Saturday, April 17, 2010

On the Radio

It took me more than two years of applying, but late in the summer before my senior year of college KLWN AM hired me.  I had applied for every job imaginable.  I ended up with the Saturday afternoon air shift from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. followed by the 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. air shift on Sunday mornings, the shift from hell.

The station was owned by the Booth family.  The old man, Arden, was pretty salty.  His only contribution was poetry that he would record and that we played from time to time.  The segment was called "Poetic License."  To say his contribution to the daily broadcasts were awful would be an understatement.

Then there was his son, Hank.  He was the general manager and I think he hated the job.  Max Rife, a former assistant principal at Lawrence High once described Hank as a block off the old chip.  Hank was a rather large man while his father was slim and trim.

The one think Hank loved was doing play by play for Lawrence High football.  I had worked in proximity to Hank's football broadcasts for the last three years while working for Sunflower Cablevision.  Hank would turn manic during his play by play, sometimes thrashing about the press box like a deranged dog, shouting so loud into the microphone that a radio wasn't always a necessity to pick up the broadcast.  He would cry and wail for his beloved Lawrence Lions.

The AM station was a money maker but the FM station, which played AOR, raked in the cash.  You couldn't tell it by the station's decor.  It was in pretty shabby condition.  Amazingly when I returned to work at the station during my years as a grad student nothing had changed.  Not even the carpet.

I worked with some wonderful people at KLWN.  There was Bob Newton, the beleaguered operations manager, Dale Martens, an all round nice guy in the newsroom, and then there was "Big Blue" Bob Neu.  Bob and I did Lawrence High basketball together.  More on that in a moment.  Our first sports broadcast we did was from atop a crow's nest overlooking the football field at Wamego.  It was a high school playoff game pitting McLouth against Wamego.  Bob was a big guy.  The two of us had to climb a rickety ladder and crowd into the crow's nest with a coordinator from the McLouth football team.  It was crowded, cold, and scary.

The basketball season was amazing because it was the first year that Bob Frederick, the late, great K.U. athletic director, coached the Lions.  I've never seen a team work and hustle so hard.  The team was the embodiment of scrappy.  I had gotten to knew Frederick, running with him time to time.  The last game Bob Neu and I covered that year was on a late winter night in Hutchinson.  The Lions were trying to play their way into the state tournament.  The drive was an icy nightmare of with all manner of vehicles lining the highway ditches.  Unfortunately the Lions fell short and our season was over.

Then there was the shift from hell.  Getting up at 5:30 a.m. every Sunday morning was a challenge for a college senior with an active Saturday night social life.  I would often go to work on two hours sleep and reeking of alcohol.  By the spring I had added an internship at KMBC on Sundays that required me to be at the TV station at 2 p.m.  So I worked from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Sundays.

The Sunday shift had its own set of peculiarities.  It required the operator to run both the FM and AM stations simultaneously.  Part of it involved running back and forth between the studios, some of the programming could be run out of the FM studio through a crazy maze of patch panels that allowed the DJ to run both stations and air local church services.  You could listen to the FM side through one side of your headset and the AM side through the other side.

On one particular Sunday the headset was broken.  But I somehow forgot about the malfunctioning headset by about 11 a.m. when it was time to patch in the Plymouth Congregational service.  I had dutifully opened my microphone and had given the station ID and patched in the Plymouth service and heard nothing.  I patched and repatched still hearing nothing and started cussing up a blue streak.  I was so angry and confused about what was happening.  The four letter bombs were interrupted by Dale Martens pounding on the glass that separated my studio from the newsroom.  He frantically pointed at the red light.  My microphone was open and the church service had been there all along, I just couldn't hear it through the faulty ear phones.

Dale had only gotten more than a couple of calls about the language and I figured my goose was cooked.  Monday came and went but nothing happened.  A week passed and still no word about expletive filled Sunday service.  It wasn't until two months later when Hank Booth called me into his office to query me about that particular Sunday.  Hank gave me a stern lecture and told me not to let it happen again.  I was shocked that I wasn't fired.  My guess is that Hank probably saw the humor in the situation.

But my radio career was about to go on a 17 year hiatus because KMBC news director Ridge Shannon was ready to offer me a part time job.  It was a job that allowed me to do a little bit of everything and would set me on a career path as a television news producer.

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