October 25, 2005

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part XIV

It was October 25, 1985. A Friday, the end of my first full "work" week in the Twin Cities.

Well, I was learning that looking for a job was hard work, anyway.

A bit of background; my first radio job was at KEYJ in Jamestown, ND, in 1979, starting the summer before my junior year of high school. My first boss, Bob Richardson, had a great philosophy; the community kept him in business, so he was going to give back by (among other things) teaching the young 'uns how to do radio. He made a pretty strict point of keeping a couple of high school or college kids on the part-time staff. And it was a great part-time job. Bob was gruff enough to make Lou Grant run yipping up a tree, but a kid coming out of his station knew a lot about how radio was done. High school kids could find themselves covering the news (I did), calling play by play, learning sales or engineering or pretty much anything you could do in a station. Many people went on from KEYJ to big careers.

In 1980, a couple of slick late-twentysomething weasels who'd been knocking around the business for a few years bought the station, changed the call letters to KQDJ - and, a few weeks, later, fired most of us locals and brought in a bunch of their own people. It was a valuable lesson at 17 - never get attached to a job. It was a lesson I learned 10 years before most of the workforce; it was a crappy feeling at the time, but it's served me well.

I went on to work at a couple more stations during college - KDAK in Carrington, ND and then back to KQDJ, which was under new management. But while it was still a decent part time job, the horizons were decidedly narrower. Part time announcers...announced. Part time. No play by play, no news - and barely any disc jockeying; much of the nighttime lineup was via satellite. I began to learn the misery of so many radio gigs in the eighties and nineties - the "Live assist" job, better known as "watching the needle bob" in those days when a radio station still needed to have a live human in the building when it was on the air.

So I was pretty well sick of radio by the time I got out of college. I figured (except for one brief, miserable job interview for a news gig in Fargo) that my radio days were over.


Another long day on the road; I made plans to meet my host for a demonstration later in the day. More on that later.

I started out the day with another job interview, again over in Edina, but this one - a switch! - a solo interview with one person!

The gig was with a personnel service; I'd be working as a recruiter. The interviewer was a late-twenty-something guy who looked like he'd already been eaten and crapped out; pale, ulcerous, he looked like a poster child for excessive job stress. Immaculately dressed and wearing tinted glasses, he also seemed to be doing fairly well in the headhunting business.

We talked for half an hour. I was slowly learning - I thought - the big lesson of job hunting; tell them what they want to hear.

At the end of the interview, he looked at my resume, grimaced like he had something wrong with his stomach, and groaned as much as said "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Huh? "I beg your pardon?"

"Well, it's just that you're from a small town. Maybe you should find a job that's more suited to that sort of background"

I sat, more or less shocked into silence. "OK...any suggestions?" I asked, not really listening to the reply. I politely waited for him to finish, and took my uncomfortable leave.

Driving away, I punched the steering wheel the way I wished I'd punched the interviewer. I resolved that my jitters and inferiority complex about being just off the turnip truck had to turn into something else. I sprouted a huge chip on my shoulder that day; no more passive-aggressive Scandinavian nice guy. It served me well in coming months.

I killed a few hours in a library, and went to my next appointment, to check out another "Roommates Wanted" lead. I'd been to a few of these the previous week; this was the last remaining ad.


The stop was a huge improvement; the guy, a late-twentysomething who I remember only as "Dave", was a nice enough guy, who'd had a roommate bail on him; he needed someone to help share the rent in a two-bedroom basement apartment in South Minnepolis, and pronto. $212.50 a month, all utilities except phone paid, $175 deposit, preference to people who wanted to get moved in in time to pay October rent. I peeled off $175 and made a reservation on October 1.

Apartment? Check. Now there was the little matter of a job.


My host - a college friend - had parents who ran a mission in the inner city of Minneapolis. Among their goals was to get the pr0n industry out of the inner city.

Mildly libertarian as I was, I had a qualm or two about the goal of forcing legal businesses out of town, and the infringement on property rights - but I figured after a week and a half of squatting on the couch for free, I owed everyone some shoe leather.

Everyone was picketing the Rialto Theatre, an old theatre at the corner of Lake and Chicago that had long since gone to seed; it was an XXX theatre, along with peep shows and a bookstore.

Outside, my host's parents were joined by two dozen other people; I was one of about four males there, the only one under age 50, one of two taller than 5'10. One could say I stood out in the crowd.

I picked up a sign, and started pacing in the oval with the rest of the protesters, mostly older women. The traffic raced past on Lake; some people honked; others gave one figure salutes and taunts. Someone leaned out of one of the upstairs windows and dropped a water balloon - or at least I remember hoping it was water - which landed on the sidewalk between a couple of protesters, splattering several. However, having a 6'5 guy in a bandanna and a battle jacket was making the response a tad more polite than it usually was on a Friday night, some of the marchers told me.

Another sign that I was conspicuous? A reporter (who I later learned was Alan Costantini, long-time reporter at KARE11, which at the time was still WUSA11) crossed the street with a cameraman and a microphone. "Mind if we ask you a few questions?" So I did my first standup interview, there on Lake Street, looking a little goofy and disheveled in my Union Jack bandanna.

After Costantini left, I realized - "Crap! Networking opportunity lost!

As I mentally kicked myself, I heard a sonorous voice. "Excuse me, sir. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions".

It was a shorter guy, with longer, non-TV hair. He carried a professional-grade cassette recorder - the kind only radio reporters and anthropologists carried.

"Sure", I replied. "But I have a question for you, first. I'm just down from North Dakota, and I need a job, and I've worked in radio, and I was wondering if you could take me to your leader?"

The guy's eyes widened. "North Dakota? Where?"


"Ah. I'm from Casselton", a little town 15 miles west of Fargo.

He introduced himself as Tom Myhre, and we did an interview. I must have done a good job; at the end, he snapped off the cassette and handed me a business card. "I'll tell my executive producer, Bruce Huff, about you. Call him on Monday, OK?" I wrote the name on the card as Tom went back to his car.

I finished out the protest, and we adjourned to someone's house for pizza and pop and the 10PM news, where I got to watch my weird-looking mug try to equivocate about property rights and the neighborhood's right to deal with nuisances.

And I nearly wore the card out, checking and re-checking it, memorizing the phone numbers and names and addresses.

And before I went to bed that night, I took out my old portable typewriter and re-wrote a resume that read less like a 1930's perfume ad and more like a radio guy. I was ready for Monday.

Posted by Mitch at October 25, 2005 04:15 AM | TrackBack
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