I got the radio bug in the mid-1960s, as a geeky, pimply teenager in Peterborough, England. The house my family lived in then didn't have enough bedrooms for me or my siblings to have our own rooms, so I opted for the privacy of an oversized closet. It was big enough for a camping cot, beneath my hanging clothes. It also had a window, overlooking the next door neighbor's back yard, or "garden", as they're called on that side of the Pond. It was rumoured that the teenage girl who lived in #67 had a penchant for topless sunbathing. I was, sadly, never able to confirm that.
On those far-too-many nights when I sought solace in my upstairs sanctuary, the "portable" radio my Nan gave me played a major calming role. These were the "pirate radio" days, when broadcast pioneers butted heads with the government-sanctioned BBC in an effort to offer independent entertainment alternatives. What those guys, like Tony Blackburn, Kenny Everett, Dave Cash and Emperor Rosko, gave me was a substitute family, that laughed...rather than yelled. From those early days, til now, radio has been just that...family.
I never thought I'd be lucky enough to work in radio until the 1980s in San Francisco. At that time I was a professional singer, touring the country with a soon-to-be Grammy award winning vocal ensemble. Trouble was my wife-at-that-time wasn't down with the tour schedule. Her ultimatum was "her" or "the tour". I chose her, and began looking for a career.
I chose radio, and signed up for a crazy-costly broadcasting school. Fortunately for me, I aced that program, and landed my first radio gig at a Country Western station in Santa Rosa. The station was famous (locally) for its cowboy hat car. A VW Beetle topped with a fiberglass cowboy hat that was almost as big as the bug.
My job was to turn the daytime station on on Saturdays and Sundays...and then present the morning show. The biggest challenge there was just getting into the place without gagging. When one opened the front door one was assaulted with the smell of stale cigarette smoke. One carried that home on Sunday afternoons. I was not a country music fan when I started. I am today.
I spent those weekends tent camping at the KOA campground in nearby Petaluma. Mark my words, said campground is much nicer today than it was 25 years ago. My main concern was the shower opportunities. I spent most of what I earned those weekends on the camping fees and restaurant food. Good times.
It was about this time that my wife-at-that-time decided "it" wasn't going to work. I chose her over the tour...but she left anyway. Radio stepped in again...to fill the void.
My first full-time radio gig was as the overnight guy at KKHI in San Francisco, a now-defunct Classical music station housed in the penthouse suite of the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. I held that job down for over two years, despite taking numerous naps between delightfully long Mozart tracks. I only got caught once...when I slept through both alarms I'd set in an effort to avoid just such a catastrophe.
I went on to work for a Houston-based traffic reporting service for about two years, a brand new News/Talk station back in Santa Rosa, KSRO, and an AOR station, The Fox, across town. From there I took a job as News Director at another Country station in Merced, California, mostly because my brother lived there and I wanted to live near him. Shortly after I moved my new family there, he moved his away. I stayed for a couple more years, working for KUBB, then KRTB in Modesto, then KABX and KYOS, both in Merced.
Back in broadcasting school I decided my two goals were to one day work for the BBC...and/or KCBS in San Francisco. My friend, and former KSRO colleague, Larry, was now working for the latter, and knew I was looking to go to "the show". He put in a good word for me, and presto-change-o, I was hired by the All News giant.
My first day there was the Monday of the Oakland Hills firestorm in 1991. Talk about tested by fire. I could not have been happier to be where I was, although I was secretly frightened that "they" would soon discover I had no idea what I was doing.
Seven years later I cut those ties, due to carpal tunnel syndrome. I went away for a number of years, missing it most of the time away. I then got a second chance, and went back, part time, after having the pain-relieving surgery on my right wrist. That stint ended today, due, mostly to current economic conditions, but partly just because it was time.
When I got to work today I was greeted by a tasty chocolate cake, home made brownies, and the realization that my 25 year broadcasting dream was almost over. Some heady moments.
No tears were shed, as I made the farewell rounds, although there were a couple of moments when I, admittedly, barely fended them off. I heard praise a couple of times for my newswriting abilities. Some have said I was their favourite newswriter. For that I am deeply grateful. That means I accomplished what I wanted to when I started.
What I will do now is turn my attention to the schedule change that allows me to run....every day...if I'm knucklehead enough. But while I'm running, I'll be listening, like I did back in that little English closet. Thankful for the family.