Sunday, April 21, 2013

Working odd shifts

“Nine to Five” was the name of a song by Dolly Parton and a movie starring Dolly, Lilly Tomlin and Jane Fonda that celebrated the daytime office worker, “Swing Shift” starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Christine Lahti did the same for the evening workers. “Night Shift” starring Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton and Shelly Long covered the overnight shift workers. Somehow I can relate to each of these movies having worked all three shifts during my career.

In fact, for broadcasters, the most important shifts of the day, the ones that are populated by the “A” Teams are not the ones that are worked by most of us. For television, the “prime time” shift is the one in the evening. Usually that shift started at four PM and ended at midnight, it includes the early and late news broadcasts and the evening network schedule. For radio the prime time shifts are split, the morning drive shift six AM until 10 being the most important, and the afternoon drive 4 PM until 8 the number two slot of the day. The number three slot for most top 40 stations back in the day was the evening 8 until midnight shift, beating out the midday shift in importance because of the presence of the teen age and young adult audience that was usually in school middays.

To me, each of these times of the day had a special feeling. Getting up in the early morning to get to the station and be on the air about the time everyone else was waking up always had a fresh feeling. The first couple of days on the shift were hard; trying to wake up, but once the sleep patterns were adjusted, it felt good to be out there when the day was still new and cool, watching the sun come up through the studio window, letting the listeners know what happened in the world since they went to sleep and getting their day going with some feel good music.

The afternoon drive shift was a celebration; the work day was over, the sun was getting low in the sky and the mood was changing from the work/school day to the fun evening out on the town with friends and dates. The beat of the music picked up and the drive a little harder; it was party time. I loved afternoon drive; getting to work wide awake and having a little time to spend with my co-workers before they left. It was cool knowing that they would be listening on their way home. At the end of the shift, it was usually sundown or just after and I would have the streets almost to myself on the way home.

Evening shift was a great shift for a single young DJ. If you were in the studio, the phone would never quit ringing with requests and dedications; and it was so much fun talking with the audience, finding out what was going on in their lives. Usually the commercial load was lighter than the drive shifts and you have more time to spend on the phone. By time the shift was over, the streets were mostly deserted, the night cool and it was easy to relax on the way home.

Overnight shift! What can I tell you about overnights? That was one wild shift! First of all the overnight DJ was really isolated from the rest of the station, usually seeing only the DJ he was relieving and the one that relieved him. When I worked overnight, I made it a point to come by the station in the late afternoon just for some “face time” with the program director, the office staff and the other DJs. It took a little more effort but it was well worth it. Back in my “All Night Satellite” days, my show was always number one in the ratings. But before you get too excited about that, I need to let you know that our station was the only one on the air from midnight till six AM. Both the trips to and from the station were quiet. Back in couple years that I worked overnight, I lived just a few blocks from the studios so it was a pleasant walk.

These days, my WUSC-FM shows are during the one day-part that I never worked in my early radio career. I am working part of the midday shift, 10 AM to noon or 9 AM to noon depending on the time of the year. I get to arrive at the station at a decent time and leave while everyone else is still in the studios and offices. No more sleep deprivation or struggling with the alarm clock just to get there. I love not being alone in the control room; having someone dropping in every few minutes to chat on their way through their workday tasks. Now that my audience has found me, the phone rings almost as often as it did during the evening shift. I love that; talking to the audience, taking their requests and playing the music that they want to hear. To me this is the thing about live local radio that you can’t get much anymore with the automated “corporate play list stations” that pervade the airwaves these days. Audience participation, that is where it is at! Oh MY!

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