The Board of Trade really messed up a lot of people. It’s difficult to understand unless you were there, but the combination of high stress and action with easy riches and the constant risk of losing it all can mess with your mind. Your expectations of what you can get out of life become skewed. It’s not that you expect to make a lot of money for the rest of your life. Not at all. It’s that you expect life to give you thrills, which is far worse. Much of life is plain old hard work, and that is not exciting at all.
I give the three or four of you a regular glimpse into My Radio Life. For the most part, that’s as far as we go together. I tell you funny stories about what happens on the air and at all of the doings that I attend. I am a minor, minor celebrity. There is beauty in what we do on the air and for our community.
But it is not action. It is not the money that I miss from my days at the Chicago Board of Trade. It is the action. I was addicted to it. In a way, every day of living My Radio Life is a 12-step recovery process. I know where my weakness is. It’s in a long-gone pit at the Chicago Board of Trade at LaSalle and Jackson on the south side of the Loop.
This may not make much sense to the three or four of you. You know me as local radio guy, and that is what I try to be every day. Still, there is a beast inside me that isn’t happy about being locked in a chain-link cage. I can’t kill the beast. He is me. The best I can do, like any addict, is to take it day by day. Any minute the beast can escape and wreak destruction on the radio life that I have built.
And what radio life have I built?
You know. In 2004, I walked to the basement of the Board of Trade, sold my seats, and changed my phone number. I exchanged one identity for another. Walking under the el behind the Board, I started the long process of accepting that I am no longer a BTCT, a “Big Time Commodities Trader.” The moment I handed over my badge to the woman at the desk, I was free.
But I was also lost. Although I to some extent accepted that I would have to rebuild, I was still addicted to the money, to the image, to the pace, to being a cowboy in a city full of farmer’s daughters and the wives of suburban bankers. It was cool to be a trader. It was even cooler to be a trader who lost all his money and then made it back and then some. It was cool to roll up hunnerd dollars bills in a barroom bathroom. It was cool to fly to Vegas with a suitcase full of money. That was really cool.
I didn’t know how far I am from that former me until yesterday. For some reason, I went into the day feeling kind of low about what we’re trying to do… which is some sort of vague goal to save WJOB and give the Region something to be proud of.
In rapid succession, I had three defeats. A local bank strung me along as being a big sponsor of my new TV station and then at the last minute they changed their minds. In my heart, for a moment, the beast emerged. I wanted to crush the persons responsible for stringing me along. I planned to lurk in the corner of the pit and wait for the right moment to crush them. All of them.
And then the feeling passed. It was replaced by a technical problem with my new TV station that I cannot solve. I am waiting for a 17-year-old genius to return from his summer camp at Stanford. They’re teaching him to be a billionaire, which I sure as hell hope he is one day. For now, when he gets back, I’ll corral him to fix a number of tech bugs before he goes back to high school.
The third defeat I won’t tell you about. It’s humiliating.
So after work I went for a long bike ride for along the river, the same one that flooded 10 years ago. By the time I sweated out every last toxin inside my skin, I realized that I am no longer the former me. It happened just like that. One day I was holding onto what I used to be, however faintly. And then one moment – it was on the stretch of trail along the tracks between Kennedy and Indianapolis - I realized that I have a new reality. You could call it “humble pie,” but it’s way more than that. Finally, after 14 years, I accept who I am. And I’m good with that.
Does this mean that I am somehow beleaguered and depressed about my struggles to bring TV to northwest Indiana?
Not at all. You have to understand the nature of trading and what made me pretty good at it. You have to accept failure as part of the process. As a matter of fact, it becomes a badge of honor to not only fail but to look yourself in the mirror and realize that it is all on you.
“You. You made the decisions that led to losing all your money.” This is something that I had to say to the mirror twice. You would think that it would break you…. but then again the three or four of you don’t know the Board of Trade and you don’t know what it’s like to be a trading addict.
Both of the times that I stood in the bathroom with the door locked and said these words to myself, I felt a certain peace. I’m not shitting you. It was partly that a load had been lifted off of my shoulders. And it was partly this –
“Cool. Now I can rebuild. It’s fun.”
This doesn’t make any sense to the three or four of you who read my blog. Neither does it make sense that it took me 14 years to realize that I am living a new reality. The truth is that for 14 years I pictured myself as a former trader… A part of me was still in the pits at 141 W. Jackson. I was still drinking in Alcock’s and sneaking out in the alley. I was still sitting at a table in a nice restaurant talking loudly with F-bombs and wild hand gesticulations. When the server would come by, I would wave them off.
Who needs food when you got booze, money, substances and an inflated self image?
Now, I am the opposite of a BTCT. I am a simple radio station operator. I ride my bike to work and cut my own lawn. I fix my own doorknobs and trim my own trees. I drive a car that was built in 1999. For vacation, we go to Florida once a year or to New York visit our daughter. I buy my clothes at the end of the season, when they’re on sale. Several times I have slipped into Goodwill. I don’t deserve a new car or new clothes. Those are things for the former me.
This is not a pity party. I like where I am. As inflated as I once was, I’m equally realistic about my position in life. Perhaps I was once too inflated and now I am too realistic. There’s a perfect medium, a balance of dreams and reality, that you hit for a millisecond before crossing over to being a god or a loser again. When it makes any sense to me, I’ll let the three or four of you know.
Anyways… today was another day. Whereas yesterday I realized that I am no longer the former me – it only took 14 years – today I had some victories. I won’t tell you what they are because I’m starting to get the feeling that we’re building something good and pure and beautiful. That’s kind of dangerous. We may wind up disrupting the media market in northwest Indiana and beyond. I can tell you all about my emotions and what is going through my head, but you and I both know that if I give away all the secrets to this blog, the shit may never happen.
For now, know that my advantage is being on the campus of Purdue Northwest. I am amazed every day with the talent of these young people. Why they follow me into battle, I’ll never know. But they do. They do what I tell them even though it may not make sense to them. I push them to where they are not comfortable, and more often than not, they far surpass my expectations.
It’s not just the people who work for me, It’s also the firms we hire. The website guru is 24 years old. I hired his firm because he is hungry and really talented and in a couple of years – or couple months – I won’t be able to afford him. I argue with a 24-year-old. He directed me to do a certain thing that I can’t tell you about for competitive reasons. I resisted. Today, on a conference call, I had to admit –
“Okay,” I said to the phone in the middle of the room. My interns were all around me. “I’m going to do something that I don’t do very often. I am going to admit that I was wrong and you were right.”
When I was his age, I was working at WJOB. I never told Colby anything that I was right about and he was wrong about. I used to go into his office regularly to tell him that we needed to cover more national news and sports to make WJOB bigger and stronger.
“Local, local, local. That’s what makes WJOB great. Maybe one day you’ll figure it out, kid.”
He was right and I was wrong. I give Colby credit for saving my ass years later. During the recession, when no one had money to advertise, I turned completely local. All local all the time. That was the difference. It kept us from radio death. That and the flood of 2008.
The 10thanniversary of the big flood is coming up. One of the big disappointments in my life is that I somehow lost all of the tapes of that fateful week. I was on the air for six days. It was exhausting and beautiful. I lost the tapes. I am, as my Mexican wife lying next to me would say, “an idioto.”
I am writing this to the three or four of you while my wife whimsically goes through her calendar on her phone.
“July 31st. That’s a weekday.” That’s all she said. I don’t know what this means. The meaning of the words doesn’t matter. One of the other things that I accept is that if I had continued to trade, Alexis wouldn’t be lying next to me. I had to quit to keep going. It was one of the best career decisions I ever made, that and buying WJOB.