by Andy Capp
It was Tim Moe who first turned me on to Neil Young. Actually, all through high school Tim was the person I looked up to in all matters intellectual and cultural--especially music. Since Tim liked Neil Young, so did I.
Tim not only listened to the music, but was a fountain of Neil Young trivia. He told me that one of the legends of CSN&Y's breakup dealt with a note Neil wrote Stephen Stills: "Isn't it funny how things that start spontaneously end that way? Eat a peach, Neil." My friendship with Tim seemed to begin and end with that same spontaneity. I'm sure we'd still consider ourselves "friends" if we met today, but we choose different paths, and the miles and years have taken us out of each other's lives.
That's life. One minute you find yourself spending time with a group of people who seem immensely important to you; the next minute you move on or they move on, those relationships disappear, and new people fill that space in your life.
If you enjoy this kind of friendship turnover, you're in the right business. Spontaneous job offers and terminations bounce radio folk all over the country daily to the point where a DJ's only constant friend is the U-Haul guy. It's a norm to be expected. My General Manager "jokes" that you shouldn't be considered a "real" radio person until you've been fired at least once as if it was some bizarre ritual that gives you credibility in this business.
Not being on the management side, obviously the firings bother me the most. I know that some people seem to just beg to be fired but, when done without any valid reason, I find firing downright mean. To terminate someone on what amounts to a whim comes down to playing God with the employee's life, uprooting the person not only physically, but emotionally. Yes, it's a norm. Yes, we are to expect it--but it still disgusts me.
As you've probably guessed by now, I was recently witness to one of these spontaneous fires. The two morning guys at Brand X cross town started in the market nearly ten years ago, about the same time I did. They had experienced varying degrees of success, ratings-wise, over the years; but both were hard workers and had always presented a well-prepped morning show, maintained a hands-on relationship with the community, and basically did a good job of making themselves a saleable commodity for the station.
As the longest running morning team in the market and after surviving some truly ugly Arb numbers, we all assumed they would be there forever. We were wrong. Three weeks before ratings, the management at Brand X showed them the door. The official word? The station was in need of a more "adult" morning show. The solution? Hire a morning team about ten years younger than both the current team and the station's target demo.
I won't tell you that there wasn't a certain amount of rejoicing at KELO over the news; there was a party. I was, however, depressed in a strange way over the incident. I was to become more depressed two weeks later when, through the urging of mutual acquaintances, I found myself helping half of the team put together a demo tape.
Listening to his collected works, I discovered that this was a very talented and creative person. The problem was, this was a talented and creative person with no organizational skills whatsoever. While he had a wealth of collected bits, most were on unlabeled cassettes, normal bias, no noise reduction. Imagine the fun of spending a few hours wading through C-90s of bits, listening for the ones he wanted on the tape ("Oh, it's after this one...no, this one...no..."), then tweaking them to the point where they were of some sort of demo quality. In the end he seemed happy with the result, though I could have spent a few more hours getting it closer to perfect. At any rate, I've seen his final package. It looks great, sounds okay, and I'm sure he'll land on his feet.
So why was I so depressed by all of this? Because he wasn't prepared. Because I'm not prepared. Because we have both been lulled into a false sense of security that as long as we work hard and do our best, we'll have a job. Because there but for the grace of God go I. And because, if it happened to me tomorrow, I'd be in the same scramble to get a tape together, a tape my livelihood would depend on. It's like Wiley E. falling off a cliff, pulling the rip cord, and seeing an anvil pop out instead of a parachute.
Since then, I've spent some time folding and packing my own chute. Since I would hope that my next job is in production, I've been wading through the stacks of spots and promos I've kept but rarely touched, looking for the "good stuff." Since I know most Program Directors "channel surf" through tapes, I'm assembling the tape in ten-second pieces, each new piece telling a new story about my skills, hopefully telling most of the story in under two minutes. I'm also collecting full production pieces that I can assemble into a second tape should a potential employer ask for one. Yes, I know I might be on the air too, so I'm hitting the daily aircheck tape, piecing that together, too. I'm rewriting the resume on a friend's computer with a "good printer," and I've considered having labels printed, though I haven't got that far. All of this has a safe place in my home on a format that makes it easy for me to make cassette dubs at home! Oh, I've also placed a reminder on my calendar every three months to review the demo and resume and decide if they need any updating.
I want to stress, I like it where I am. I don't expect to be fired tomorrow. I don't expect that call from a headhunter in the Big Apple tomorrow. I just want the security of knowing that, if I have to make a spontaneous jump tomorrow, my chute will open and help me make a happy ending.
No matter how good things are, things change. Look at CSN&Y. Look at Brand X. Look at the entire radio industry and its changes every day and never forget that you are part of that industry. Isn't it funny how things that start spontaneously end that way? Eat a peach...and grab a parachute.