At some point I will probably write about the cancer thing. But not today. Probably not tomorrow, either, but ya never know.
From June 2010
OK, everybody groan: Not only am I former newspaper reporter — I’ve also worked in radio.
Actually it’s not a big leap. When I quit the local paper back in ’98 (I feel like one of those toothless geezers in the movies, saying, “Back in ought-nine …” And yes, before some genius decides to ask, I still have all of my teeth, thanks), I spent a couple of years freelancing. I was a stringer for the Chicago Tribune; I wrote travelogues for several area Sunday sections; I contracted with niche magazines like Progressive Farmer and Midwestern business journals to cover events in our area that were of interest to their readers.
Yeah, that sucked.
Anyway as a reporter in a fairly small town I covered meetings — school board, city council, county supervisors — with the same bunch of reporters from other area papers and local radio, so we all got to know each other pretty well. Members of the press. Booyah.
So once I was a free agent, the news director at what was then a locally-owned radio station started calling me to cover news events for his station. Which of course I did, because a freelancer is generally just a poorly paid media prostitute. It’s a metaphor, sure, but it’s a very APT metaphor.
Later on, another locally-owned station hired me to voice-track the overnight airplay on their classic rock station. Which I LOVED. If you can marry well, you should be a late-night disc jockey. Or if you don’t really need to eat. It’s a blast. I also got to do lots of live remotes, promos for stuff like outdoor music fests, ticket give-a-ways — jobs you can actually do while drinking beer.
Sadly, though, I did not marry well.
A couple of years ago the locally-owned station(s) I worked for effectively went corporate. They didn’t go public — you can’t buy their stock, and I can’t blame them for not sharing — what they did was buy out the Clear Channel stations in the area and create a new corporation ‘headed’ by the owner’s son. The problem with this is that the owner’s son’s head is not in the anatomically correct position relative to the rest of him, if you see what I mean. He could no more run a corporation than he could have ever run a radio station. He did neither. He walked around with a stick up his rear and the proverbial silver spoon up his nose. BUT. What this did accomplish for the owner was that he now owned pretty much every radio station one could tune in on a car radio within 20 or 30 miles of his office. Which the FCC seems to think is wrong.
Another thing The Owner (we’ll go with that, The Owner) accomplished was to get rid of jocks and news managers and station directors at the Clear Channel stations — which once upon a time had been the locally-owned stations for which I freelanced news coverage — who had opposed him or ridiculed him (the man is VERY fat, and that’s the nicest thing about him) or maybe he just had a dream where they were all laughing at him behind his fat … back.
Anyway he axed a bunch of people right off the bat. So then he had this problem: Who’s going to do the work?
In the meantime, the format at MY station had changed, from classic rock to what they called “everything that rocks.” This meant everything from really old KISS (the new program director thought these were “deep cuts” because they never got any airplay; I could have told him, since I lived through it and he must not have, that they never got airplay because they were crap) to absolutely every new rock single by any band, no matter how rank. I was NOT happy; classic rock is my thing and this … stuff … was not. So now I get a series of emails along the lines of Due to recent reorganization we are having to make certain staffing changes blah blah blah, the upshot of which was that I would now have to announce COUNTRY music. And not only would I have to announce COUNTRY, I would have to do it during the day, which would mean quitting my bartending job — by far the more lucrative of the two jobs I held at that time.
So I said no. I’m good where I’m at, thanks all the same and good luck to you.
The night after I sent the No email, the KISS-loving program director AND the idiot lead jock on my station, whom I had once caught having sex with an intern in MY studio in MY chair when he knew perfectly well I’d be walking in any minute, both walked into the studio in the middle of my show and demanded my keys. Just like this: Uh, we need your keys.
After they fired the news director from the Clear Channel group (my friend and colleague of days gone by), who was in his 50s and had just remarried and bought a house when The Owner bought his station (and most likely walked into it in the middle of a broadcast and demanded his keys), that good and gentle man drank himself to death within a month.
The VERY popular lead jock on the Clear Channel group’s flagship country station, who was ousted on the first day of the New Monopoly, filed a complaint with the FCC and fought The Owner tooth and nail. The FCC decided that having one’s idiot child ‘run’ a corporation didn’t necessarily mean one was attempting to get around FCC ownership caps.
Back in the days of wine and roses, my friend and colleague told me that The Owner, on buying his first radio station in our area — which happens to have been MY station, the classic rock station which had once been truly excellent — boasted that he would own the market share within a year. Well, it took him several years and he had to buy it, but own it he does.
I went out and bought an aftermarket antennae and a signal booster for my car radio, and I still listen to non-corporate, locally owned radio.
If you survive, if you persist, sing,
dream, get drunk.
It is the time of cold: love,
hurry. The wind of the hours
sweeps the streets, the roads.
The trees wait: you do not wait,
this is the time to live, the only one.
Years ago, as a bartender for the local VFW, I found that after a while it was fairly easy to guess in which branch of the military my patrons had served. Over time, and more or less subconsciously, I formed categories, boxes. The Air Force guys: arrogant assholes. The Marines: fun to party with. The Navy guys: faithful friends. The Army: Most Likely To Be Fucked Up To Some Degree. And sub-categories: The SeaBees: The best of the best. The National Guard: Not so much.
And while some of you are nodding your heads and going IKR? I know there are as many, if not more, getting pissed off and going WTF? Because my perceptions are like a snapshot – or maybe something more primitive, a daguerreotype – of a single second in the whole history of mankind; just this tiny little glimpse of a moment against all the vast experience of all the people, ever. Meaningless. Except to me. And so are yours, and yours, and yours. Sometimes a lot of us experience a lot of things in very similar ways, and we end up with a lot of very similar daguerreotypes, which get to be familiar and are sometimes called stereotypes. Not the best thing, maybe, but useful: our minds need order and they tend to create it when it is not immediately obvious.
For four months this summer and fall I was a paid canvasser for the Iowa Democratic Party. It was a lot like bartending: you get to meet a great many, very diverse individuals with whom you would probably never have interacted if not for this job. You get to hear what they think and feel in a way that is more immediate and more intimate than they way they express themselves in nearly any other situation. Bar patrons are generally not afraid to tell their bartender what they really think; you’re essentially working for them, but at the same time you’re not that important to them and this combination of circumstances gives them a certain amount of freedom. So it is with canvassing.
You can see where this is going, I know, so let’s just get there.
The Berners: The thoughtful ones. Those who knock on doors all day in an attempt to influence potential voters love it when a Berner answers the knock. Well, wait, I guess I can’t speak to The Other Side – I’m not sure what it’s like for one of the Others to talk with a Berner. Maybe kinda frustrating. But if you’re looking for enthusiastic discourse and a relatively open mind, these people are your Eureka! By the end of August, most of the Berners I talked to understood that it had to be Her. They were sad – so was I – but they got it; most of them were old enough to know that it takes a revolution to break the Machine, and revolutions are messy, and Machines are resilient. They wanted to talk about what they had hoped for, and why it wasn’t going to happen, and when we might be able to bring it about. They were resigned but they were hopeful; they were disappointed but positive.
The NeverHillarys: The bitter ones. Many of these were conservative independent voters who had at some point in the past voted for at least one Democrat (otherwise they wouldn’t be on my radar) but generally trended toward The Other Side. But a surprising number of these voters were a subcategory of Berners; they’d gotten behind Bernie because they were horrified by Trump’s vulgarity and they saw Her as the incarnation of everything they’d ever hated about the Democratic Party, and again, many were old enough to remember Bernie (as I am) from the days of wine and idealism; he recalled them to the less complacent politics of their youth. They were angry. They felt cheated. Even though many of them had Sold Out long ago, here again was The Man bringing them down. Most-heard response from this group: Why bother? Most of these folks weren’t planning to vote and very few were willing to even consider a change of heart. Keeping in mind what I said about my perceptions being meaningless (except to me), this is the group I blame most for the outcome of the 2016 election.
The I’mWithHers: The cats that got the cream that turned out to be spoiled. I didn’t talk to as many of these folks simply because I didn’t need to. They were already on board. Those I did talk to were overwhelmingly female, and the sense I had of them as a group was the same sense I had watching their chosen candidate in the presidential debates: a sort of smug satisfaction. They thought It’s about time. They thought It’s in the bag. They thought Trump was a joke, an aberration, a ridiculousness. They never thought he would win. I don’t like to think about what they’re thinking now.
The BernOrDies: The Angry Young Men and Women. #BernieorBust, and they meant it. Second most culpable. Overlapping a little with the NeverHillarys but mostly a much younger demographic, these kids started out thinking they were going to change the world and ended up thinking the world is beyond redemption. They were their generation’s version of the Flower Children, the SDS and the Beatniks all rolled into one, but with less drugs and fewer bombs. They might be rethinking that strategy right about now. They could learn a lot from what I think of as the “true” Berners. They voted, it goes without saying, for Bernie.
The Trumpettes: The ugly ones. Highest probability of shouting, swearing and threats of violence. Lots of slamming doors, literal and otherwise. If they wanted to talk, it was only to adamantly proclaim the latest Facebook meme that formed the basis of their opinion today. I sensed that at least some of the anger these folks were feeling had to do with shame. They had hidden these feelings from polite society much of their lives and while they felt some vindication now in the dim glow of their candidate’s shadow, they knew that many of their neighbors, coworkers and peers were judging them for their political choices and they were pissed as hell that they, like Trump, couldn’t just come out and say ‘what everyone is thinking.’ Many of these people were registered Democrats, but most were independents who, I suspect, voted the way the prevailing wind blew when they bothered to vote at all. But now they were galvanized, and I suspect every damn one of those fucks voted. Listen, it’s not just that I abhor their closet racism, their reactionary mindset, their isolationist longings, their fear of all that is different from themselves and most of all their candidate. I do, but it’s not just that. These people, almost to a one – and I spoke to hundreds of them – were just plain old assholes.
And that’s my daguerreotype of the 2016 election. I hate conclusions so I’ll leave you to draw your own, or not, but I’ll say just this one thing more in the hope that some of those BernOrDies are listening: If any two of these boxes could come together, work together toward a common goal, they could change the world. I have absolutely no doubt about it. The world is not beyond redemption; the Machine is not immutable – not yet.
The internet’s down at my house — happens a lot, thanks Mediacom! — so I’m blogging to Wordpad. Doesn’t feel the same.
And I’m only blogging because the internet’s down; if it weren’t I’d be playing chess. This will make perfect sense to you if you’re familiar with the various forms of internet chess; if you’re not it probably sounds like a non-sequitor, doesn’t it? But then if you’re reading this particular blog I guess you know all about internet chess. It’s difficult to stop writing for the sixth grade when you’ve spent a decade or two as a journalist.
Here’s where everybody always gets to play and nobody ever gets picked last: