February 10, 1990, is a Saturday. South African president F. W. de Klerk announces that Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years, will be released tomorrow. In Tokyo (where it’s already tomorrow), Buster Douglas knocks out heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. On the South Pacific island of Java, a volcano named Mt. Kelud erupts. NASA’s Galileo probe flies by the planet Venus, taking advantage of the gravity of the solar system’s inner planets to whip it toward its ultimate destination, Jupiter. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, two gunmen open up in a bowling alley, killing four and wounding three more. Twenty years later, the crime will remain unsolved. The Idaho lottery gives away a $2 million jackpot. NBC-TV’s lineup tonight includes The Golden Girls, a Columbo TV movie called Agenda for Murder, and Saturday Night Live hosted by Quincy Jones. Eric Clapton plays the Royal Albert Hall in London with a full orchestra. The second part of the show features a two-movement piece called “Concerto for Electric Guitar.” Phish plays Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and Diana Ross plays Detroit. Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” leap-frogs Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” to top the new Cash Box singles chart, knocking Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train” to Number Three. In Iowa, a DJ shows up for his Saturday shift as usual. It had been a late night the night before—a bunch of his colleagues had gotten together to bid farewell to a couple of sales reps who had been fired earlier in the week. What he doesn’t know as he arrives is that he’s about to join them.
Perspective From the Present: There had been a lot of change at the station in the preceding months. A new general manager had come on board in the fall, and he brought in a new program director toward the first of the year. The new PD was full of ideas, although not all of them were especially practical, and a few betrayed a profound cluelessness about how the station worked. Eventually, he settled on bagging the elevator-music format in favor of a soft AC that was heavy on oldies from the 60s and 70s. Then he started firing jocks—the outgoing PD who had meant to stay on as a jock, the night guy who hadn’t been there all that long. But because the general manager had gone out of his way to praise me to everyone who would listen—“best commercial production guy I’ve had in all my years in radio,” he said—I figured I was safe. But I wasn’t.
My shift was supposed to end at 6:00 that day; when the PD showed up at 5:45, there was only one reason why he’d be there on a Saturday. I had one break left to do on the air, and I ended it with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a pleasure.” (I had the presence of mind to tape it, although I don’t know why, or where the tape is today. I have always regretted that I didn’t say more than that.) Thirty seconds later, I was in the PD’s office getting the “we’ve decided to go in a different direction” speech. But at least he turfed me in person. The woman who’d been on the air before me that day got home to find a message on her answering machine saying she was out. He could have fired both of us in person at 2:00, but then he would have had to do my airshift himself, and he wouldn’t.
In the course of my radio career, I got fired several times. It happens. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not, but the business is a small one, so it rarely makes sense to hold a grudge against the people responsible. In this case, however, I’ve made an exception. In the weeks after I got fired, I pieced together a good deal of evidence indicating that the PD was a truly bad guy. He hadn’t dealt fairly with the people he fired; the friends he hired to replace the jocks he’d fired were minimally talented hacks who had already failed at multiple stations in the market; a few of the tales told about him privately would curl your hair. It didn’t start at our station, either: On his peregrinations across the country the previous few years, he’d left behind a trail of people who hated his living guts.
I don’t know whatever became of him. If I’m recalling correctly, he was out of the market within a year or two, but where he went after that, I have no idea. I was out of work for about six weeks (unemployed on my 30th birthday, as it turned out); the job I found turned out to be fun for three years, if not especially remunerative. And my radio career went on.