In the early 60’s I was working in radio, mostly as a DJ but sometimes with added duties that included everything from minor tech work to programming. It would have been nice if the added responsibilities had resulted in higher pay, but working for a small-town radio station at that time meant that you pretty much did whatever they told you to do, and at whatever wage they wanted to pay you — or at least that was the case if you were young and inexperienced. The station owner told me there was extra money to be made in ad sales, but although I tried it once or twice, success in sales seemed to elude my grasp — possibly because I was the world’s worst salesman, but that’s just a guess.
One of the added responsibilities was accepting how it was during the holidays, and that’s what sometimes triggers my memory this time of year. Holidays didn’t exist in small-town radio stations at that time, or at least they didn’t in any way that affected our work hours. Our programming reflected the season, but otherwise it was business as usual, and if you made any plans for Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, then you’d better be sure those plans didn’t affect your ability to cover your shift. Needless to say, our pay didn’t reflect anything extra for the holiday either.
I guess there were a lot of workplaces like that at the time (and still are, for that matter) but I always resented it when I had to get up early on a holiday and go into work, when it seemed as if everyone else was taking it easy. By the time New Year’s Day rolled around and I was driving to the station (after a tough night) I was getting into a troublesome mood. At least, I reflected, I could stop playing Christmas music, which had worn out its welcome for me by then.
As I began working through the day, a funny thing happened — as I broke free from the holiday music we’d been playing for weeks, I found myself spinning every kooky song I could find in our musical library. Since we were a small-town station, we programmed middle of the road music with occasional forays into other genres such as country music, and for the most part it was all pretty harmless stuff. However, I made it my mission to find every strange song I possibly could, and I’d like to think I found all of them. To make matters worse, as the day wore on I ran out of silly songs, so I started playing the same ones again.
The breaking point was reached when I played Ray Stevens’ “Ahab The Arab” for the third or fourth time. (I guess you could say that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back…groan.) The station owner had apparently taken time away from his holiday revelry (that’s right, he took the day off) to listen to the radio for a while, because he caught on to what I was doing. He called and had a short, pointed phone conversation with me. I denied doing anything wrong, but he knew better and that was that. I’ll always wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been listening.
Happy New Year.