It's Friday morning at 2:39am in radioland. Since radio stations AM 1230 WJOB and 104.7 FM never sleep, often I don't either. It's a little embarrassing when you and the wife come home after walking around Wicker Park and you lay on the couch and halfway through Anderson Cooper you can hear yourself snoring. It's loud enough that you wake yourself up, look at the clock, shake your head and trounce up to bed.
And it's not even eight o'clock yet. If you're gonna go into radio, don't expect a regular sleep pattern. That's partly because sometimes you get woken in the middle of the night by a text or phone call that you're off the air. You pull yourself from the warmth of bed, put on some clothes, drive down the solitary roads of the Calumet Region, and attack the beast of machinery that produces the waves that you can hear from Midway to Valparaiso.
Your sleep is hackneyed because you're on call all the time... and because for the time that you're not fixing something, you're thinking about fixing something, or adding a program, or moving into Facebook Live more, or putting up shades, or building an auxiliary studio, or developing better email marketing material. These kinds of things mix with the general anxiety of getting older and next thing you know you're awake in the middle of the night listening to old Jean Shepherd shows.
That's my ace in the hole when I can't sleep. I download an old Jean Shepherd show from the 1960s and listen to it under my pillow. Jean of course wrote "A Christmas Story" and if you don't know anything about radio then you don't know that his real claim to fame was doing a nightly show on WOR in New York. His show was based on telling stories to New Yorkians about his childhood in Indiana, less than a mile from WJOB. Jean worked at WJOB to get started in his circuitous career. But to me his real claim to fame is that despite kinda being an unlikable blowhard, he basically invented talk radio as we know it. Listen to a Rush Limbaugh monologue and listen to a Jean Shepherd diatribe. It's the same rhythm, the same closeness in which he reaches through the radio and grabs you by the throat and says, "Listen to me, you blockhead."
Rush is politics. Jean is not politics. He's stories about Hammond. Still, the rhythm is the same and that's all that I ever look for in listening to good radio people and in trying to do it myself.
"So how do you prepare for the morning show?"
"I take a deep breath and let my natural rhythm flow onto the airwaves."
... I want to talk about Trump and the Cubs. For several months now, you could come home at night and turn on the TV and watch the latest twist in the Trump versus Clinton saga. It never disappoints. If it's not a sex scandal, it's an email scandal. If it's not a pay-for-play scandal, then it's an anti-Mexican comment. Every night you can watch Anderson Cooper. He's given up the charade of talking about anything else going on in the world. It's a whole hour of a panel of experts who can tell you exactly what's going on in the Trump vs. Clinton battle of the titans. This week, Newt Gingrich, who supports Trump, asked Fox News's Megan Kelly - "Why are you so fascinated with sex?" Little stuff like that. Trump groping, Hillary lying. Hillary taking money from foreign governments, Trump filing for another bankruptcy. If you're reading this years on down the line, then you won't have any real sense how crazy it is right now. There is hate and there is intrigue. There is deception and there is filth. Can’t wait for the next turn of the story tonight at 8pm.
Not that I’ll be able to stay awake for it. Not after waking up at 2:30 in the morning.
The other thing that captures our attention is the Cubs. They haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and haven’t been there since 1945. On Wednesday, Ray Barnes and his daughter Linda came on the show. Ray, 85, was there in 1945 and has a picture from the Chicage Tribune to prove it. It’s a shot of the whole of Wrigley Field and across the street in left field on Waveland Avenue there’s a head in a window. Ray says it’s him. He ditched school to walk over to his aunt’s house to watch the World Series. You should watch the Facebook Live video of Ray and his daughter. A lotta people did.
Why should you watch it? To feel good. Ray wears his Cubs hat and smiles. He raised seven kids in a small house in Whiting and sent them to Bishop Noll. That alone would be enough material to make Ray quite interesting. But his enthusiasm for the Cubs and his unfettered joy at what’s going on all around Chicago and northwest Indiana is infectious. Besides, Ray tells a pretty good story about him and his buddies playing fast pitch lob ball by drawing a strike zone on the side of a building and of dropping by his aunt’s apartment after school to catch the last couple innings of a Cubs game. He can also comment on what it was like during the War, with many of the best players gone.
I didn’t realize, until Ray came on WJOB and told us, that in 1945 when the Cubs made it to the World Series, many of the best players were still serving overseas. It was, to some extent, a “replacement players” World Series. You learn something new every day.
It’s now 3am and we’re that much closer to Another Thousand Words about my life in radio. I hope, after reading this, that you are in now way attracted to going into radio. It’s not healthy, really, in that you don’t sleep all the way through the night. Sure, there’s this thing called “quality of life” and the satisfaction of doing good in the community. But you work long hours for not that much money. That’s all I have to say in the middle of the night, October 28, 2016. A Friday. Go Cubs.