Monday, August 1, 2011

On The Air... Finally!!!

This is actually what I looked like!
Hear Pat read this entry 

In the days following the Kennedy assassination, we began to understand that there would be no World War 3 after all.  The suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, appeared to be some kind of malcontent working alone.  We were shocked when we saw the images of him being led to a county jail, when suddenly someone stepped into camera range and fired a gun.  Jack Ruby had killed Lee Harvey Oswald, and the world would never know what had inspired him to murder the President.

I'd begun to adapt to Air Force life, and found it to be a comfortable way to make a living without having to stand on a GM assembly line.  I was learning about computers, jet engines, sophisticated hydraulics and so forth... things I'd never even see in Flint.  I admit that I was a tad miffed at my family, however.  No sooner had I boarded the bus to Detroit than the whole lot of them decided to take a nice, family vacation.  We hadn't done that in years when I was living at home.  I imagined my dad yelling:

“OK he's gone, everybody in the car we're gonna' have some FUN now!”


It was a nice surprise, then, when my mom came to visit me at Christmas.  I showed her all around the base, then we had a fantastic Christmas dinner in the chow hall.  The Air Force really pulled out the stops for these holiday meals... turkey, ham, roast beef, all the trimmings... as much as you wanted.  Families were invited, actually encouraged, to join in the party.  It was great!

By February, 1964 The Beatles were taking the country by storm.  Unlike the Revolutionary War, this time the Brits not only invaded the colonies, but had taken the place over in less than a month.  The Beatles were everywhere, on the radio and by proxy in the stores where everything from Beatles wigs to Beatles magazines were on sale.   Suddenly everyone was wearing those tight, pegged pants and “Beatle Boots,” an ankle length shoe with stepped heels and pointed toes.  Even I bought a pair of those.  Yup, in the period of one month I'd become a Beatle convert.  I began to appreciate the sophistication of their simple approach to making music.   No strings or Phil Spector, “Wall of Sound” style production gimmicks, just good, clean playing and impeccable harmonies.  What a concept!

I read everything I could find about the Beatles, and later the other Brit groups that followed... Peter and Gordon, The Dave Clark 5 and others.  I was a veritable storehouse of information, so when opportunity knocked I was more than ready.  It seemed the local radio station was interested in doing a Saturday show featuring the British bands, trouble was the local DJs didn't know doodly squat about them.  I found out about this situation while doing some laundry in town, I met the station's news guy and he told me about it. I didn't hesitate 10 seconds, as soon as that laundry was done the two of us high-tailed it over to the station.  I was asked to read some copy and intro a couple of songs... NO SWEAT... I'd been practicing this stuff for months!  I got the job, and the best part about it was, they wanted to do a remote from the local record store.  I got to do my thing in public!!!

My first radio show was a less than stellar performance I'm afraid.  I recall being extremely nervous, and I blew the intro of the very first song.  I had the mike cranked too high, the music potted too low and couldn't seem to figure out how to get all the copy sorted out in time for my next break.  I was expected to have all this inside info on the Brit bands, but when it came time to crack the mike I forgot it all.   To make it worse I was screwing this thing up in front of an audience!  Good grief, this was embarrassing!  The news guy I'd befriended came to my rescue.   “Just relax” he told me, “If you have to, just take the cans (earphones) off.   Don't pay attention to what you sound like on the air, it's the content that counts.”  Once I took the cans off it did seem to come easier   By the second half of the show I'd learned to use them only when I had to intro a song, then take them off when I was doing some background or reading copy.  I must've done OK, the station asked me to come back the following week.  I'd stumbled into my first radio gig.  It was a tiny little station in a tenth rate town, but it was a start.

The base newspaper noticed that I was on the air, and came to the barracks to interview me.  The Air Force was very supportive of my efforts, and made quite a fuss over my little radio show.  A small TV station in Champaign/Urbana picked up on that, and had me come down to appear on their local dance show... sort of a small town version of American Bandstand.

And just when I felt I was hitting my stride it all ended, the owner of record store that sponsored the show felt he wasn't getting his money's worth.  I guess he figured that his record sales would go through the roof because of this thing.  These small time guys never heard of “Market Equity”...the intrinsic value of name recognition in marketing... so after a month the the show came to an end.  I was disappointed of course, but not discouraged.  I'd learned a lot in that month, the most important of which was “content is king.”

Would be radio folks reading this should now listen up.  If you learn one thing from all this blather learn this, content is king.  Plain and simple, the key to success in radio is relating to your audience.  You think like they think, you talk like they talk, you go the places they go and you relate this back on the air.  You make your living by living.  It's the most important lesson I ever learned.

Years later, as I was finishing up my radio career, a station manager referred to me as “the greatest communicator in radio.”  I don't know about that, there are plenty of guys that I feel were better, but I'm sure glad he noticed.

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