Sunday, February 26, 2017

When things go horribly wrong

I haven’t seen it personally, but I know that out there, in a sun drenched cemetery somewhere in the south, there is a gravestone marked with the words “Hey Bubba, get a load of this!” Why do I know this, because the Internet says it is so, so it must be true!

It seems that sometimes in our lives, usually when we have reached maturity but before we have reached the age of wisdom we have done something that garnered, shall we say, unexpected results. I’ve had my share. Except for mine, names are omitted in the stories that follow in order to protect the guilty.

News announcers are fair game in both radio and television. Someone is always trying to “break them up” while they are on mic or camera. The only time they are safe is when they are reading about a death. The rest of the time, it’s on. Sometime during my first radio gig, the infamous “Beatle Wig Incident” occurred. In this operation, the news was read from the FM studio that looked into the AM control room through a 4’ x 8’ glass window. Our beleaguered news guy was diligently reading the news when the on air DJ and a couple of others in the control room thought it would be hilarious to put on a Beatle Wig and make faces at him. A couple of guys tried but alas were not able to raise even an upturned corner of a mouth. They got nothing at all.

When the newscast was over, the newsman walked around the corner into the on air studio, placed his arm on the top of a piece of equipment where the wig was laying. This stack of equipment towered over the main turntable which happened to be spinning a 45 RPM record at the time of the incident. The newsman, a wiry thin guy, gave each and every one of us “The Eye” then started to laugh. As he turned away, the corner of news copy he had in his hand caught the Beatle Wig and knocked it off the equipment… right onto the turntable that was on the air. The needle was knocked off the record and onto the felt cover on the spinning turntable. It sounded like the end of the world. Everyone jumped towards the turntable to reset it. Well everyone but the news guy, he smiled, and walked away whistling happily. Let it be known that he always professed that was an accident, but he had the last laugh, in fact the only laugh.

On a sunny weekend afternoon, I was up at another station working on a transmitter that was being a bit difficult that Saturday. One of our part time DJs was spinning records and eyeing a basket of fresh peaches that one of our listeners brought by. We were both enjoying them when he came up with the thought of eating the pit of one of them. There had been a recent article about the health benefits of eating peach pits so he announced on the air that he was going to do that. It took some doing but he finally got it all down. It was only after he announced what he had done that the phone started ringing off the hook with concerned listeners telling him that peach pits contained cyanide, arsenic, and other toxins. There was no internet at the time so there was no way to confirm or deny this. I can tell you that he was a little nervous about it all. I looked up the number of poison control but we didn’t call. Instead, I kept an eye on him for a couple of ours. I’m glad to say that he went on to have a long career in radio and television with no after effects.

This last “Hey Bubba” story goes back to my first job in radio at the same station that was the home of the “Beatle Wig Incident.” It was the middle of the night, sometime around 2 in the morning. My best buddy, who also worked there, had been out clubbing and dropped by the studio to wind down before heading home. He had brought a beer up to the station in a brown paper bag. After consuming the beer and disposing the can in the trash can across the lobby he sat there playing with the bag.

He and I were always looking for “production elements” to spice up our shows. These elements always involved loud, sudden noises. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that blowing up and popping that bag would be a good addition to our collection of weird noises.

As the record I was playing was about to end, I decided to go for it. “Gimme that bag, I’ve got an idea”, I said. What I was about to do dawned on him and he said “Yeah, that’ll be great!” About fifteen seconds before the end of the record, I planned to say something smart like “We’re blowing up the hits,” blew up the bag, turned on the microphone and blewie…. knocked the station right off the air.

Because he was not wearing headphones and I was, he had no idea what happened. All he could see was the shocked look on my face as I slammed the mic switch to the off position and yelled “Oh No!” (Well it was something like “Oh No!” anyway) as I jumped up to the transmitter remote control panel to reset it. I was fortunate, the station came right back on. I am the kind of guy that loves a crowd in my studio when I am on the air, but you had better not bring a paper bag in with you. Oh MY!

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