Did you ever hear of the Radio Rule of Indiscriminate Disruption?
It’s not that difficult of a concept, but first you must have a passing understanding of what it means to be in local radio. It means that you’re on call basically 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s not entirely unlike my cousin Doug. He’s an obstetrician and I can’t tell you how many times we’d be playing golf in, yes I must admit, a betting two-man game, and he’d get a phone call. We’d all wait greenside as he spoke intently into his headset about 50 cc’s and contraction intervals and stuff like that.
Eventually he’d mope back to the green – Sorry, guys, I gotta go to the hospital. A young woman’s having a difficult delivery.
And that would be that. The three of us left would play a little three-man game for money just because we’re low-level gambling addicts and then after a few holes we’d give up on it altogether.
Freaking Doug. Does he ever finish a golf round?
So that’s the best comparison I can make to describe local radio. We’re like my cousin Doug, who can at any moment go from playing catch with his son Max to diving elbows-deep into placenta. It happens that fast.
So it went on Friday night. You remember from the last blog entry that I was scheduled to go out to Maury Zlotnik field and announce the Munster at Morton football game. So I came home from the station about 3pm and took a nap. It’s just something you gotta do if you’re gonna wake up at 4:22am and then announce a football game at 7pm. There’s no other way.
I woke up from the nap and walked downstairs to make a sandwich. This is another thing about local radio. Sleep when you can, like in the military, and eat when you can, like in local radio. So I put together this work of art with:
- chicken salad with celery and parsley from Butterfingers Deli
- sliced fresh tomato
- a slice of mozzarella
- horseradish mustard (yum)
- sourdough bread from Strack & Van Til’s
If you’re from the Calumet Region, then you know Butterfingers and Strack’s and you know how much of a work of art this sandwich really was. I also had a fresh bag of Ruffles and a really fizzy Diet Coke all set out on the kitchen table… along with the Times of Northwest Indiana sports section. That’s where they preview the Friday night football games, which I needed to read. To tell you the truth, and “you” being the one and only you who reads my blog, I hadn’t prepared at all to announce the game. Not one bit. I know who the new coach of Morton is – Zippy Morales – and I know who the coach of Munster is because he was defensive coordinator at Munster when I played there. And that’s about the extent of my knowledge of either team.
It’s a little bit ironic in that a couple days ago I interviewed perhaps the best football announcer in America – Don Fisher. He’s been doing the Indiana games for 43 years… I’m not kidding. And I asked him – Hey, Don, does it ever get old?
Truthfully, no. The games never get old. But as you know, Jim, since you’ve been doing this a long time also, that the prep for the games can get a little bit… cumbersome.
That’s me paraphrasing what Don said in that I’m too freaking lazy to go listen to the podcast on this website and then transcribe his quote into this blog that nobody reads. But Fisher’s message is clear – it takes a lot of yourself to prep for a game, especially a football game. If you’re gonna do it right, you gotta know how to pronounce the names of about 50 players on each team and you gotta be familiar with the statistics of about 30 or so on each team. That goes from the passing stats of the quarterback to the number of tackles per game of the middle linebacker to the proportion of makes for the field goal kicker. Don’t forget the head coach’s lifetime record and then you gotta be able to refer to the last couple of games each team played and who made the winning touchdowns or game-saving tackles.
I understand, Don, your plight. Forty-three years of prepping half a week to do one five-hour football broadcast on the radio. It’ll wear you out.
So here’s my solution – don’t do it. Just show up and start talking. Works for me.
Anyways, I was sitting at the kitchen table when my phone vibrated with a message. It was from afternoon host Ron Harlow. This message I will look up because it’s on my phone and that’s pretty easy.
There’s nothing on. It’s here in studio but nothing on the air. I connected to back up. Dead air. Please advise.
Now this isn’t my first rodeo with a text that threatens a perfect sandwich. So I did what I’ve learned to do over the years – and what I suggest that you learn too if you’re in local radio – I checked the little radio we keep in the kitchen. Yep, dead air. And then I sat down to eat my sandwich.
That’s when I looked out into the backyard and noticed that there was a huge lightning storm going on. I should have known. Lightning often messes with us. It’s not so much that lightning seeks out our 400-foot piece of steel sticking up in the air… it’s more that this 400-foot tower of power is located in one of the oldest parts of Hammond. And that means old infrastructure, which means old wiring and transformers, which means when lighting comes through we sometimes lose power. It’s just how it is. I’ve told NIPSCO about it, but oh well.
So I made a strategic decision… leave the sandwich on the kitchen table, where two seconds after I leave, the dog will jump up and eat it. Or take a deep breath and finish the sandwich.
I finished the sandwich. And that’s the advice I give to you local radio heads. Stop to eat. You don’t know how many times I’ve rushed out the door at the beginning of a meal only to be stuck fixing stuff at the station for several hours on an empty stomach. Do yourself a favor – take the few minutes to eat and then go deal with your semi-emergency. If it’s a real emergency, then maybe you can bypass the bacon and eggs. But otherwise, eat first, deal second.
On the ride down to the station I noticed that there was water everywhere. Tons of it. Must have been a big storm while I napped. I drove directly to the old studio, flipped on the transmitter, and sat there and listened to Ryan Walsh do a little pregame show. And you know what I heard Ryan say from the new studios on the campus of the Purdue Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center?
The Munster at Morton game has been cancelled for this evening. It will be played tomorrow at 2pm.
Yippee. Truth be told, I really wasn’t into standing on the sidelines in the rain, as much as I like my dad’s alma mater Morton and my own alma mater Munster. I just didn’t have it in me. But I did have it in me to drive seven blocks to the ultra-modern new studios and do a little radio with Ryan about how many houses were without power and how many games were cancelled.
It turns out that almost all games but one were cancelled due to the storm, and that was the Lake Station at Whiting game. We just so happened to have the other WJOB crew – Brian Jennings and Rick “the voice” Massoels - out there along the Lake, so we did have a game on the air after all.
Next example of Eat first, Deal with it later. On Saturday morning I woke up as usual at 422am without an alarm. It’s just how it is. You wake up that early all week and then on the weekend when you want to sleep in, you wake up at 422 ready to ride your bike somewhere.
I laid in bed listening to another wicked lightning and thunder storm. About 6am I walked downstairs to prepare a bowl of cereal. Now I don’t know about you, but when I eat a bowl of cereal I don’t like it to be just one cereal. Corn Flakes alone are boring. But Corn Flakes with a little Cracklin’ Oat Bran is good. Cheerios alone? No. Cheerios with Shredded Wheat ? Yes.
So I went all out. I poured some Corn Flakes, Cracklin’ Oat Bran AND Shredded Wheat in a bowl… and streamed some bleached white Oberweis, hormone-free, ice cold milk on it…
And then my phone vibrated. It was Debbie Wargo.
We have dead air.
No kidding. This winds us back to the Radio Rule of Indiscriminate Disruption, and it goes like this –
If there’s a storm going on, and you’re wondering if and when you’re gonna go dead air, make some food, set it out on the table, unravel your newspaper, and sit down to eat….
And your phone will vibrate to tell you there’s dead air.
I did, in the end, the same thing I did on Friday night, and the same thing I’ll do the next time my phone vibrates during a storm. I ate my bowl of three cereals. And then I got dressed and drove to the old radio transmitter and tower site.
Now here’s the kicker. This time it wasn’t as simple as the power went out for a while and all I have to do is flip on the transmitter. It was more complex. The transmitter was on… but a portion of the building – including the main mixing board - were without power.
Hmm. I messed with the fuses and nothing. Called the electrician – no answer. Called our broadcast engineer. He answered.
Just run some extension cords from the board to where there’s power.
So that’s what I did. By one in the afternoon – after monitoring the equipment during a live remote from Blue Top Drive-in – I could leave and go home and wait for the next episode of the Radio Rule of Indiscriminate Disruption.