Smart Enough to Figure

Here’s a reboot of a post from 2006 about a series of events that took place in November and December of 1994.

On the first working day of 1994, I got fired from my full-time radio gig. I spent that year working part-time in radio, looking for a job in (or, preferably, out) of the broadcasting industry. In November, I answered a blind-box ad in a trade magazine for a jock job that matched my qualifications—and got it. They’d advertised it as being “in the Milwaukee area,” although it turned out to be in Racine, Wisconsin, which is about 30 miles south of Milwaukee, far enough to be its own radio market with nearby Kenosha. But it was close enough for The Mrs. and me, so we made plans to move.

The general manager and I decided that I would start in January, but he asked if I’d consider coming to town on a couple of weekends in December to do some client remotes. Sure, I said. The first weekend, the program director and I did a remote broadcast at a jewelry store. Between segments, the PD—we will call him Chuck because that is not his real name—shared with me a few tales that sounded pretty far out of school, about the incompetence of the owner, the ineptitude of the staff, and the station’s lousy equipment, none of which had been apparent to me when I interviewed. I didn’t say much, but I kept careful mental notes.

The next weekend, the general manager invited me to his house for dinner. “There are a couple of things you need to know,” he told me as he handed me a beer. “First, there was a little problem with your remote last weekend.” It turns out the client had been very dissatisfied with my performance. He apparently didn’t like what I said on the air or how I was dressed, despite the fact I said and wore the same things I’d said at and worn for every remote I’d done in my life—and despite the fact that the store was full of listeners spending money the whole time I was there. The general manager downplayed the objections, although he did let slip that the station’s absentee owner had parachuted into town from his suburban-Chicago home for the sole purpose of assuaging the client.

“The other thing you need to know,” said the GM as he handed me a second beer, “is that Chuck gave his notice this week.” He had been the station’s third PD in the last eight months. During the interview process, I had vehemently insisted that I had no interest in being program director of the station, ever. Now the job was looking me right in the face, on top of the other stuff I’d learned about the station since I took the job.

It made for a long and sleepless night at the Super 8.

The next day, Chuck and I did our remote. We talked more about the station and about his decision to leave. I asked a lot more questions this time. As we were pulling into the station’s parking lot afterward, I said to him: “You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, but if you were me, would you take this job?” Chuck, without pausing for a second (and to his eternal credit), said, “No.”

Monday morning, back home in Iowa, I called the general manager and told him I wouldn’t be coming to work for him after all. I felt bad about it, because he was a decent guy, but I’m sure he was smart enough to figure out the reason why.

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