THURSDAY, JULY 30, 2009
WHEN WORK WAS FUN
First in an occasional seriesBack in the day, before people actually said things like “back in the day” I felt that I worked in an industry that I could spend the rest of my life working in. How lucky was I? Some people can go through their entire life hating what they do – never once being happy getting up in the morning and heading off to work. Not me, I enjoyed what I did.What did I do for a living? I worked in radio. Not satellite radio, internet radio, HD radio, not even Radio Shack. Nope, I worked in good old fashioned terrestrial radio.
What do I do now? I work in radio. Not satellite radio, internet radio, HD radio, not even Radio Shack. Nope, I work in good old fashioned terrestrial radio.
You see, things are more than a little different these days. Whereas most stations were able to operate with a full, experienced staff once upon a time, nowadays, most are filled with a few ghosts of radio days past (sort of like me) and a few inexperienced and low paid folks who happen to need a job. What makes radio different than any other industry suffering through the Great Recession today? Not one fucking thing. Trouble is that’s what’s really wrong. Radio once used to be a fun, vibrant and exciting career. Especially if you found yourself working for a popular, active station that had a loyal responsive audience, and a crew filled with the desire to be the best. Best of all, it was different, and everyone wanted to do it.
I try my best every day to try and grasp just a piece of that old attitude – when there was an office filled with talented people who all had their eyes on the prize and every day left you with another great story, and often, another lesson learned in your personal growth. Those days are sadly harder to find as each year goes by. More corporate downsizing, drastic economic conditions resulting in layoffs, firings and cutbacks, increased competition for smaller piles of ad dollars, all adds up to radio losing much of it’s advantage as a cool, creative career choice. Again, now it’s just really no different than almost any other industry.
Like any other old fart, I’m filled with stories. I’m also full of malt, hops and bong resin but that’s a story for another time. When I’m faced with a particularly challenging day, I find it somewhat calming to think back upon some of the better times, in the hope that somehow, someday I can play a role in bringing them back. Idealistic? Sure, but everyone needs their own visions and hopes to keep their sparks firing, lest we simply burn out.
I’ve bored family, friends and co-workers over the years with my tales, now; I guess it’s your turn.
Most people can point to the best day they’ve had in their career, some come more easily than others. For me it was a warm summer Sunday in 1995. At one time, I actually dragged my lazy ass onto a softball field fairly regularly – I fondly recall those days, getting exercise running around like an asshole and then filling my gut with cold refreshing beer. Playing the games every week was great not only because it created camaraderie among the crew – and most of the time, a majority of the staff showed up to the games, but also because most all of the games were played for a charity, and the feeling of doing something to help raise awareness or funds for a good cause always is fulfilling.
The reputation “The Recordbreakers” (our team nickname) had was good, and that summer it helped us secure a game to raise funds for one of former New York Met and current LI Ducks GM Bud Harrelson’s favorite charities. The game was played on one of the better softball fields on the Island, located at Commack High School. Great stands for the fans, and acres of beautifully manicured fields. We had billed the game as Bud Harrelson and other members of the 1969 World Champion “Miracle Mets”. I’m a Yankees fan myself – but also a fan of the game, I recall most of the station however were fans of the Mets – so we had pretty much a one hundred percent turn out of the entire staff and their families.
All of us were expecting Bud and some of the local players to turn out. As I recall a local police precinct was also actively involved in putting together the game, and we anticipated having officers from there fill out the “Mets” that we were to play that Sunday afternoon. The promotion staff and most all of the regular Recordbreakers got to the field early to set up, hang banners, and loosen up our out of shape legs. One of my main duties was to make sure the private pop-up tent (complete with station logo and walls) was set up. Why was it private? It was the beer tent. My buddy Adam who worked for Molson Breweries (also a big client of the station) always brought us a boatload of beer and coolers – all we had to supply was the ice, oh, and allow Adam to play right field.
Soon after the setup was complete, and listeners and fans started arriving, Bud Harrelson showed up with Ed Kranepool and Art Shamsky. Soon after that Jerry Grote, Ed Charles and Cleon Jones showed up. Hey, this was a pretty good showing of the ’69 Mets! Some of us started joking about how wild it would be if the number one star of the team, who almost NEVER came to anything like this showed up. Nah, Tom Seaver would never be there. Ken Boswell was, and then Wayne Garrett, Al Weis and Ron Swoboda showed up. The whole starting lineup was there, and then, walking to the field from the parking lot like Joe Jackson striding out of the Iowa cornfield, he came – Tom Terrific himself! No shit! Tom Seaver and the entire starting lineup were going to be playing us in a softball game. Did I mention earlier that the weather that day was a perfect seventy five degrees, sunny, light breeze and a few puffy clouds shaped like bats and catchers mitts?
Tom came over and said hello to everyone, matter of fact all of the players were really great. They decided to help raise some fast bucks for the charity by having Tom Seaver pitch to anyone in the crowd (which was now about 1000 people) who made a donation – $5.00 per pitch up to 4 pitches each. I’m guessing it was over 200 people took advantage of the opportunity to have a Hall of Famer pitch to them. He would mix it up with some real overhand pitches to Jerry Grote that most people just swung and missed at – but he’d give everyone a perfect underhand toss so they could smack the ball. He pitched really fast to get through the line, and my buddy Roger and I got to basically hang out on the mound with him shagging the balls as the outfielders tossed them back in to the pitcher.
Then after a quick break – we played the game. I don’t think anyone remembers who won – here was a bunch of radio geeks playing a full nine innings against the 69 Mets. I do recall being one of the lucky ones who got tossed a meatball by Seaver and actually getting a double in one at bat. He of course made me look foolish with a three pitch strikeout in another.
After the game – all of the players hung around and signed autographsfor pretty much everyone who asked. Several of them, Jerry Grote and Ed Charles I recall, found out what was in the tent and came in to share a few beers and stories from the big leagues. Just some regular guys hanging out.
At the end of the day – we packed everything up and headed home, each and every one of us with a smile on our face, beer in our bellies and a story that will live forever. Is it telling that this was fourteen years ago? Sometimes stars just align, other times, they fall. That was a great day.
If you look closely at the picture above, in addition to the real stars, the Mets, we had some local stars in their early broadcast days – you might notice Opie, from the notorious syndicated Opie and Anthony show, and Sam Ryan – NFL sideline reporter and CBS Sports reporter (Seaver made a point to be sure he was photographed next to her).
Some of us are still working in radio – no doubt hoping for another shot at a day like that. Many others have moved on, some by choice, some not. I guess that for everyone, the job is what you make of it – but damn, it sure used to be fun.