by Andy Capp
First off, a few observations.
Even though 7-11s are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, there is still always a lock on the door. Despite a revved up 133 MHz Pentium chip, the cursor still has that blink of disgust when I stare at my new computer with nothing to write. Those who can't teach, do. These little truths in life have all come to me in the last week, especially the part about teaching.
I've done what I never expected to do, certainly something my college professors and original employers in radio never expected me to do. I've begun teaching a radio broadcasting class at a local Vo Tech, basically instructing a group of kids who could become part of the next generation of radio.
Sobering? Yes, if you believe that to teach you need degrees on the wall, if your idea of a teacher is a person endowed with all the right answers, if you've read any of my past columns in this magazine....
If I seem a bit nervous about my new position, let me assure you that I'm actually quite terrified, and I'm quite certain that someone has made a huge mistake.
Perhaps it's one of those "Cosmic Jokes" that some people believe God actually has time to pull on some poor, unsuspecting moron who likes to make broad statements. It does have all the markings. If you caught my ranting some months back in this very magazine about giving the fresh meat some pointers and giving back to the business and improving the state of education for broadcasters, you'd think I was begging for a chance like this. ("Okay, Smart Ass, you take off your headphones, put on a tie, and see how damn easy it is!) Oh, and the other tip-off of some Supreme Prankster's involvement? I got this job through a referral from a buddy who sells rare cigars at a smoke shop (Honest!).
So, if I'm that worked up, why not just quit? It's just a part-time gig, and even though the extra money would come in handy, the missis and I have always got by on my meager full-time radio salary (that, and my wife's somewhat more monstrous salary in the medical profession...), and I'm sure I could find something to do with the time I'm now spending teaching and doing my real world job, like reminding the kids who I am or sleeping. Why bother?!
Here are the easy answers. I was born and raised in South Dakota, a state known for its whiners. ("It's too hot. It's too cold! I'm too busy. I'm bored!") I need to pay off that new DAW software somehow, and the extra VOs haven't exactly been pouring in. I really had nothing better to write about this month.
The harder answers are, well, harder. Maybe I really do buy into all that "giving back to the industry" posturing. Maybe I believe, deep down, that I can give these kids the head start in the business I always wished I had received. Maybe I just need a new, fresh perspective of my job and what it really means to the listeners...and to me. Maybe I think I'll find that perspective in the classroom.
Whatever the reason, I'm there and I'm staying, as long as they'll have me. Things haven't gone that bad, actually. True, somehow in the spirit of New Math (which I never did get the hang of in school), the fifteen students I was supposed to have has actually become five, and those five have been plagued by flu and "The cassette machine ate my homework" excuses, but there have been bright moments. Maybe it's youth, but my class is learning the hard disk recording software amazingly fast and could already blaze by the "old timers" back at the station when it comes to cut and paste editing. (Of course, some of the "pros" still won't come near the computer unless I turn on Solitaire for them.) One of my students is a "sample junkie" and put together a tasty little music promo, first try, and even the student who seemed to be having the toughest time at first was today giving one of his peers crap for bad mike technique and popping Ps.
Still, I often look across that sea, er, pond of expectant faces. I look down and see my reflection in the wing tips that I expected would last a lifetime of occasional wedding and/or funeral use rather than being promoted to my everyday shoes, and I wonder if I have what it takes to really give these kids an education in radio.
For many years the battle cry was, "Radio ain't brain surgery!" There's truth in that statement, but in a way, I find it insulting. Believing that any damn fool can get in front of a mike and become a DJ has eroded the industry as a whole more than all the television networks, cable, and multimedia alternatives could ever do. I challenge the average brain surgeon, with no prior experience, to sit down for four hours and do an entertaining, informative morning show, to put together an ear catching, creative concert spot, to elbow through a crowd at a press conference, get the perfect actuality, then rush to the station and get the story on the air in minutes. There is a talent in what we do, day in and day out, that many times even we don't recognize, or if we do, underplay.
I want this class to learn more than the skills, do more than hone their talents. I want them to come out of the course with a sense of pride for the craft of good radio, to recognize the value of their talent to the business, to recognize the value of the business.
If you listen to any of the "experts" talking about the future of radio, you hear a lot about how the business will soon become less entertainment and one-to-one communication, and more like a pack mule, throwing out bits of information for this pager company or that computer service. I'm all for progress, but I still believe in the importance of the live person communicating to others over the airwaves, the power of "Theater of the Mind," the ever present companion that's always available, anytime, anywhere. We're so quick to find the next new thing and dump the "old" before its value is fully realized. I'd like to believe that radio has yet to fulfill its full potential as a communication, an entertainment medium, and given the chance perhaps a new generation of committed radio broadcasters could carry on the torch before it's too late. I hope that I can make my part of that new generation understand.
I know I'm obsessing. I know that my little class of five students in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will do just fine, will at the very least know where the "On" button resides on a reel to reel and, after several painful years in micro markets, will probably come and steal my job at KELO...so I guess, in a way, I am improving the future of radio.