"....And Make It Real Creative!”: Unwrapping a Forgotten Gift

AMIRC Logo 2016By Trent Rentsch

“Oh, this can’t be good,” I thought, as I saw the GM making a beeline to the Production Room. Over two decades ago, and I can still remember his face. It wasn’t a look you wanted aimed at you, but it seemed unavoidable at that moment. It felt like that second between ramming your little toe into a table leg and waiting for the pain that will leave you in a hopping, hot mess… you know it’s coming, no damned way out.

My thoughts began to race. What did I do… what didn’t I do? Who did I do what to who… and when? As far as I could recall, all recent apologies and amends had been made (hell, you don’t run the Production Department for a cluster without missing a beat or unintentionally stepping on someone’s toes now and again). Yes, from what my panicked mind could imagine, it had to be some fresh hell, and I knew from experience with our GM, the best thing I could do was get in the bucket and enjoy the ride…

As he flung the door open, I cleverly attempted to deflect whatever blow was coming my way. “Hi Boss! What got screwed up this time?” Damn it. Classic fumble, rookie move. I SHOULD have asked him what the morning show screwed up. It always worked for Sales…

“What are you talking about,” he said. He looked puzzled. Good. Perhaps my witty verbal two-step had worked after all…

“Oh, nothing,” I smiled. “I just assumed the MORNING SHOW might have…”

“He’s gone,” he whispered.

There are times in your life when nearly every emotion known to man hits you all at once. Panic was replaced by relief, then confusion, then a bitter wave of sadness, all followed by the damnedest feeling of empty shock, devoid of emotion. I knew who he was talking about, and he hadn’t simply left the building.

I know I’ve told part of this story in the past… sue me. The man has been on my mind lately.

By the time I knew him, Ray had been around the radio block several times, and had been producing a yearly Christmas program for longer than I’d been alive. To most people in the area, “Lofty” WAS Christmas. His library of holiday music was both deep and wide; he might kick off the show with some Fred Waring carol, followed by the latest one-hit holiday wonder, followed by Bing and Bowie, followed by… well, you get the idea. Throughout the show he would weave in classic holiday stories, underscored by all the traditional sounds of the season… his smooth baritone rumble drawing listeners in like a warm fireplace. The man and his daily “Holiday Inn” show ran every day, from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, year after year; in the end gathering nearly 4 generations of loyal fans. And while Ray and his program seemed to be a tradition that would never end, cancer had other plans.

We all took it pretty hard at the station. Ray was an old curmudgeon, but we all loved him, and he was a fiercely loyal friend to everyone in the building. As it turned out, the reason that the GM wanted to tell me was that he wanted me to record a message, telling the listeners. It took me nearly an hour to choke out a :30 second tribute.

For the next few years, there were attempts to keep the show rolling. Several announcers took up the reigns, and I was asked to produce 3 cassettes in as many years to offer listeners (yes, it was that long ago). It wasn’t long after that last production that I moved on, and while I know that a version of the program continues (I know the guy, I have little doubt he does a hell of a job), in my head, Holiday Inn disappeared the morning the GM told that Ray had died.

The reason I bring all this up is two-fold. First, of course, it’s nearly the holidays… how can my old Friend not be in my thoughts? But second, I think Ray had an important lesson for us all.

Every year, without fail, for over 50 YEARS, Ray produced a daily holiday program, from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve… I can’t stress that enough. He kept all the traditions, yet he also kept freshening it up. There was no real thought about demographics or ratings. Here was simply a radio performer, sharing his passion for the holidays in a way that was engaging to EVERY audience (and the ratings proved that). He didn’t grumble because, “it was time to do all that Christmas crap again.” He simply dusted off what people enjoyed from the past and considered what new content he could add to keep them coming back… completely embracing the season, and giving listeners a couple of hours each day to wrap themselves in the spirit of the holidays, no matter what lunacy the rest of the day threw at them.

50 years, the man kept Christmas fresh and new, to an ever-growing audience. Something to keep in mind when you’re considering whining about producing “those damned Christmas ads again!”

 ♦

Trent Creates words, voices, audio and music. His professional home is Krash Creative. Drop a line to: slysounds@aol.com.

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