Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A.J. can go "F" Himself

It's the viral video sensation of the week.  A.J. Clemente, anchoring his first newscast, fresh out of college, dropping an F bomb and another choice four letter word, not knowing his microphone was open at the start of the newscast.  KFYR fired him, which in my book, is a crock of crap. 

The kid screwed up and maybe should have been suspended and never allowed to anchor again, but not fired.  The person that deserves to be punished in this case is the news director.  Yeah, I'm sure Monica Hannan told him, as she proclaimed in her statement, that we tell all employees to treat microphones like they're always on.  I call bullshit.

But I digress.  The real story is the on air barrage of foul language that I dropped on KLWN radio in the winter of 1978.  I had been working for the station for a couple of months, mainly taking the horrendous 6 a.m. shift where I had to man both the AM and FM stations until noon.  It was a terrible job for a college senior who enjoyed staying out late on Saturday nights.

The job was even tougher because after my on-air shift ended at 1 p.m. I drove straight to Kansas City where I interned at KMBC TV.  It made for an 18 hour day.  But that's what you do when you want a chance at making it in broadcasting.

During part of that radio shift I would simultaneously operate both radio stations through the control panel in the FM studio.  I would listen through one station in my left ear in the cheap foam headsets and the other station in my right ear as I would give both station ID's, one at a time, by flipping the microphone switch first to one side, then the other, before throwing into the off position in the middle.

On one particular morning, sometime in February I believe, I came in to find that the right side of the headset wasn't working.  The morning went along uneventfully despite the technical handicap, until 11 a.m. when I went to patch in the second church service of the morning from Plymouth Congregational.  I had given the top of the hour ID's on both stations and bent over to reroute some plugs needed to bring the church service's signal into the audio board.  I couldn't hear a thing.  I kept plugging and unplugging forgetting about the headset problem unable to hear the church service.

That's when the vulgarites started falling out of my mouth.  I think it went along the lines of, I hate this fucking shit, I fucking want to go home.  As the obscenities spewed out of my mouth across the glass newsman Dale Martens, who had arrived for his shift, began pounding on the glass, pointing to the red light that loomed above my head.  I looked up and sheepishly realized what had happened.  I closed the microphone and sure enough the church service was up and running.

Dale was a young radio pro.  He took it in stride.  I openly wondered how long it would be before station general manager Hank Booth would fire me.  I certainly figured I had it coming.  I certainly hadn't impressed him or station operations chief Bob Newton during my short tenure at the station.  I think they saw me as something of an unkempt hippie, who was pretty much clueless.  They weren't too far off.

Monday came and nary a word came my way about the swearing incident.  A week passed, then a month and still no one had said a thing about the cussing incident.  It was about six weeks to two months later when Hank finally summoned me into his office.  When he did I didn't even have the church service on my mind.

Hank cut right to the chase, "What's this I hear about you swearing during the Plymouth Congregational Church Service?"  I looked him in the eye, confessed my sins and told him why it happened but said it still wasn't an excuse.  He looked at me, shook his head and said, "Don't ever let it happen again." 

Serendipity and grad school found me in that exact same job 17 years later.  I no longer had to contend with running both the FM and AM side but I was working as a DJ for KLWN AM on that same 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift.  My second weekend morning on the job severe weather swept through the area and I handled it with reports from citizens, advising people of the danger and doing all of the things I had learned in 17 years as a television producer and news manager.

The next evening when I came in for my shift Bob Newton stuck his head in the door of the control room and said something to the effect, "You got good."  It's probably the best compliment I ever received in my 30 plus years in the business.  In fact, the next time the station expected a severe weather event I was invited to man the control room board.

My outburst didn't earn me an appearance on The Today Show or David Letterman and I'm fine with that.  Swearing on the air happens.  A once in a lifetime slip shouldn't cost anyone a job.

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