It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

Summer was about to start.  My sophomore year of high school was grinding to a miserable, hormone-addled, C-minus-average halt.  The lowlights of the year: I’d gotten a strong-”F+” average in Geometry, I’d gotten straight “D”s in the grammar semester (after aceing the literature and writing half of the year), and I’d finally given up the ghost on whatever passed for an athletic career – a tough choice, since I did love playing basketball; I just hated coaches. 

The highlights: I’d gotten straight “A”s in the various social studies classes (Modern Africa, Western Civ, Modern Asia, offered in quick ten-week hit-and-runs), which was the norm for me.  And after my performance in Geo, I’d snuck out a “B” in the final, which salvaged a “D” for the year.  I’d played the “villain”, “Mortimer Frothingham”, in the fall play, a melodrama, and had managed to parlay my meager skills on the guitar into a spot in the stage band.

Lower-lights?  My hair was greasy enough to wring out in liquid form.  And while I was finally getting toward the end of my acne-ridden phase, my face still looked like Bryan Adams after a bad run-in with a wolverine.

Mid-lights? I was taking biology in summer school.  Summer School at Jamestown High School back then was an odd combination; half the kids were the ones that’d flunked the classes, and needed to pass to graduate.  The other half were the highly-motivated kids – and, my grades notwithstanding, I was, if only because getting three years of summer-school credits out of the way would allow me to graduate at least half a year early.  And I really, really wanted to do that.

But summer was coming.  And more than anything, I wanted a job.

Dad had mentioned, whilst over at Grandma Bea’s house the day before for our usual weekly Sunday dinner, that I ought to give Bob Richardson at KEYJ a call.  KEYJ was one of two radio stations in Jamestown; more importantly, it was the one that made a point of hiring local kids, especially kids from the high school and college, and teaching them how to do radio.

And today was Monday.  Go-time.

If you know me today, it may not be readily apparent, but I was pretty cripplingly shy at personal contact back then, and that was talking with regular people – classmates, teachers, anyone who wasn’t a close life-long friend (and I didn’t have a whole lot of them).  And Bob Richardson was not a “regular person”.  Richardson, who’d worked at KEYJ since the early fifties and had owned it for ten years (i.e., forever, to me, at that age) was the voice of authority in Jamestown.  His was the big, booming voice behind the noon news, a million football broadcasts, “Live Line” (Richardson’s half-hour daily call-in show that was the closest I came to talk radio until I moved to the Twin Cities)…everywhere.  If radio – the entire medium – had a sound to me back then, it was Richardson.

So I waited in my parents’ living room until everyone – Mom, Dad, my sister and brother – were all out of the house.  I calmed my jangling nerves enough to dial the number – 252-1400 – and waited.

The receptionist picked up.  If that wasn’t bad enough, when I asked “Is Mr. Richardson there?”, she said “yes” and put me on hold.

I started taking three deep breaths.  I’d read somewhere that that was a good way to calm your nerves. 

I was halfway into Breath Three when the phone picked up.  “THIS IS BOB“.

Bo-weep.

“Hi.  I’m Mitch Berg – Bruce Berg’s son”.  It never hurt to drop Dad’s name around Jamestown; everyone in town had either had dad in school, or their kids, or parents had.  Indeed, all of Richardson’s kids had been in one of Dad’s classes or another.  Also, he ran the Jamestown High School Radio Club, which did its annual project over at KEYJ.  I took a breath.  “I’m interested in radio, and I thought I’d call and see if there were any part-time jobs available at the station, and if there were if you’d keep me in mind for one?”

Silence.

And more silence.

“Hmmm”, Richardson growled.  “You do have a decent voice, and fairly good diction”. 

More silence.  I could feel the sweat.

“Tell you what.  There’s nothing right now, but there might be something coming up soon.  I’ll keep you in mind…”

And that was about it.

I hung up, relieved to have survived.

Onward with Summer!

6 thoughts on “It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

  1. Great story! I once sent a resume to a radio station for job when I got out of college. Got a form letter back. Rejected.

    Years later, I ended up marrying the guy’s daughter. Never could find that rejection letter, though.

  2. My sister, who knew somebody who knew somebody, once got me the chance to do a radio commercial. I was the right age. Show up and read a script–easy money. In the commercial, I was sort of the straight man to a young woman who was the star of this clothing store commercial. For some reason, I started sounding like Woody Allen. It came out of nowhere, and I couldn’t shut it off. For some reason, I was channeling Woody Allen and I couldn’t stop. And the more nervous I got, the more I sounded like Woody Allen. They must have thought I was nuts, and I’m sure they weren’t too happy with my sister either. That was my half hour of radio experience. :)

  3. 30 years ago today… and a star was born.

    I got into radio at the local college station, including writing commercials as well as voicing them. I can definitely understand the appeal.

  4. Did a Saturday morning radio show during my college years at WBCR, “Commercial-Free 90.3, Your Stateline Alternative.” It was a 10 Watt station for the first two years, so you couldn’t get the signal unless you were essentially standing right next to the tower. Favorite moment: playing “I Don’t Want to Go Down to the Basement” by the Ramones as an intro to a tornado warning.

  5. My stint in commercial radio 40 years ago was for a station that broadcast the local semi-pro baseball games. On game nights I engineered. Other nights, my play list consisted of cuts from Patti Page, Nashville Skyline, 3 Dog Night and the Archies — and that was the good stuff.

    After a bunch of format changes over the years, it’s now…. conservative talk radio.

  6. My alma mater (KEYJ changed its calls to KQDJ in 1980) is now Fox Sports Net.

    Which is downright depressing.

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