Don’t Touch That Dial!

Video didn’t kill this radio star, but if we have time we’ll cover that on the other side after we hit the top of the hour.

My employment resume represents a fascinating series of uniquely different jobs, but the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on, was working in radio.

I’ve always loved radio.  When one grows up without a lot of money in a world with only 3-4 television stations, radio gets to be your friend.  As a sports fan, who loved news and music, the battery operated AM radio was a constant companion in my youth.  From music and wacky disc jockeys by day to Denver Bears’ baseball by night, I got a lot of mileage out of my little hand held radios.

When we first moved to Wyoming, my Marine Corps and defense contracting career to that point wasn’t a big sell in the little town.  Since I had coached little league football and basketball, I used those skills to grab a part time job at the recreation center.  It was a fun place to get to know folks in my new community.

One day I found myself shopping for new tunes at a music shop and noticed the place was had the local radio stations piped in through the speakers in the store. I was the only customer in the place and I started to complain out loud to the only other soul in the place, the local merchant running the store. “Hey, how come they don’t have any sports on this station?  It needs some sports.”

“Well they do need someone up there to help them with sports, my Dad used to run the place, and I know the current general manager there.  Do you want a job?”

I nearly fell over.  What are the odds that the only person I ever needed to meet to work in radio was the dude behind the counter at the CD/Record shop?  That local merchant is my friend to this day, and yes, the reference is specific, inside humor that only he, and maybe three other humans will laugh at.

Of course I hadn’t worked in radio before, they insisted all I needed to know for the moment was sports.  Easy enough. I talked to the station manager, he said because I knew more about sports than him, I got the job.

Love or hate Howard Stern, the biographical movie Private Parts about his life had a couple funny moments for me.  In particular, his first radio gig when his voice is way up high, and he is all excited to spin a Ramones’ record — that was me.

My first hour of radio was hideous.  I made a recording of it and then destroyed it.  I destroyed it a lot.  On the tape I cringed as I heard a high pitched, quiet, whiney voiced dork talk about sports with way too much dead air in between painstakingly boring analysis.  But KEVA Sports Saturday was born, and I got paid to talk about what I wanted on the air.  The pay was not great, but it did add up and help my micro family.

I got better at it. I did play-by-play for football, basketball and legion baseball. I hosted coaches shows.  I did voice actor bits for the commercials, I spent hours on sound effects and intro music, being creative is always fun.

The station had a great news guy when I got there, but he left for a shot at working in the Las Vegas radio market, so I ended up being the news guy too.  My wife reminded me of my slogan I ran all the time in competition with the local newspaper, “When you hear it, it’s news, when you read it, it’s history.”

Radio does have that real time advantage over print, so I bragged about that a lot.  Because at the end of the day, we needed those advertising dollars to get paid and put on the cool local programs.  I recall my ambitious plan to make the station a local powerhouse, which included Wyoming Cowboys sports, Utah Jazz basketball, Denver Broncos football and the inaugural baseball season of the Colorado Rockies.  Some official looking guy flew in from Boston, representing station ownership and he said I could only do all of that if I could finance it.

Thus, I had to learn how to sell air.  And I did.  I compiled an advertising campaign, wrote up my own contracts specific to sports programming, printed flyers and hit the streets.  Selling is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet to me, and selling air time is even harder.  However, a couple months later, I had thirty sponsors in all, paying for various parts of the sports package.  And since I thanked them a bunch on the radio, and they listened, most would sign up again.

I got media passes to cover pro and college sports.  Well, I had to assemble a picture identification myself, we didn’t have a big staff.  Many of those sports adventures rate blogs all their own.  Stay tuned.

Eventually I did everything from those sales, to the commercials and my sports show hosted players from every major and minor sport in the region.  I had the Steve Martin from the movie The Jerk moment when my name showed up in print in the Denver Broncos Media Guide, “I’m somebody, I’m somebody, I’m finally somebody!”

I was a disc jockey, ad man, sales, news, sports, live radio remotes from sports bars and furniture stores, play-by-play, copy writer, cable TV television specials,  I got to do it all in small market radio in Evanston, Wyoming.  Rock and Roll Midnight shows on Fridays, morning shows, selling tractor parts on the radio station classified ad programs, hanging out with Denver Broncos.  I do mean I got to do it all.  I did serious stuff as well, interviewing governors and U.S. Senators too.

Of course, the newspaper got sick of me trash talking them, so they hired me. The weird media reversal as it is usually newspaper guys who morph into broadcasting and not the other way around.  But I could always write.

I started with a sports column and then was hired full time to be the sports editor of The Uinta County Herald.  Writing up sports events I broadcast on the radio meant I got paid twice for the same work.  That was nice.  It was also a lot of hours to cover both jobs, nearly 80-hours a week at the peak of the two jobs.

We hired a great nanny to watch the boys, but I missed those toddlers. Ultimately, the newspaper wanted me exclusive and that hurt a bit.  I got to sneak onto a few radio broadcasts my last year in Wyoming, just not enough.  Print journalism was paying better at the time, and my micro family needed the funds.

The old radio days are more glorious with each passing moment.  The adrenaline  that accompanies the big red light bulb turning on to indicate you are live and on the air is a great rush, every time.  And just when you think you are all alone in that phone booth of plexiglass and plywood, you decide to give away a couple tickets to something and the phone lights up like a dead fir tree on Christmas morning.

“Fifteen minutes after the hour, we’ve got a cold twenty-eight degrees to go with our blue skies this morning — more great music, news and sports coming at you, right after this break on Variety 1240, K-E-V-A!”

One thought on “Don’t Touch That Dial!

Comments are closed.