I like my job, however there was a time when I loved my job. I was once a radio announcer, a most enjoyable occupation. I ended up in a conversation with Chris Melbye, also a radio alumnus, about a month ago. We both gushed to one another about how we enjoyed our radio days and I made a note to share a few stories about my radio career in my column.
First off, the radio you see isn’t always the radio you hear. As a young sports announcer in Fosston, Minnesota, I would arrive well before the game to string cords from my spot on the bleachers to a phone in the Athletic Directors. That is how we go the audio feed back to the station for broadcast. I used up lots of duct tape and the knees of my pants taping hundreds of feet of cord to a gymnasium floor. I would then try to scrape off the dust and sweat and transition into the relaxed sports announcer you might have heard on your radio, circa late 80’s.
Sports announcers must possess stamina; I recall one Saturday schedule that included a volleyball tournament in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, the “Coaches Corner” show in between volleyball matches then finishing up my day standing on a van in a snowmobile suit announcing a football game in Plummer. We used to mount a twenty-five foot antennae mast to the station van when I announced football games at the old Fosston station. Imagine standing on top of a van, trying to counter the leverage from a tall mast in heavy winds, all the while trying to remember twenty-two different players on the football field.
Working at the studio was also a challenge, like the first night I operated the Fosston station in 1987. Small-town stations typically had lots of local programming at the time. I had to read the local news, connect with the Bagley and Mahnomen news correspondents by phone, read the public service announcements and the obituaries all in my first hour. The station manager appreciated my anxiety at that moment and told me I would do fine, then scurried to his car to listen to me slowly die on the air. It actually went pretty well, but I would have “dead-air” dreams the first few weeks of my employment. People listen to radio to hear something and “dead-air” is when the announcer fails to provide for that need; it can be a nightmare. The people were good to me there and it was a nice place; although maybe a bit lonely for a 19 year old. I learned a lot about radio and myself in Fosston.
I hit stride when I worked at KKAQ in Thief River Falls. I was the sports director in addition to my duties as announcer. I was comfortable on the air and country music was finally getting back to its traditional roots. I also had people like Danni Halvorson and Kevin Nelson to help me with sports play by play by adding their color commentary. I really enjoyed my on-air shift and would imagine that I was talking to a family member, which made it more comfortable for me to talk and for others to listen. I started out at KKAQ working from six to ten at night. My friend, Mike Anderson, would come by during the last hour of my shift to visit, help me pick out music and then go out for the night. It was really nice.
Later I worked a regular day shift, the only time in my life when I haven’t had to work at night. On the week-end; I would arise at five-thirty in the morning, call the transmitter by phone to get it warmed up, then dash into town to arrive at the studio ten seconds before my shift, kick the transmitter into “broadcast mode,” turn on the news and collapse into my chair. Sundays were even better; I just made sure the church services were on the air and I could sit in the sun of the front lobby buried under the blanket I brought from home.
Al Melbye (that’s Chris Melbye’s dad) always used to tease me that I used my “radio voice” when I answered the phone at work. I don’t believe much of that polished delivery is left when I speak, however the memories still linger. Radio was a good job.
(my radio program just posted on www.ruralreflections.net 2:55 pm-GN)