My first radio job, at KEYJ in Jamestown, North Dakota, started 35 years ago this past month or so. After months – like, a year – of hanging around the station bothering the staff and trying to figure out how everything worked, the owner, Bob Richardson, decided to give me a job. I spent most of August training – which involved coming in to the studio at 5AM Saturday mornings with John Weisphenning and Dick Ingstand, learning how to run the board and the transmitter and spin records and read news.
It all led up to my first day “soloing” – September 1. I got up at 4:30, got to the station at 4:45, warmed up the transmitter, picked through the 50 feet of wire copy that had printed out of the AP teletype, organized my newscasts, and got things ready go to. At 5:55AM, I turned on the mike, read the signon script, played the national anthem, and the day got started for real.
There were one-hour news blocks at 7, 8 – each with long blocks of national, statewide and local news, weathercasts, sports news focusing on local and North Dakota teams (the NDSU Bison, then as now, dominated all they surveyed), reports from the nursing homes, the city and rural fire departments, a run through the weeks’ arrest reports, and more. At 10AM, “Trading Post” – a 30 minute show where listeners bought, sold and traded things. And in between, music – punctuated by five minutes of network news at the top of the hour, and five minutes of local news, weather and sports at the bottom, with weather forecasts at :15 and :45 after the hour. And then another hour of news, weather, sports and local flava at noon.
Once I got past 1PM, it was downhill; just music and the weather and the bottom of the hour news. You could breathe a little.
I was on from 5AM til 3PM. It was a long, tiring day. And I loved it.
And I did it again for the next couple weeks.
The 22nd started out routinely enough; I was still a little rough, but getting the hang of things fast. That was one nice thing about those loooong board shifts with all that news; you got a ton of practice, fast.
Around 1:30, Bob Richardson, the owner, called from his lake cabin. The guy who was supposed to work from 3 until the midnight sign-off was very, very sick, and nobody else was available - Richardson would have done it, I suspect, had he been in town - and would I mind working the evening shift too?
I asked if someone could fill in for a couple hours so I could grab some food and a shower. He rounded up the weekday evening guy to come in for a couple hours; I biked home, ate, showered, and came back and worked until midnight – which was mostly just spinning music and reading the news at the bottom of the hour and, at about 11:55, reading the “signoff” script, playing George Beverly Shea’s “Our Father”, and signing off the station.
I biked home through a gorgeous, pleasant North Dakota night – the bugs weren’t swarming around the street lights, so it was a good night – and went to bed, exhausted.
I think it was 7AM when my dad woke me up; I had a phone call.
It was Richardson; the guy who was supposed to be on Saturday Night was also supposed to be on Sunday; he was still sick, and he still couldn’t find another substitute. Could I do it? And, by the way, sign the station on real quick? (We normally signed on at 7:30 on Sundays, and went off the air at 10PM).
And so I biked back to the station, signed on (on time!); the schedule was lighter (no hour-long news blocks, and lots of church services and recorded religious shows)…
…but it was another long day.
I got off the air at 3 – for real, this time – and walked home, counting up the numbers; 24 hours in one weekend, times my pay rate ($2.90/hour) – I made damn near seventy bucks!
That put a little spring in my step.