MORNING SHOW

by Randy Reynolds

I relish getting up at 2:00 a.m., a time when other morning show hosts, depending on their energy level and marital status, are just turning in or still sleeping soundly. I’m ready for work in a flash and spend the next few hours surfing the Internet, stealing jokes and recording the sound effects that will punctuate my punch lines.

In addition to hosting the Monday through Friday morning show, I come in on weekends and work for the sheer joy of it—without pay. I decline vacations because I can’t bear to be away from my job. One year—1999—I work 364 days. The day I take off is in December and I regret it because being away from work drives me crazy-er. No workaholic ever enjoyed his addiction more... until new owners change my life. 

In 2004, a Bear-Stearns hedge fund that banked heavily on credit-default swaps (and would fail spectacularly in 2007) buys up a third of the stations in my town, including the one where my morning show is #1 in the most desirable demographics. They send a finance guy with a Harvard MBA to manage these four independent stations they're combining into one operation.  Our soon-to-be boss, Kim, urgently begs us to not get antsy and start sending out resumes’.  “There’ll be no changes,” he says. “Your jobs are safe.”

And so I and my co-workers enter into weeks of preparation—bringing Kim up-to-date on sales department activities, programming and engineering issues, and transferring our paper files as well as computers to his new headquarters across the river—a building so small the word cramped doesn’t do it justice. Studios there are about the size of a solitary confinement cell in the state prison (not that I’ve ever been in one)  but, hey, radio stations don’t have to be pretty!  Just give me a control board, computers, discs, phones, files and transmitting equipment and I’ll make Alexandria sound like New York City.  Office space, even Kim’s office from which he intends to run all four stations, is likewise limited

On the Sunday afternoon that the move is completed, I take one last nostalgic look around in my old studio. Without the control board, computers,  transmitting units, switches, gauges, dials, microphones, headsets, CD’s—everything that made it a radio station—and with walls now bare of the awards, photos, signs, banners and clippings that documented our success over the last 9 years, it is just another empty office space in Alexandria, Louisiana.

I have a show to do tomorrow morning at the new building, and since I’ve been dismantling and packing equipment over here at our single station on the Alexandria side of the river, I haven’t had a chance to see my new studio on the Pineville side where I’ll be in the same building with the three other stations the Bear-Stearns hedge fund has acquired in this market.  I need to get on over there and familiarize myself with the setup so I can make a seamless transition to the new digs on tomorrow’s show.

There are several cars parked behind the small, shabby building that will become the official home of four radio stations tomorrow.  Strangely, though, the building’s doors are locked and I don't have a key.  I knock, but no one answers. I take out my cell phone and call the studios, then the office numbers of each of the four stations, but get no answers.  I call Kim’s number.  No answer there, either.

Thinking that maybe Kim and the engineers, carpenters and computer programmers are out having lunch together, I settle into my car and wait for their return. Every few minutes I call the stations as well as Kim. But to no avail.  I again knock at both the front and back doors. I look in the windows to see if there’s any movement inside. Nothing.

I call out the names of some of the engineers and programmers. No response.  I pound on the back door once again and yell for Kim.  Spooky. It feels like I’m in The Raven:  “But the stillness was unbroken, and the silence gave no token, and the only word there spoken was…”    “KIM!”  “And an echo whispered back…”  “kim?”  “Only this and nothing more.

Surely, I tell myself, surely there is some logical explanation for this.  Maybe they’re in there but for some mysterious reason don’t want to respond. But that makes no sense.  Maybe they’ve all been asphyxiated by natural gas.  But, no. Nothing in the building runs on natural gas, does it?  Mass murder?  But if they were murdered, how could all the doors be locked? 

I think, Oh, well, sooner or later, someone will enter or leave the building and I’ll get in then to learn the board and do some show prep.   

The hours go by as I sit alternately in the backyard, the front yard, on the porch and in my car. I circle the building several more times, making phone calls, pounding hard on the doors, looking in the windows, calling out for Kim and the others. No response.

I spend more than two hours outside the building on this last day before Kim officially assumes control. After one last kick on the back door, one more look through the back windows, and once more shouting Kim’s name, I give up.  The only thing I know for sure is that I’m scheduled to do a show on the morrow in these new digs, so I go home for some last-minute show-prep and a few hours of sleep.

Hours later, I’m awakened from a deep slumber by the ringing of the land-line phone on my bed table. It’s Kim.

Despite just being awakened from an REM sleep, I greet him warmly because  I’m brimming over with excitement as the moment nears for the next phase of my career at the little FM that I helped raise from the bottom of the pack into the highest-billing radio station in the market. Kim ignores my exuberant greeting and starts right in on the purpose of his call, his voice flat and unemotional, as if he wants to get this over with.  It almost sounds as if he’s reading.  “We usually don’t do business like this, but our business model doesn’t include your salary so don’t come to work tomorrow.”  My wife Sherry is one of the salespeople at the station, and Kim mentions her, too:  “Tell your wife not to come to work, either.”  

Our business model (Sherry’s and mine) does not include getting fired, losing our group insurance and soon afterward enduring a medical catastrophe that we, as members in good standing of “the uninsured pool” pay for out-of-pocket until our money runs out.

Months later, after the medical emergency has subsided, and we are back on our feet literally but not financially, we become refugees in our daughter’s home in Lafayette, Louisiana. Mice fleeing the harvest and subsequent burning of the stubble in the sugarcane fields surrounding her subdivision move in at about the same time we do, and we pests (the mice and us) settle in for an unexpected cohabitation with my daughter’s family.

My son-in-law builds a room for us in his carport, either out of the goodness of his heart or a desire to minimize the number of times he has to hear about our successes and our Bear Sterns experience—or both. It’s just some drywall he staples to a frame of two-by-fours, flimsy, but it’s private, a place that we can call home.

We bring in a mattress and coffee table—all the furniture we have left, unless the radio that wakes me each morning at 2 AM is considered furniture.  God knows I can’t stand to listen to it anymore, and I certainly don’t need the alarm function. But I like seeing the time on the LED display because after being a deejay for so long, time is a part of me.

Alongside the mattress on the floor I place the remnants of my life savings, hundreds of pennies in a giant blue 10 gallon water bottle. 

I don’t keep track of days anymore, but I’m a dedicated student of the time—the hours, minutes, and seconds that deejays are slaves to.  Although I no longer need to calculate how many songs I can play from a given time until the top of the hour, nor figure HOW much chatter, and how many commercial minutes will fit in with the music, I can’t stop myself from being frequently fixated on the LED through the blue water bottle.

I don’t remember the day, but the time is 1:12 AM when a mouse falls into the jug, scrambles around on the pennies and tries to climb up the plastic sides, getting far enough to interfere with my line of sight to 1:13, falling, and climbing again to distract me from 1:14. The blur of motion does something to my focus and the LED digits change into misshapen approximations of themselves, like numbers painted by Picasso.

1:34, the mouse is still panicked, clawing up the plastic and slipping back to run circles on the pennies—caught in the rat-race is how I’d phrase it if this were a morning show story, because puns are a morning deejay’s stock-in-trade. 

1:59, I lose my grip on chronology and think ahead to 2:00 AM—magic-time, get-ahead-of-the-competition time. I picture myself taking the trapped mouse into the studio, causing my co-host to jump from her chair onto the console screaming inconsolably. But I have neither co-host nor studio, anymore, and thus no need to capture the mouse.

I tilt the jug and the furry, chinless creature scurries up the slope, leaps through the opening and disappears into the bedcovers.  I roll off the mattress as fast as my mouse-phobic co-host would—strictly an assumption since I’ve never seen her jump off a mattress—but not as fast as my wife who was in too much pain to get out of bed yesterday but is dancing a pretty good jig this morning while shaking her pj’s to make sure the mouse is not in them with her.  

The LED shows 2:00 AM. It is not part of my business model to live the rest of my life on a mattress on the floor of an unfinished carport that we are sharing with mice from the burning sugarcane fields.

And so, as the LED numbers flip to 2:01, I creep into my son-in-law’s  house, start some coffee, and begin writing the resume’-that-turns-into-a-novel of my unique career in radio.