Radio Free Agency: People’s Radio Network, 1994

So after my second and third tours of day at the Sun Radio Network, and with the fall of 1994 at hand, I began to wonder if my radio career was coming to an end.  I was looking into doing some other things with my life.  Back then, for instance, it was pretty easy (not to mention pretty sleazy) to get a telemarketing job in the area.  It was like doing a talk radio show for one person, but that one person could say pretty nasty things to you!  Pretty tough to earn a living that way.  The same dynamics are in play there that were in play in the radio business: low wages (although you can earn higher if you sell well, and management usually doesn’t want you to), and no benefits.

After going to a Kirby vacuum selling seminar over in Tampa for a guy who could have easily impersonated German actor Klaus Kinski, I got a call from Michael Crose.  Crose did a gardening show on SRN and many other places (and still does in 2012), and was a big believer in a product called diatomaceous earth that was the source of many of our commercials in the early 1990’s.  Try saying that fast ten times.  His mission: to get me to produce shows up in White Springs, Florida for PRN, the People’s Radio Network founded by Chuck Harder.

Shortly afterward, I get a call from “Billy Baroo.”  He’s also made the trek up to northern Florida, working not only at PRN but at a local FM pop station in Lake City, and wanted me to come up as well.  After my experiences with him over at WBDN, I was a little uneasy about this new endeavour.  But working always beats NOT working.  So one weekday morning, I got up early, packed my 1987 Pontiac up and made the three-hour trek to the old but refurbished Telford Hotel in White Springs, just northeast of Lake City off of Interstate 75.

Working up there was the most unique radio experience in my career.  Not only did you work there, you were allowed to live at the Telford so you didn’t have to commute the three hours back and forth every day.  The room had a mini-fridge with a TV, with bathrooms and showers nearby (my room began with having a phone in it, although that was mysteriously taken away without explanation).  Believe that they also had a laundry facility either there or nearby.  I met the staff, but “Billy Baroo” quickly took me with him over to Jacksonville for lunch at the downtown Hooters.  While I was grateful for his hospitality, I did smell a little bit of a rat.  When I came back, I found out I was supposed to have trained at the Telford that afternoon, and here I was, being hijacked by Billy.  Payback for what happened at WBDN, perhaps?

After that mishap which I apologized profusely for, it was time to get some work done.  I got up at 4am to do my first shift of the day, which began at 5am and went to 10am.  My duties were to down the hall of the second floor to a production area so that I could record news actualities, or sound bites, off of UPI radio (PRN still used UPI, while SRN no longer did) and placed them on carts (8-track like cartridges that you could record on).  Just before 6am, I’d go downstairs to the control room and throw in the commercials as the news show continued.

At 10am, I’d get a four hour break.  I’d get a bite to eat (the Telford had it’s own restaurant there to make a little dough of the tourists passing through I-75 and nearby I-10), do a few things, and then get ready to run the board on Chuck Harder’s show, which I ran from 2pm to 6pm.  Chuck did his show from another location on the first floor, so I’d have to relay information back and forth with his own personal proudcer who screened Chuck’s calls.  All I had to do was get the commercials, intros, and outros on and off.

Billy thought for some reason that I was his personal errand boy.  He would work the air shift after mine concluded and we’d each do a weekend shift.  He’d grab a hold of me and want me to get him McDonald’s, for instance.  So I’d make the three mile trip over on Florida State Road 136 to where it met I-75 and got him his Mickey D’s.  Then one Monday night, he grabs me after my shift ends because he’s got the night off.  That Monday night, we visited what I thought was every strip club in Jacksonville, or something close to it.  He wants to get laid by some stripper, and offers to get me laid if he can find yet another one.  Yeah, good luck with that endeavor.  So I drink, drink, and drink some more, and after a while, I am feeling no pain.

We get back to White Springs at around 3am, but I have a shift commencing at 4am.  I take a shower, somehow managing not to vomit someplace, and do my duties as if nothing had happened.  At 10am, I go to my room, collapse on the bed until 1:30.  I do Chuck’s show, somehow managing to sober up and somehow making it through the day.

It was just before Thanksgiving of 1994, and I had a decision to make: whether or not to stay.  If I stayed, I had to start paying the hotel for the room, and I didn’t have the money.  Probably partied the dough away, being the young, immature fella that I was.  The money would be due on a Monday, so I decided that I would go up to my room, pack, and head back home to Largo.  Staying meant sticking around with Billy Baroo, which meant I’d be his errand boy, something I wanted no part of.  At the rate he was going, he’d do something that would get himself fired, probably me along with it, as nearly happened at WBDN the year before.  Nor was I party animal.  I wanted to be focused on my job, and with Billy around, and I while I appreciated the diversion somewhat, I didn’t want it to become a distraction.  It would be the last job where we worked together.

As for my constant quitting, let me say this: I wasn’t mentally tough enough at that point in my life for what the radio profession throws at you.  It eats up (figuratively) young men and women and spits them out not totally whole.  That’s why these syndicated companies operated out of Florida, because Florida isn’t a union state.  If you’re in radio or if you’re a butcher like my father was, they pay you with sunshine.  If you’re too good at what you do (as some say I was), you’re actually more likely to have a longer path to any success.  The lackeys seem to go further.  And I was constantly running people that were saying I was their friend when in fact they weren’t.

1994 was coming to a merciful end.  Fortunately for me, 1995 would provide some hope and promise.

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