By Trent Rentsch
I wonder if Charles Dickens found the opening of A Tale of Two Cites from his discarded lines for A Christmas Carol. Just think back on Holiday seasons past at your radio station. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Sound familiar?
Another time, another place. For all the differences we had during the year, the one thing Programming and Sales could agree on was that the holidays were a time for celebration. Several celebrations, in fact. Actually, several celebrations that guaranteed a great deal of alcohol, an elimination of inhibitions, and at least several juicy scandals… again, this was another time, long ago. There was fun, there was laughter, and there was fellowship among everyone at the station. You in Sales? Cool, have another drink! Overnight DJ on the weekends? Well, belly up to the buffet and munch awhile! One big happy (if drunken) family, that’s how it always seemed. I remember several times, laying in the backseat of a cab headed home, wondering why I didn’t get along better with some of the salespeople…
…Then came the morning after. Tiny, seemingly senseless copy changes, deadlines missed or ignored, promises of unlicensed holiday music that I could not possibly deliver, orders for specs that would never be played to potential “holiday only” clients… and it went downhill from there. Off they’d go to other celebrations while I was stuck late at the station trying to unwrap the endless “presents” of production orders. I really did consider getting a few of them lumps of coal for Christmas, but their sock wasn’t where I wanted to stick it…
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Even with the reminders that Sales and Programming take different roads to the same destination, I loved the holiday season. I would dust off the production albums full of carols (long ago, remember?). I would practice my Ho, Ho, Ho’s and squeaky elf voices. I’d dig to the bottom of my big desk drawer for those sleigh bells that I always used instead of the ones on the sound effect library… the ones that never quite had the rhythm I thought our commercials deserved. I really enjoyed trimming the stations in the spirit of the season. It brought back memories of the holiday treats I remembered radio and TV stations serving up when I was a kid, and I suppose that I was hoping to carry on that tradition. It never occurred to me that I was contributing to the commercialization of it all. Then Scrooge gave me a call.
At that point I wasn’t doing a regular shift, just filling in for the afternoon jock while he went to his kids Holiday program. Christmas was just 3 days away, so you can imagine how “festive” we were. 24 hour caroling had started 2 days before, and every spot sandwiched in between was a glittering, tinsel-plated reminder that time was running out to buy those last minute presents. Still, I was digging it, everything all wrapped up just the way I intended. As my Santa voiced chuckled merrily through a lingerie store ad, the phone rang. “Happy Holidays, thank you for calling…”
“Listen, you twit! I am sick to death of this crap!”
Believe it or not, I really didn’t know what he was talking about at first. “What do you mean, sir?”
“You know damn well what I mean! All this Merry Christmas crap! The bells, the music, the stupid bad Santa Claus voice! I am sick of it all!”
Now I was feeling sick, and a little ticked off. “Ah, sir, I am the one doing the Santa voice…”
“Good! I’m glad I could talk directly to you! YOU SUCK!! Your whole station sucks!! You people wouldn’t know what this season really means if God himself came down and explained it to you!!!”
“Now wait a minute…”
“No, you listen to me! All this bell ringing and the same carols over and over and over! And you, with that forced, phony Santa voice, talking about buying WOMEN’S NIGHTIES, for God’s sake! Your station makes me sick. YOU make me sick! It’s not about money!! I’m going to turn off the radio and go to church, and I’m going to tell all my friends to quit listening too!” Then, with a hearty good-bye laced with words I’m certain he didn’t learn in church, he hung up.
If it was Scrooge, it was the post-three-spirits one. He was the Scrooge that Dickens could have written about, had there been a sequel to A Christmas Carol. One who realized that it’s not all about money, who had taken all his anger and hate and directed it at those who were still driven by greed. Less reformed than redirected. He had ruined the moment for me, the whole season! He made me question everything I had been working on and how I had done it. One minute I’m all warm and fuzzy, the next moment this old fart pees in my egg nog! And damn it, my Santa isn’t THAT bad!
I remember that call every year. It’s a memory that sits on the same shelf as the year I got my electric train, my first school holiday pageant, my daughter’s eyes when she saw her first Christmas tree, and the complete loneliness of spending my first Christmas Eve away from my children after the divorce. It’s all a part of what makes the holidays for me now. Giddy excitement tempered with a little tasteful restraint, deadline-induced insanity balanced with peaceful moments to share with family and friends. There are smiles, there are tears, there is fun, and there is the real joy that is better than any present. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, but above all else, it is more than putting bells in a spot.