groups host themselves. Attorney Kevin Smith hosts the show with the mayor of Hammond. Tom Dabertin hosts the Whiting/Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce show. Janet Venecz hosts the Edison Community Crimewatch show. Matthew Baker hosts "Financial Perspectives."
The list goes on. There's that many members of the Community Programming Initiative. The cities and towns and agencies and businesses and unions get their word out, listeners learn a few things and have a few laughs, and we get to keep the lights on. This kind of thing won't work everywhere. But if one of the three or four of you works at a local radio and wants more info about this, call me at 219-844-1230 and I'll tell you about it. The community wins on this one... as long as you can find the right balance.
.... So I've been writing for an hour now and haven't even gotten to the point of the main question that needs to be pondered by the three or four of you... so you can help me out with this.
Would it be better if I didn't host any of the Community Programming shows? If I let members of the community do it rather than me sitting there hosting until past 9am every morning. Look at yesterday. I was on. I just had a good rhythm and I probably talked over people too much but then again you can tell when you're on with radio and you can tell when you're not. And yesterday I was on. Listen to the podcasts above. You decide.
"That's because you knew you were getting out at eight," producer Ryan said. "You're always on when you get out early."
Hmmm. He has a point. I was very much looking forward to working out, helping to teach young wanna-be radio people about sports broadcasting... and going to see 13 Hours with Al. And then working on this blog and my website and photos and shit.
That's a nice rhythm to my day. And within this day, I had enough time to think about what I would do if I got off at 8am every day from the show. And what keeps coming back to me is that I would do some specialty shows. They could either be in radio or video or both and the first two that come to mind are:
1. a show centered on venture capital and new and innovative businesses. Kathy Gibson, the only real venture capitalist in the Reigon that I'm aware of, has volunteered to host it with me.
2. a show based on reviews of movies by two grizzled sportswriters. This is Al's dream. And mine too.
You see, by hanging around the studios until 9:30 or 10am most days, I pretty much preclude starting anything new. The question is - is the public better off if I host all of the CPI shows or is it better if I throw my energy into some new ideas?
I don't know the answer to that question. Do the three or four of you? I'm not asking you to email me at email@example.com. But I am asking you to think about it. Time to get up and work out before the show. I'm gonna interview one of my former Purdue Cal students for a possible position, and then go to the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce luncheon and then a bunch of other stuff. No time to work out so do it now.
Do it now.