This is the story of how I said the word “Fuck” really loud over the air on a Christian radio station. On a Sunday morning. During services.
And got away with it.Many moons ago, I went to kollidge and lerned sumthings. Mostly about oil painting and philosophy (two subjects that are clearly of demand in this adult economy), but I also learned a lot about radio because I was a disk jockey for the college station, WMUL FM 88.1.
I slotted tracks for a year or so before being promoted to the “producer” of the “Alternative” format. This was just as the grunge era was taking off, so being involved in music at this time was an amazing thing. On half of the nights of the week, I spun in the local “alternative” nightclub, Gumby’s, which was also an amazing thing. I got paid in beer.
I went to CMJ, got in a fight with G.G. Allin (about two months before his death), drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniel’s with David Yow of The Jesus Lizard, interviewed lots of artists, and picked up a whole shoebox of phone numbers (which were never called).
I loved this gig. I’d probably do it today if there were any money in it. Which there wasn’t.
To make money, though, I got a job at another radio station. A different kind of radio station. A Christian radio station.
Imagine my gravelly ass voice saying, “You’re listening to the broadcast voice of Jesus Christ in the tri-state, FM 107 point 9, WEMM.”
Mostly the job consisted of overnights or weekend mornings and it was nearly always pushing “carts”. For the un-enlightened, “carts” were like eight-track cassettes except that they looped forever and knew when to stop playing. Radio programs used them (do they still?) for intros and outtros (both were on the same cart, in sequence).
Carts are “fire and forget”. You slot it, pot it (turn up the broadcast volume for it), press play, wait for it to count down, and then start the program, usually provided on cassette tape or (rarely, in those days) compact disc or vinyl.
So my time, especially on Sunday mornings, was spent thus:
- Slot the cart (5 seconds)
- Slot the tape (5 seconds)
- Fire the cart, wait for the intro to finish (15 – 30 seconds)
- Fire the tape (2 seconds)
- Read a book (30 minutes)
- Fire the cart’s outtro (15 seconds)
- Repeat for 6 hours
Anyways it was pretty boring but I was basically getting paid ten bucks an hour to re-read Lord of the Rings.
Normally the Sunday shows were pre-recorded but every now and then there was a little preacher man who would stop by the studio and run it live. He had a little retinue who accompanied him: a woman to play piano and a middle-aged guitarist. They would set up in Studio B, where there was a piano and multiple microphones.
Studio B was wired up so that it was connected to a single “pot,” or potentiometer. Pots are sort-of almost like “volume controls” – they determine how strong the broadcast is going to be from their source. Higher = louder.
Pots are usually color-coded. In this case: red for turntables, blue for carts, green for cassettes. Gold for my mike; silver for the mikes in Studio B.
Anyways. These guys show up and get set up in Studio B. The time comes for them to go live, so I put on my headphones (you always do this when manipulating on-air sound), and I slot their intro cart. They know to be silent until I give them the “go” signal, which is exactly as cool as you think it is: they’re looking at me through the glass, and I just turn and point to them.
So here’s what happens:
I start the intro and I crack the silver pot up to about 1/4. The intro plays, and when it starts to fade, I do the cool-ass finger-pointing while fading down the cart. In Studio B, they immediately start going to town: I see her start banging away on the piano, and he’s dealing thunder from the pulpit.
But my headphones, they are silent. The needle is flat.
Sometimes the mikes are wonky, so I crank the silver pot up some more. Nothing, just a hiss in the headphones. We’re now about five seconds into DEAD AIR, which is every DJ’s nightmare. I’m confused, so I say to myself:
And the headphones bleed back to me, very loud, “what the fuck-uck-uck-uck” while the needle on the board pegs itself all the way to the right.
I’d cranked up the gold pot. My microphone. Not the silver pot, which was Studio B.
I fixed the mike situation and sat down, defeated, in the chair. I spent the next half hour waiting for the little yellow light by the phone to start blinking. The phone call that was going to be my last act as a professional DJ (because seriously, who is going to hire me?).
The light never fired. The little preacher man and his people packed it up an hour later and left.
I guess they had a listenership of exactly zero because no one called to complain. I had that job for another three months before I was finally let go – but for different reasons.
I wasn’t a “cultural fit”. No shit, Sherlock. I was a long-haired metalhead who wasn’t shy about expressing his disdain for organized religion.
I was surprised they hired me in the first place.