When you walk in, the first thing and only thing you hear is a Cha-Chunk of an obese security door shutting.
Then, an eerie silence.
Eerie especially when it’s a business whose fundamental core is sound.
As you step deeper, you realize the only lighting comes from exit signs and single bulbs going off and on every couple minutes or so.
As you step even deeper, you are smashed in the face with a smell of burnt coffee that has been sitting there for at least a couple hours.
The first sign of life is typically the man who doubles as a morning talk-show host and my sales manager.
I should say he triples; he possesses a superpower enabling him to be the biggest douchebag I have met in the thirty years I waddled across the Earth. It is Krypton worthy.
He marches out with his short, stubby legs, weary-eyed and bitter from reciting the weather forecast every ten minutes.
“Your client played every hour, twice an hour Keith!”
“I guess they’ll definitely see some results than huh?” I quickly respond.
I blame his show.
This was my introduction to the world of radio.
Radio is the only medium where everything belongs to only you.
What the storyteller looks like and what they are telling you is solely up to your imagination.
In a way, reading does the same thing. But does your imagination create a caricature of author/writer/reporter who is telling you the story you’re reading?
But I sure as shit can tell you what I think Howard Stern looks like when he’s telling me how awesome lesbians and the Squatty Potty are.
Whatever they say, belongs only to us.
It’s so cool.
It was 1990 or 91. MC Hammer was asking me to not hurt him, the Giants just beat the Bills in the Super Bowl, and I weighed as much as I do now. Z97, the local “Pop” station in my hometown, would have an all request hour or two every Tuesday and Thursday night.
I would call like fucking crazy!
I so wanted to talk to this DJ named “Mic Spirit”. (Some of you are smiling right now.)
He would usually answer, and then, what I can only describe as creepy, he would talk to me for a bit of time. Like a good amount of time. He would have mood swings and use this desolate tone. (Foreshadowing) I was 12-year-old.
For me, it was epochal.
It was my access to a celebrity, you know?
Less than two decades later, my ability to convince you to buy a Ford, then a Chevy (awkward) gave me access that 12-year-old boy would have pissed himself to have. (Little did he know that in between those periods of time, all he would do was piss himself.)
When I got there, I, like every person who works in radio, wanted to be on the air. And they’re lying to you if they say the contrary.
“Ya, so the client, ya, they want me to voice the commercial.”
And it’s the salespersons’ first sale. (I can’t remember specifically who it was. But production just smiled at me with this appropriately condescending, “ya, sure.”)
Anyway, first, the DJ’s. (Oh, some people are cringing.)
DJ’s have an unenviable task.
They have to be a walking, and more importantly, talking contradiction.
They have to be immensely narcissistic and massively insecure.
DJ’s go from feeling being a diety for 4 hours, only to walk out into the masses making wages comparable to the person who just gave you change at Stewarts.
No offense to any store clerk. But, a DJ, and some are talk show hosts, are speaking to a substantial amount of people at the same time.
There is a bit of influence at their disposal.
Some use it.
Some run with it.
Some abuse it.
Some fucking suck at it.
And all are scared to death to lose it.
At the same time, there is something so endearing about them.
Their passion doesn’t know any better.
Some will tell you it’s all they can do.
And I’ll tell you, thank God for that!
Because they do something we all think we can do because we all can do it: Talk.
And it’s not easy!
And some, some are phenomenal at it.
And then they walk out of their 10×10 “Fortresses of Solitude” and get crushed with the reality that is their slightly above minimum wage life.
And they walk into “the pit”. (Sales pit)
It’s nice when the place you wake up and go to every morning is named after a portion of your body that smells so bad that if you don’t put something on it in a quotidian manner, you emit an order that…Why onions?
Radio sales, as I’ve mentioned before, you need to possess a mindset which…
I’ve been around a LOT of radio salespeople. I’ve been in the room when print was walking on death row, and TV was kicking ass, and I’ve been in the room when TV was on its descent and digital was showing you the power of stalking.
Radio sales though…
I’ve used the analogy of radio being a delicious, solid plate of fries. Never being the main course, just being the last thing you eat because you know you’ll be satisfied.
Unfortunately, a plate of fries cost two bucks and it’s sitting next to a thirty dollar steak.
And no matter how much gravitas you wish to present, you, the radio salesperson, your default position is your chin inches from the chest.
Radio is the middle child.
A feeling which permeates throughout the entire building.
A feeling which, like a tic under your skin, goes with you “hit the streets” to make sales. Sales calls spend where you spend your own gas money to sell a product I just compared to French fries. And when you hear the word no, 75% of the time, you find yourself being insecure as a DJ.
It’s this feeling in the back of your head and the bottom of the stomach.
It’s this feeling of not insignificance, but the thing right above it. What’s above insignificance?
And that’s before you have to answer to people who own you. And they feel like they own you.
Especially in the smaller markets.
I worked for a company that owned 5 out of 6 stations in the city.
Where is a DJ going to go?
Sales will jump from one sales job to the next. I did. I even moved to New York.
Now, did it help there was this little gal, I was and always will be crazy about, with these green eyes and lips…
But it stops being about radio and starts becoming a profession of avoiding scrutiny.
I’ve been in the room when you’re the leader of the company and when you’re at the bottom. The taste is constantly despondent, in one flavor or another.
And that’s when it really starts to suck the spirit from your soul.
That’s why I heard Mic Spirit sound like he was being religiously beaten 27 years prior.
Yet…what’s the joke about the guy who shovels elephant shit for a living and a friend asks him why he does it.
His response: “What and give up show business?”
Radio is show business!
Working in radio is entertainment.
Radio is for those who have a love for music unlike a love for anything I’ve ever seen.
Except for Conservative talk radio, they are the reason white guys between 35-55 are the highest rate of suicide. (These statistics are not proven…Yet)
And radio salespeople, there are many who only wanted to work in this field they love so much, and sales was their way in. It was for me. But, the love slowly dissipated.
I used to say,
“Radio is difficult, it’s not hard.”
Pretty sure you can put any noun you want in there and say that.
Except digging a ditch. Digging a ditch, for some reason, is our default worse job imaginable.
“Could be worse, I could be digging ditches.”
What does a ditch digger say?
“Could be worse, I could be a radio DJ”?
Not all the time though…
Sometimes, sometimes you see someone win a huge prize which you were a key part of obtaining. And their eyes water because things have been pretty goddamn rough.
And sometimes, sometimes you do events for the seniors during the holidays and the response is what Christmas is truly about.
And sometimes, sometimes you walk miles for a DJ who died way too young and will never be forgotten by his “on-air siblings” and anyone who had the honor of meeting him.
And sometimes, sometimes you co-workers become a family who took you in, watched you fall in love, watched you have your heart broken, watched you get up, watched you finally fucking graduate college, watched you get promoted, and watched you say good-bye.
And sometimes a DJ says cunt three times at a live remote. On a loud speaker. In front of a substantial amount of “Black Friday” shoppers.
And sometimes your traffic guy meets Chris Hansen.
And sometimes your little prick of a sales manager somehow gets elected to public office.
I’d rather vote for fucking Trump!
These people, they are the ones making you laugh every morning and every night.
They are the ones who will distract you while stuck in traffic waiting to cross the twin bridges or stuck behind a tractor on Route 22A.
And all they want from you is to listen…
And fill out Nielsen rating diaries…
And buy the products from their local, small-business-owning advertisers…
And tell them you heard their ad on the radio…
Then they get off the air or back from a sales call and become egocentric, introverted douchebags.
And I love them so much.
And I will miss them so much.
Except for you know who…
Who the fuck votes for him?