By Edward Thompson
It had been in the works for months. The big media company for which I work merged with another big media company to form an even bigger media company. Not so unusual in the two decades since deregulation. One by one, these companies gathered up stations like Easter eggs, putting them in their basket until some markets only had two or three companies that owned all the stations. Lots of good radio people lost their jobs. Others didn’t. The fact that I didn’t lose mine during this merger doesn’t imply that I’m better than the folks who did. It just means that I haven’t had to go get a “real job.”
So now there are four radio groups in Market #74; Clear Channel, Journal Broadcast Group, Salem Broadcasting, and us — NRG Media, a Waitt Media Affiliate. Yet, with only a few minor and mostly procedural changes, nothing has changed. I still write and produce radio commercials for many of the same clients I wrote and produced radio commercials before. Many of the AE’s I worked with before the merger remained. Many others went to other radio groups. Moreover, we have a few new managers while many of the old managers continue their excellent work. Plus de choses changent plus qu’ils restent la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same
However, something new will come down the pike that turns the world upside down. A month ago, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. I went in to my doctor with one complaint and came away with something else entirely. It took a couple of days to sink in. One night I fairly went mad with abject fear and panic. But my blessed wife brought me back from the brink, and a mere three weeks later, I’m learning more and more. Not so much about how to live with the disease but whom my new employer really is.
On the album, Long Train A Comin’, Bob Dylan wrote that we have to serve somebody. Tommy Allen, a former Program Director, told me once that he was there to serve. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it for a lot of years until a night when driving off a bridge into the Mississippi seemed like a better idea than getting drunk one more time. Fortunately, I didn’t wind up in the water. I found help and I continue to find help on a daily basis by taking a third alternative that I never even considered. Serving someone.
I’m not talking about a serious religious conversion whereby I trade in my Dockers and loafers for a monk’s robe and sandals. Nor am I referring to a career change and becoming a gentlemen’s gentleman, ala Mr. French from A Family Affair. I’m talking about serving the people sitting right next to me in my cubicle who would appreciate it if I took a few dubs off their hand so they can put out a fire with some missing spots. I’m talking about an AE on the other end of the phone who needs to make a copy change instead of being told to put in a new production order when they get back to the office. I’m talking about the little children who call me, Daddy and want the red juice instead of the purple.
More and more, I find that I no longer have the desire to work until seven or eight o’clock at night, and I no longer want to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the studio to tweak that spot until it’s “just so.” It isn’t that I don’t love my job. Hell, no! I still have the same white-hot passion for this business as when I first wanted to get behind a mic those many years ago. I still can’t wait to get in to the car and face that traffic because I want to go and make more radio!
However, I find now that I want to sit in a darkened theater and watch the most beautiful 4 year old in the world, wearing a green sparkly dress and dance to Dinosaur Rock & Roll. I want to take a 2 year old little boy on a fun trip to Wal-Mart and then for ice cream at McDonald’s, just him and me. Or I want to be available for some other guy who decides that driving off a bridge into the Missouri River seems like a better idea than getting drunk one more time.
So, I am going to do whatever it takes to take care of my Diabetes. I’m eating better. For the first time in my life, I had a salad for lunch, not with it. I’m losing the weight (10 pounds at this writing). Also I’ve started exercising. If I don’t, I could develop heart disease or even lose a leg or two. But, here’s the deal. I made a promise to my wife. When the time comes, I am going to walk my two girls down the aisle… on my own two legs. Like Bob and Tommy and countless others have said better than me, I’m here to serve.
Post Script: Pam Carter died on Monday, February 28, 2005 from an aortal aneurysm at the age of 50. It was an enormous shock to everyone. Pam was the subject of an article I wrote for this magazine (RAP June 2002). She was a stockbroker turned talent agent, turned actress, turned voice-over artist, turned director. She had a voice that made Kathleen Turner’s, Jessica Rabbit sound like an estrogenic Peter Brady, and a passion for what we do that makes Rush Limbaugh’s love of conservatism seem like nothing more than a school boy crush. Her credits included numerous stage productions, two motion pictures, several animated TV series including the Emmy-nominated Liberty Kids, and countless radio and TV commercials. My short association with Pam had a profound impact on my career. I am better at what I do because I took her instruction and advice. She encouraged me to step outside of my safe radio booth and to temper my announcer’s voice with an actor’s heart.
At her funeral, Pam’s 15 year-old son, Michael, reminded her family and many friends of the most important actor’s rule: “Always leave ‘em wanting more.” Pam, we want more. God bless you and goodbye.