(Pictured: How we imagined our typical listener. Like every other memory, this one is subject to error.)
Here are a few more random recollections about being the album-rock night guy at WXXQ in Freeport in the summer of 1980.
—One of the interesting characters on the staff was a newsman named Bud. Bud seemed old, although it occurs to me he now may have been 60. He had a somewhat irreverent attitude toward his job that occasionally crept through on the air. He once referred to a particularly heavy rainstorm as a “toad strangler,” which is a term I have used myself ever since.
—When you turned on the microphone in the news studio, it automatically triggered a continuous tape loop that played a teletype sound effect (something like this), intended to provide the ambiance of a busy newsroom underneath the newscast. The real wire machine sat right outside my studio window. I remember ripping and reading the story about Richard Pryor setting himself on fire, 35 years ago yesterday.
—I would occasionally bring the small portable TV from the newsroom into my studio and set it up under the control board to watch the Cubs while I worked. I also had it on when Ronald Reagan very nearly chose former president Gerald Ford to be his running mate at the Republican convention that summer.
—The jock who was on before me was a guy I had listened to when the station was in its previous incarnation as a Top 40 blowtorch. He had a stalker, a young woman who was quite profoundly in love with him, she said. She’d call the studio line at 6:05 and ask if Jeff was there. I’d look right at him and say no he wasn’t. Did I know where Jeff was going ? No I didn’t.
—The station had an AM sister that operated only during daytime hours. At the start of the summer, the evening shift, 6:00 until sign-off, was split between a couple of high-school girls. One of them seemed to have potential; she’d ask questions of me—the grizzled veteran in the next studio, with 18 whole months of on-air experience—and take the answers to heart. But the other had a nice voice with nary a thought in her head. On those nights when the weather went sideways, I collected the warnings off the wire and took the pertinent ones to the AM studio. One night was especially busy, with several warnings in effect at once. I took the latest one into the studio and found the girl just sitting there, dead air, stricken look on her face, overwhelmed by the requirements of her job on that particular night. In memory, I manage to gently coax her into doing her job. In actuality, I probably yelled at her to get something on the air goddammit and then read this warning. It wasn’t long before she quit (or was fired). The other girl was demoted to weekends.
—I wasn’t officially the station’s music director—Jeff was. But it wasn’t long before he was letting me pick new songs for airplay and set up the rotations, figuring that if I wanted to do what he considered tedious clerical work without getting paid extra for it, then godspeed you, boy. I tried making a hit out of Billy Joel’s “Sleeping With the Television On,” but I’m still waiting.
—In August, we did a promotion with the local Dr. Pepper bottler to sponsor self-propelled paddleboat races on the Pecatonica River. We promoted the thing to death, encouraging our listeners to enter and race, only to have maybe a dozen people show up on the day of the event. It was a disaster. I can still see myself in one of the paddleboats, trying to muster up some sort of excitement among the dozen, and in myself. Not long after that, my week of shows at the Winnebago County Fair bombed, too. Perhaps our promotional strategy was not very well thought out.
I wish I could remember more about that job in the summer of 1980. It was exactly the kind of experience every young broadcaster should have, thrown in and and expected to swim, but in a safely shallow pool. I was lucky to have had it.