Friday, August 26, 2011

Wheel Of Mis-Fortune!!

To say the WKNX gig re-energized my radio career is a vast understatement.  Let's just say that if it hadn't come along, I'd probably still be stamping out spark plugs (or whatever they do to make them) somewhere.  It was a perfect collusion of timing and opportunity which, when you think of it, is the real definition of luck.  You're lucky if you're in the right place at the right time, which means you had to have been in the wrong place every other time.

I began to exploit my situation shamelessly, promoting dances and concerts whenever and wherever I could.   Working with local promoters, I'd line up Dick Wagner and the Frost, The Fabulous Pack, The Cherry Slush, Bob Seger, The Rationals and any other Tri-Cities based group I could find for shows throughout the immediate area, and later throughout the east side of Michigan.  Deb and I would jump in the car and head up to East Tawas where I'd make an appearance with, say The MC-5 then zip up to Alpena for a show with ? And the Mysterians, The Pack and, maybe the Amboy Dukes.   We had no dearth of willing promoters who would happily give me whatever I wanted in exchange for the unlimited advertising I could offer.  We could pack any venue we chose given the popularity of the acts, and the enormous reach of the station.  Life was seriously GOOD!

Within a short period of time I decided I needed a much more appropriate ride, so I went out and bought a T-Bird and some custom pillows which matched the leather interior, that I could use to nap on while Deb drove from gig to gig.   The schedule was exhausting, especially since I had to do the morning show on Saturdays, but extremely rewarding.  Financially, we did just fine.

My personal life was going through some rocky times however.  It had become emphatically clear to me that my marriage was doomed.   Teenage marriages rarely last, and mine was no exception.  My life and Judy's had been going in different directions for years.   In radio I would always be a Nomad, never staying in one place too long.  

Here's the dirty secret about that business.  When you walk in the door for the first time the clock starts ticking, one way or another you WILL leave that job.  Whether they get you or you get them is a matter of timing.  The very first thing you do upon accepting a new radio job is to update your resume because you never know how long the thing will last.  If you've ever wondered why your favorite DJ is no longer on the air at your favorite station, chances are that he/she is wondering the very same thing.   It's a brutal industry, and extremely unfriendly to families.

On the up side when things are going well they're REALLY going well, and things were really going well for me at WKNX.  I had a four hour air shift and one hour of production...recording commercials, station promos etc... plus I often did the booth announcements for WKNX-TV.  On occasion I was called upon to fill in for one of the TV folks to do a weather cast, or something such as the daily prize wheel game.

The prize wheel was a lead in segment to the afternoon news cast.  As I remember it was a 5 minute segment that ran at :55 past the hour... I believe 5:55PM.  The idea was the host would reach into a barrel and pull out a postcard, then spin the wheel.  If the prize on the card matched the prize on the wheel, the contestant won.   Simple right?

Not always.

When I did the show I had to grab a WKNX jacket and run like hell down the hallway to the TV side, where the floor director would hang a mike over my head.  The camera would already be focused on a tight shot of the spinning wheel while I got into position behind the barrel.   I always thought that prize wheel was fastened onto the hub a little to loosely, but I never gave it much consideration.   On this one particular day, while I was getting the mike set up, they must've spun the wheel a little too hard when they set up the tight shot because the damned thing came off it's axle and rolled off to the side of the room, all on live TV.  The director hustled me into place behind the barrel as the crew chased the wheel down.

“No sweat guys, while you rig the wheel back up, I'll draw the card”

So they cued me to start my opening rap.  As I was delivering the lines I began to turn a the crank on the end of the barrel to mix up the cards, the idea being that I'd then dramatically reach deep into the barrel to bring up the postcard.  Only this time someone had forgotten to fasten down the door, so when the barrel turned over half the cards fell out in a heap on the floor.  By this time the entire crew was laughing their asses off, which got me to laughing too.  As we contemplated our situation... prizewheel rolling across the room... postcards all over the floor... we laughed harder and harder until all of us were completely dysfunctional, roaring our fool heads off.  The director... incapacitated as well by laughter... tried to get the news guy (I think it was Dick Fabian) set up for the cast.  Needless to say, The Prizewheel Game was pre-empted on that particular day!

Ah yes friends, live TV.  Just like I'd remembered from the Howdy Doody days!!!

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