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Prior to living in the sticks of Northern California I had never been exposed to small town radio before. I grew up listening to the seasoned pros in major markets like the Bay Area, San Diego, the O.C. and L.A. The jocks who work in these large metropolitan areas are typically slick and polished. Yet they had all paid their dues in some one horse town like Fort Bragg. And they all have stories to tell of how they had to sweep the studio floor, wash windows, buff the microphone or shine up the console. The listener may think you’ve reached celebrity status but you’re really nothing more than a juke box with a feather duster. I wonder if Wolfman Jack would have had the same mystique if people knew he was pushing a broom to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
Small town radio can also sound a lot like amateur hour. Mistakes which would be unforgivable in the big city are numerous in the more rural communities. Your only saving grace is that the listeners are quite accustomed to it. And for some, that little crackpot station might be their only point of reference of what real broadcasting is all about. In small town U.S.A. it is not uncommon to hear some bumbling jock trip over his tongue between records, or butcher the news, or introduce Barry Manilow as Willy Nelson. It happens. And back in the day when songs were still recorded on vinyl platters you could hear music segues that resembled the sounds you might hear coming from a train wreck. These rinky-dink stations also put out more dead air than a graveyard. Either the deejay miscalculated in his back timing, got distracted with a phone call or took too long in the bathroom. Maybe you’ve wondered what jocks do when they have to go. Well, in my day they’d put on ‘Macarthur Park’. This was an extremely long song and most jocks I knew didn’t even care for the tune. In my humble opinion, the only reason it got as much airplay as it did was it gave deejays ample time to run to the toilet. You can thank our bladders for getting that song on Billboard’s Top 40. The album version of ‘American Pie’ also aided us in the area of potty breaks. If broadcasting school had trained us to hold our pee for four hours Don McClean might never have scored a number one hit with that song.
I had my first blooper the very first day I started at KDAC. To add insult to injury, it happened the very first time I opened up the microphone. All I was supposed to do was give a quick station ID. You would think anyone could pull off a simple assignment such as this. I don’t know how I blew it but I did. In all honesty, I thought I had nailed it and had come across like a true veteran of the airwaves. I was certain that my stellar voice had cut through the coastal fog and enchanted its way into the hearts of countless deejay groupies who dreamt under majestic pines while clutching transistor radios tight to their bosoms. I knew they would be begging for more after hearing my smooth and rich voice announce, “KDAC, Los Angeles.” But all that pride and fantasy took a nosedive when Dave reminded me, “It’s KDAC, Fort Bragg!”
This would not be the last of my blunders; there would be a host of others to follow. Generally speaking I’d get hammered every time I read news copy. It seems like I was always mispronouncing important words like ‘gubernatorial’. Even though ‘goober natural’ is a much more amusing way to express such a drab term, my boss wasn’t impressed in the least. Reading sports copy proved to be an even bigger catastrophe for me. Because I never took an interest in competitive games most sports terms were as foreign to me as tuna fish is to Jessica Simpson. However, because I have read my fair share of PGA headlines I now know that a ‘bogey’ is not to be confused with those irritating little objects found in ones nostrils. When I blew that one the GM really got teed off but… that was par for the course.
For a good while there I was working seven days per week at KDAC. Weekends were especially rough. My shift would end at midnight on Saturday and I’d be back in the saddle on Sunday morning at six sharp. For the first couple hours it was all religious programming. Reverend J. Vernon McGee’s program would play off a huge reel-to-reel recorder and after he wrapped up I’d cut live to a local church feed. I had no interest in any either of these broadcasts and, quite honestly, they had a way of lulling my heavy eyelids back to sleep. One time, after finding my face flat on the console, I saw poor McGee’s program spinning helplessly off the reel. After a quick glance at the clock I soon realized that I was responsible for ten full minutes of dead air. It seems that everyone else in Fort Bragg was snoozing like I was as not one person ever called to complain.
No doubt, I had my fair share of flubs at KDAC and I’m sure they caused as much disgrace to the station as they did to me. But all my bloopers combined seemed trivial compared to Dave’s big blunder. Chris and I were in the broadcast studio while I was doing my show. Through the wide window into the production room we could see Dave trying to pre-record the fish and game report. It was obvious he was getting very frustrated as we watched him rewind the tape time and again to start over. With every take he’d trip over his tongue then fly into a fit of rage and cuss out the walls. Time was running short for Dave and the program was due to go on the air in minutes. After giving it a fifth or sixth whirl Dave got tongue tied again. He had another cussing fit and when he saw Chris and me laughing he flew into the studio to give us a verbal lashing with words unfit for polite society. After calling us every name in the book Dave returned to the studio to record his cheesy little program. He finally got through his read with the next take then quickly queued the tape up for broadcast.
Dave made two crucial mistakes. The first goof was not stopping the recorder when he threw his hissy-fit. The second mistake was not pushing the ‘record’ button when he did the clean re-take. So when the broadcast went out, which listeners thought to be aired live, everyone on the Mendocino Coast got a shocking surprise. The program began with, “Good afternoon, this is Dave Granite with the KDAC fish and guh… guh, oh *&%#!, I HATE DOING THIS B*** :?(*&%$##!” After a host of many foul expletives you could hear two angry feet stomp out of the production room, then Dave could be heard in the studio cussing out Chris and me. It all happened so fast and unexpectedly that there was no time to stop this prerecorded rampage. Every vulgar word you can imagine went out over the public airwaves. As you might already suspect, Dave got torn into pretty bad by the boss. Afterward he told Chris and me, “Just be glad it wasn’t you! You would have been fired on the spot!” We knew very well that he was right but that didn’t stop us from laughing our heads off. We were in hysterics for days.
* * * * *
Bloopers are a fact of life, not just for deejays but for all of us. The only difference is your bloopers aren’t broadcast over the public airwaves. Can you imagine if they were? Perhaps I should qualify what a blooper is. First let me state what a blooper isn’t. Those sins we commit knowingly and willingly, those are not bloopers. Bloopers are those things you can put an ‘oops’ in front of. To say, “Oops, I stole a boom box from Wal-Mart!” doesn’t fly very well. Bloopers aren’t planned or premeditated, they just happen without any forethought whatsoever. For example, we recently had a Christian rock group come out from California to play at our church. These young guys had never been to Texas before so a couple of them decided to record their trip on video. In their effort to capture a panoramic view of the Texas Hill Country they climbed up a water tower. It wasn’t until the police pulled up that they realized they had broken the law. These poor kids spent the night in jail and had to come up with a thousand dollars each for bail money.
Even bloopers have consequences. Just because they weren’t planned or premeditated doesn’t get us off the hook. We still have to admit guilt and take responsibility for them. Bloopers are also good reminders that it’s impossible to keep the law no matter how hard we try. That’s why we can’t trust laws to save us. The Rabbis and Pharisees made a big mistake by adding more laws on top of God’s laws. That only increases blooper potential. What we need is grace that’s big enough to cancel out all our bloopers. And that is the kind of grace we have at our disposal through Christ Jesus. He will rewind the entire reel of your life and record ‘forgiven’ over every last blooper.
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Terry, this was so good. Fun read that caught me from the start, and kept me reading right through to the excellent message at the end. Very good blend, well shared. Hmmm ... so that's why Macarthur's Park and the loooooong version of American Pie had so much air time. One of the great mysteries of my teen years finally solved. With love, Deb (Editor, FaithWriters' Magazine and Challenge Coordinator)
Beautiful and hilarious...I live in Laytonville, by the way.