Thursday, February 5, 2009

Phil Donahue, I'm not

Back when I started in radio, oh so many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be befriended by a guy by the name of Stan whose shift proceeded mine.
He was co-host of a show called Love Lines- one of those "call-in-and-tell-us-how-pathetic-your-love-life-is-and-we'll-dispense-advice-that-ridicules-your-problem and-makes-people-laugh-at-you-while-making-you-think-we're-actually-trying-to-help-you" shows. It was pretty popular in the city we lived in, what with being on the top rated station in the area and being proceeded by the immensely popular All Request & Dedication Show (‘cause, you know, what 12-18 year old girl- or guy- doesn’t want to send out whatever sappy ballad is popular at the time to their "one true love?").
Anyway, Stan would have me fake call-ins using whatever retarded character we could come up with for me to do (and for some reason, I remember having to imitate Robin Leach a lot) and pose ridiculous “problems” in my character’s love life to be solved. Then, I’d be part of the gang that was “helping”- often by portraying another character and myself at the same time (it was radio- not TV- and switching voices is easy).
When Love Lines ended and Stan moved to an earlier shift, my late show was expanded to five hours. It wasn’t a big deal- I was still just the overnight guy. I had a slightly expanded music library and was able to play the 'racy" stuff (it was a Top 40 station, so that’s not saying all that much) and my friends could come hang out without the boss coming by and wondering what the hell was going on. It was fun.
Still, it was a blast to do shows with Stan, who had me continue portray the lineup of characters I’d created for Love Lines during his version of the All Request & Dedication Show- and his Top Ten at 10 show.

I wasn’t a particularly successful deejay, though. I had fun, but I wasn’t making any money. I ended up getting a “real” job.

Some years later on, I ended up at a country station in the same market, they had a show called The Phone Zone- in the same vein as Love Lines, except with country music listeners. Calls often involved fights in the trailer park. I wasn’t involved in that one. I was part- time, just there to make some extra cash.
Of course, I ended up being on overnights again. Until the 7-midnight guy quit. Then, I got shifted to that slot. It sucked.
First off, I don’t care much for modern country music. Too often, it’s far too “pop” sounding (i.e. Shania Twain) for my tastes (and we didn’t play any "oldies" like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings or classics like Patsy Cline or Hank Senior). On overnights, it wasn’t a big deal. You’d do some voice overs, read the weather, chat about whatever a bit- but, by 2:30 or so, you could pretty much coast. And keep the volume down most all of the time.
But now, here I was with a lame ass call in show that I didn’t really care about and playing a lot of music I couldn’t stand.
Still, my ratings were good. I won four hours (out of the five) in my time slot for my first two ratings periods, despite the fact that I had little interest in keeping the call in show going in the whiny, “my girlfriend is sleeping with my brother,” Jerry Springer-like format it existed in.
I started steering topics get away from that kind of thing. I’d mention politics (mostly local stuff- once generating some pretty funny, irate calls from listeners when I called his honor “Jabba the Mayor”), celebrity stupidity (and this was before there TMZ and other web sites devoted to every detail) and crafting the bullshit out of the Weekly World News into faux news briefs (a favorite from the pop station that I resurrected).

Ratings aside, though- the show still wasn’t particularly good. It was tough to get people out of the habit of calling in about “the girl across the street had my dad’s baby and now she’s coming on to me” kind of stuff. More involved stuff (I am loathe to use any word that implies intelligence) just wasn’t too popular.
My best shows continued to usually involve someone else. Friends who came by to visit could make a comment and I’d run with it. Shortly before Christmas, the girl who did overnights came in early and we ended up doing most of my show as a team. She was a perfect “straight man” (albeit one with great curves) who had great timing. The phone lines stayed lit that night, even well into her shift, and- more important (to me, anyway)- we didn’t have any of the normal “my life sucks” calls.

Unfortunately, the boss called me into his office the next day and said not to have anyone on my show again. Evidently someone at the station thought it might distract from the morning show. Like having another funny show on my somehow damage their ratings? People would realize they actually weren’t very funny? Who knows?

After that, it was back to the boring show, which continued to lose steam and led me to the realization that- unlike my good buddy Stan- I just wasn’t a very good solo act. Give me someone or something to play off of, and I’m like Dean Martin- tossing out one-liners, non-sequiturs, jokes or whatever the situation calls for (or doesn't, which is often even funnier).
Put me in a booth by myself and- well, I was kind of like Art Garfunkel’s solo career. Sure I had my moments, but it just wasn’t as satisfying to the listeners.

I ended up getting canned from the station a few months later because of an off air incident (a story for another time), and that ended my radio career (so far, anyway). I realized I just wasn't going to be successful in "the business" because I had something missing. I loved making people laugh. I enjoying the “acting” facet of broadcasting. I just lacked the desire to be famous (or the drive to be a backstabbing fuckling just to get ahead like so many that I came across in the business were). That was about ten years ago.

My buddy Stanley, by the way, is still going strong in broadcasting. In fact, he’s kind of famous. Stanley is Stanley T. Evans of the Morning Mash Up on the Sirius Hits 1 channel…

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