It probably won’t be the longest of typing sessions in that we’re set to broadcast live from the Veterans Appreciation Day Parade along 173rd in Hammond. The parade starts just a few blocks from the new station, but it really doesn’t matter if you’re doing a remote broadcast two blocks from your station or a hundred miles. It’s still a remote broadcast and you have to plug your field mixer into a solid phone or internet source and make sure it all works. Then someone from the station – today it’s Cristina – has to be on site to make sure that the voice levels stay in line and that you don’t lose power or connectivity with the internet. And then someone has to be in the station’s studios to take the feed in and play the commercials and to tell the people out in the field if their levels are too low or too hot or too uneven between the voices. You get the picture. There’s a good chance that in the next 30 minutes I’ll get a text and have to rush over to the beginning of the parade to make sure that it gets on the air and that those who have served our country get their due.
- do four-hour radio show
- meet with some people or go to a function
- in the afternoon work on assembling our video network
- in the evening go to another function
- before bed read magazines and Twitter and emails to prep for next morning’s show
That tips the scales at about 12 hours a day. It’s My American, Radio Life and I’m glad to live it. And I’m certainly not complaining about all of the stuff that I have to do just to be able to live it.
But I saw this movie on the flight over. I have already lived a similar life, at a similar pace, and I get the feeling that I should probably review that life for things that I could glean from it.
As you know, I traded at the Chicago Board of Trade for 18 years. For the first few years, I clerked for some people and then traded independently at the very lowest levels of traderdom – the Mid-American Commodities Exchange. It’s “the MidAm” for short.
But once I was able, after nine or so years, to jump to the big room of the Chicago Board of Trade, I started to live a life of questionable pacing… kind of like I may be doing now. As a matter of fact, the pacing of a pit commodities trader and the life pacing of a local radio guy are apparently quite similar.
Here’s the main similarity – both the trader and the radio guy have to wake up early, do a little prep, and then enter the competitive ring guns ablazing. There is no easing in to:
- the trading pit
- the radio studio
- a knife fight
You wake up early and you gotta be ready early to take on the world. If you’re not, then you will be eaten by those who are ready to engage that early in the morning. In pit trading, you start screaming for dollars at 7:20am, then government numbers come out at 7:30, then the stock market opens at 8:30 and then the government lets out more numbers at 9:00. Often the whole time you’re screaming for trades and yelling at your clerks for a count.
“Give me a fucking count, goddamit. What are you a fucking imbecile?” You might hold positions way bigger than you’re by statute allow to hold and you may have lost ten percent of your net worth before breakfast.
But then there is a breakfast. Sometime around 10:30am it dies down and you can go for a late breakfast or early lunch. Maybe even for a beer or a line of coke, if you’re into that kind of thing, and then a little after noon you’d come back to the pit to finish up your trading day.
Now the pits officially closed at 2pm, and you’d think that 2pm would be the end of my trading day. Nope. Not even close.
From about 2:00 to 3:15, you could still trade on the computer. So that means you would take a position in to the post-market and then try to trade around it on a computer for the last 75 minutes. Me, I usually had one or two guys up in the stands at the Board of Trade who sat at a computer just waiting for me to shout orders at them to execute on the computer. I had some damn good guys who could do that.
Then, at about 3:30, the trading would die down. I’d take an elevator up to my office in the Board of Trade Building. For a while that was the penthouse on the 43rd floor, so technically you had to take two elevators to get there. In Chicago, there is no better view of the city than from the penthouse on the 43rd floor of the Board of Trade Building. And I rented that office even though I already had space on the 26th floor at my clearing house because my wife was in law school and we had young kids at home and, you know, I thought we could use a place to conjugate. Didn’t work out that way. But that’s another story for another Saturday morning in which I have a few free minutes to type to you.
You’d think that I might review my trades for the day, get rid of my jacket, maybe wash my hands and face of all of the spit and grime I’d accumulated from the day. Or maybe even go over to the LaSalle Club and work out. Indeed, I would do some of these things at the end of the trading day.
But for a good, long period of time I wouldn’t go home at all. That’s right. I’d wait around for the night trading to open up at 5pm or 6pm, depending what time of year it was. And I’d either go down to the floor to see what was up or just call down orders from either the penthouse or the clearing firm offices. Sometimes I’d trade it all the way through until 8pm when night trading ended and then I’d drive home to kids who already were asleep.
Now you’re probably thinking that at least then Alexis and I would have time to hang out before I passed out to do it all again the next morning. But you would be thinking wrongly.
The last eight or so years of my trading life encompassed the advent of trading on a computer. For the 150 years before that, you stood in a pit and yelled and gesticulated at the guy across the pit or right next to you that you wanted to buy or sell to him. That was the extent of it. And then in the afternoon when the market closed, you drank whiskey or hired a hooker or, for some, went home to your family.
It was the computer that changed everything. Not so much in that you could do things more efficiently and electronically and there’s less ways to cheat and all of that. There’s more, and this is it. For the first time in history, the true trading addict could quite easily trade 24 hours a day.
And make no mistake about it. I was a true trading addict. I can see that now. I could not see that then.
Just to prove it to you, I’ll tell you that I installed in our basement next to a pool table a computer trading room. And after stopping to kiss Alexis on the cheek and eat whatever food was left from the dinner she had made for the kids… I would often saunter down next to the pool table to check the overseas markets. A lot more than once Alexis would come down at midnight or so and put a blanket on me as I slept soundly on the concrete floor.
She knew if she woke me to come up to bed that I would just get back on my folding chair and look at the screen.
As you could probably imagine, this couldn’t last. So after a while I started bringing guys who worked for me – clerks, junior traders – to the house to sit in my basement and watch my positions… and to look for big opportunities overnight in which I could put on a new position that I could trade out of in the pit in the morning. Confused yet?
Don’t worry. This will make it all clear to you. Just picture this. Here Alexis and I are sleeping in our room, with the girls sleeping across the hall and Steve sleeping downstairs… and up the stairs creeps this relatively stinky, bleary-eyed man – breathing heavily. Creak, creak on the floorboards. And then a knock on our bedroom door.
Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. Quietly at first, but getting stronger the more he knocked.
The knock would never wake me. I can sleep like a rusted lead pipe leftover after all the construction is done. My wife, however, is the protector of the herd. She wakes up at the first sound of danger.
“Yes. What is it?”
“Ah, can you tell JED that five years are down ten points. He wanted me to wake him if that happened.”
“Ah, yes. JED, wake up, honey.”
Sometimes it would get even weirder. I’d invite the guy in the room (Brandon, remember that?) and he’d stand next to our bed in his Chicago Bears tee-shirt as I gave him directions. Most of the time, though, I’d get up and traipse downstairs holding a blanket and pretty I’d be sitting on the metal folding chair right in front of a computer screen… next to a pool table. Once in a while, as we waited for the market to move again, we’d shoot a game of Eight Ball.
And then I’d get up before 5am to do it all over again. That’s what I mean by an unbalanced pace.
In the end, I now realize that to make decent money and to maintain a decent work-life balance, I really only needed to be “ON” for about three to five hours in the morning. If I could somehow have stopped the adrenaline flow by noon or right after the markets closed at 2pm and turned my attention to something else that I liked to do… like hang out with my family or take a class or coach youth sports… then I’d probably have been better off. Really. Much better off.
But once again, you’re talking to an addict. An addict to trading? Maybe. I really did love having a position on, whether it was in the pit or on the computer, and letting it ride to make a bunch of money. And I really did love when the unemployment numbers came out and for the next two hours you’d scream and push and write things down and yell at your clerks and maybe even get into a skirmish with another trader… and then go up to the traders lounge and eat a big, greasy breakfast made by the Mexican guy I’d give my extra White Sox tickets to.
Big time commodities trader. Bee Tee See Tee. Say it that way and all the sudden you believe that you are a master of the universe.
Until you’re not. I don’t want to go in to what led to my downfall – twice – in losing all of my money. And I really don’t want to go into losing a million dollars on one computer in an office in downtown Hammond above a coffee shop that I started – Steel Toe Joe. Those were dark days. And had radio not come along I don’t know where I’d be.
But I have to ask the question – is it happening again?
On Tuesday, I did a nearly five-hour radio show then worked with Christina on installing the cameras and streaming equipment to make us “video of radio.” Nephew Jack, 8, stopped by the studio and we wiped down some of the windows of the studio and walked to the gas station for ice cream. Then I went home and ate a bowl of spaghetti and came back to the studios to watch over election coverage.
On Wednesday, I did a four-hour radio show and then held an hour-long class on the air with Purdue Calumet broadcasting students… five hours total on air… and then rushed to Merrillville for the E-day awards for local entrepreneurs. After the luncheon at the Radisson, I sat in the bar with Mirko Maric and his wife Kerry to talk about our work on the board of the Purdue Commercialization Center. Mirko and I and a few others are gonna change the world, remember. We’re gonna take northwest Indiana from a steel and oil area to being one of the hottest in-country startup areas in America. And we had to drink beer to come up with the plan. On the way to my car, I ran into Don Babcock, whose car wouldn’t start. So I hung out with Don awhile until his engine cranked. I did something else on Wednesday night but I can’t remember what it was.
On Thursday, I did the four hours of radio in the morning… and then for some unknown reason answered a text from Dave Davilla, a pharmacist who’s bought advertising with us for years. Here’s his text:
“Hey last nice day… I’m goin’ for a ride. Wanna meet?”
Next thing you know I’m riding my bike on the Erie-Lackawanna bike path into a 25-mile-an-hour wind. I met up with Davilla and Denny Churilla and we headed south toward US 30 into that wind. Davilla and Churilla would have certainly been OK with just riding to US 30, which was already far as hell, but since I’m pretty much an adrenaline addict with everything that I do, I talked them into riding all the way into Crown Point… against the vicious wind.
My thinking was this – Ever since the tire accident, my back’s messed up and the only thing I can do to the limit, really, is ride my bike So let’s push ourselves to Crown Point and then when we turn around it’ll be smooth sailing with the wind at our backs. We could ride the miles home with relative ease.
But I forgot that I’m not only the morning radio talk-show host – I’m also the morning weatherman. And I told people on Thursday morning that at some point in the afternoon the wind was going to shift. We were gonna go from 70 degrees plus to somewhere in the 50s because the wind was gonna shift from coming out of the south to coming out of the northwest.
So guess when that wind shift came. Yes. Right about the time we started heading northwest back toward Griffith, Highland and Munster on the Erie Lackawanna trail. I did a nice bit about this on the radio referencing how your parents used to say that they walked uphill both ways to and from school. Well, we rode our bikes both ways into a 25-mile-an-hour wind. I spent almost three hours on the bike, and there’s two local Region Rats who aren’t all that happy with me that I talked them into the extra miles. Oh well.
I got home Thursday afternoon just in time to take a shower and put on my bright red shirt and head over to “Taste of the Holidays,” another fundraiser for Haven House where my wife’s on the board. I had promoted it all week that I would be there and would actually visit with people, so I had to go, no matter how broken down I was from the wind and pedaling. More than 300 people showed up, nearly all of them listeners and female. I took a bunch of photos and talked to at least 100 of them, including my dad and Kalli and a bunch of WJOB hosts and listeners and callers. It was a great night that ended with Billy Baker and I drinking Diet Cokes by the bar until Bridget Cook turned lights off and made us go home.
Woke up Friday morning with a beer headache and did only a couple of hours of radio because once in a while the seven moons of Capricorn line up in and I get out of the studio at 8am. I went straight home and slept for a couple hours until my phone started blowing up with internet problems at the station and other stuff. Last night I went out to East Chicago and covered the sectional final between Lowell and EC Central and on the way home stopped to buy dog food.
There’s a couple ways you can tell that I’m again becoming JED the adrenaline addict.
- the garbage cans stay in the street for a couple days before I bring them in
- the dogs don’t have food for a couple of days
If you see either of these things happening, please remind me that I already once lived a life of adrenaline immersion and that there are other ways to play out a reasonably satisfying and meaningful life.