Dining Room

Most Saturday nights, I buy myself a sandwich on the way to the radio station and eat it in the studio while I’m on the air. And I wonder precisely how many meals I have eaten in radio studios over the years.

Back in 1979, I was disappointed to find myself scheduled to work Christmas Day from noon to 6. It was the first major break in the family Christmas routine in my lifetime. To minimize the disruption, I planned to drive the hour from home to the station and back again the same day. Before I left, my mother packed leftovers from our Christmas Eve turkey dinner, and as I began my Christmas broadcast day, I enjoyed what is still the most elegant studio meal of my career.

After that, it was fast-food burgers (back when I still ate those), but in recent years it’s been a lot of sub sandwiches. Many were fetched to me by The Mrs., even before she was The Mrs. I recall having Chinese a couple of times, although a meal like that poses a couple of problems. First, anything requiring utensils raises the degree of difficulty because you need to bring utensils. And second, anything hot tends to get cold, because it’s the nature of the studio meal to be eaten a bite here and a bite there over a lengthy period of time. There is no radio station on Earth that has never had pizza delivered to it, but pizza is problematical for studio dining—greasy fingers and studio equipment don’t mix.

Neither do beverages and studio equipment. Coffee was once ubiquitous in radio studios—no jock would hit the air without a cup in one hand and headphones in the other—so it was never unusual to find coffee rings or stray brown drops on the printed program log used in the studio every day. This also meant a risk of beverages being dumped into sensitive equipment. I have never done this myself, despite the fact that a large insulated mug of Diet Pepsi powers every radio show I do, although every jock has heard stories of such accidents, and may have witnessed them.

A beverage accident prompted one company I worked at to ban all beverages from the studios. Memos were sent, signs were hung, and small tables were placed outside each studio door with signage to make abundantly clear what they were for. I complied, begrudgingly, for one long, miserable night shift—only to discover that the station’s highly paid morning team was exempt from the rule. I decided I wasn’t going to be treated any differently than they were, so I ignored the rule from that point on. So did everybody else, and pretty soon the tables disappeared.

(My beverage mug is a source of great amusement for a couple of people at the company I work for now. It’s a 52-ouncer, which used to be what I required to get through the six-hour night shifts I did back in days of yore. Now I use it primarily because it’s a cheap refill at the local convenience store, and because the next-biggest size, a one-gallon gasoline can, is just too big.)

When I was a little baby disc jockey in the late 70s, smoking was permitted in station buildings, and even in the studios. Cigarettes were as ubiquitous as coffee, and the spongy windscreen over the microphone would permanently hold the aroma. At one place I worked, the back hallway between the studios and the newsroom was designated as a smoking area. I always wondered how our chain-smoking news director failed to set the building on fire, given the way she’d flick butts into wastepaper baskets full of discarded wire copy.

A radio studio is a place with many faces: it’s a stage for performers, a salt mine for the underpaid, a refuge for the maladjusted, a garden of delight for those who love what they do. And sometimes, it’s a dining room.

Note to Patrons: Posts are liable to be light here for the remainder of this week. I suggest you use the time to read some other like-minded blogs, which you can find by clicking “Favorite Waste of Time” at the top of this page. Most of them are better anyhow. Or go play outside. Summer’s nearly over.

9 responses

  1. Mark (In The Dark) Baker | Reply

    Remember the cases and cases of Powerhouse bars in the basement at KDTH? They kept me alive for almost a week once when I was working there. That and the beer and cigs at Betty & Nick’s…

  2. I’ve never been a coffee drinker, nor was I inclined to munch in-studio (except for the 25-pound Salted Nut Roll that Pearson’s would drop off once a year.) But for off-air nutrition, nothing beat the KOMA candy machine. It sat in the non-air-conditioned transmitter room behind the tube-driven, 50,000-watt Continental 317C, which was cooled by roaring fans sucking in the 100-plus degree summertime outside air. That was my introduction to individually-wrapped chocolate fondue.

  3. I guess what the “job” is really doesn’t matter, since this history is similar to my career story regarding Diet Pepsi (now I prefer Pepsi Max) and the cigarette time line. We all went through it. I remember when Keller decided we couldn’t eat or drink at our computers … that didn’t even last an hour for me! Nice walk down memory lane Jimbo, thanks!

  4. I’m familiar with that operation that exempted the “highly-paid morning team” from the no-beverages-or-eating-in-studio rule. And I’ve borne witness to the destruction of untold thousands of dollars worth of studio equipment when clumsy jocks dump beverages onto things like mixing consoles and keyboards. In the early days of computers, a newsperson I worked with became an accidental sabateur when she tossed a folded-up newspaper toward the pile of dead newspapers on a workstation, and the paper wound up on top of the keyboard of a workstation that was online…..and somehow pressing down on the long, horizontal space bar on the keyboard. Within a half-hour, that live workstation with the constantly-pressed space bar crashed the computer system for the entire building.

    But – as for that “no pizza” remark (which I take it was meant to be sarcastic) – waaay back in the old days, when you didn’t even have to book “trades for mention”, it was always free meal time for jocks. At one particular operation with which I have more than passing familiarity…I’ll give only its initials to maintain anonymity (WNAM-AM, Neenah-Menasha WI)….all one needed to do when hunger struck was to say “boy, a Sammy’s Pizza would taste REALLY good right about now…all that great tangy sauce under a layer of tasty Wisconsin-made cheese…baked to perfection and delivered right to your door….nothing beats a pizza from Sammy’s” – and within a half-hour, the delivery boy would be pounding on the back door of the station with a complimentary meal. Tip him a buck and make sure you had plenty of paper towels from the bathroom available.

    Management and ownership always looked the other way, knowing damn well that all of us were horridly underpaid.

  5. Since I did the morning show during my career and was not a coffee drinker, Mountain Dew was my pick-me-up. That worked better than coffee.

  6. Does anybody else remember the honor-system snack box? Chips, candy, etc, all usually 50 cents or so, openly displayed, with a cash box you were on your honor to put your quarters into. If these ever lasted more than a few weeks anywhere they were set up, thanks to thievery or IOUs, I’ve never heard of it.

    1. We had one of those at the country station where I used to work. It actually stayed around for an entire year. There were usually IOU’s (including from myself) but the debts were normally settled when we got paid. I was still in college at the time, and the occasional sugar rush or whatever it was that is in beef sticks helped sustain me through an overnight shift.

      There were, however, the occasional memos posted nearby to be a little more prompt in getting those IOUs taken care of. One of the first ones started with “Children…and I do mean children” and reminded staffers that having the snacks there was a privilege.

      Eventually, the staff rotated a couple of times (as radio stations usually do) and there would be fewer IOUs posted even though it was obvious that items were disappearing. One day, the vendor simply walked in and — without any comment — picked up the box and walked away quickly.

  7. When I worked at WKAU/Appleton-Oshkosh-Green Bay (Wisconsin), Pat Reynolds and myself would order a Dominoes Pizza from Little Chute which was about 5 miles away. The station sat on a rural road between Little Chute and Kaukauna. Then, one day, to our horror, we were told we were outside of their delivery area and they could no longer deliver to us. Being the problem-solvers we were, we told them we’d give them some free plugs on the air and we would tip them BIG. Sure enough, we were back in their delivery area, and the delivery person always got about a 40% tip.

  8. Just found your blog–and I dig it.

    If you want to trade blogroll links, hit me back.

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