Friday, February 18, 2011

The mind is a terrible thing to waste

When I first got the notion that I would like to try my hand at a career in radio it was something like wanting to become a writer. It all seemed simple enough, like opening a book and reading someone else’s words and saying “I can do this” or turning on a radio and hearing some clever voice talking about music and sounding excited to be there and thinking “I can do that.”
My radio career probably began before I planned it.
In 1961 or ’62 I received what I still regard as the greatest Christmas gift ever; it was a replica of a car’s dashboard, complete with a speedometer, oil and fuel gauges, a steering wheel, a windshield with working wipers, turn signals and of course a radio.
The toy was called the “Deluxe Playmobile” and was made by a company called “Topper” that specialized in making toys and selling them exclusively in grocery store chains. Mine was purchased by my mother at the Big Bear grocery store about a block and a half from our home for about ten bucks and I knew days before Christmas what I was getting that year. I had seen the television commercials for it.
When I found the box it was wrapped in and hidden in my mother’s closet I got a ruler and measured the dimensions of it and then went to the store to measure one of the boxes on the shelf. They were exact.
Those few days before that Christmas were long and excruciating and were filled with anticipation, waiting to tear into that wrapping paper and getting my hands on the steering wheel of my first car. Three days before Christmas I began practicing my math skills, counting to myself, 72 more hours, then the following day 48 and so on.
What fascinated me most about this toy was its dash lights. I have always been taken by the glow of them and have even picked out real cars to purchase through the years based largely on a dashboard’s configuration and the hues that illuminated it at night.
Okay that sounds like a weird automotive fetish but I have it and it started way back then. And I confess this harmless morsel of useless information about me because I think it has something to do with my later desire to choose radio as a career path.
As a nine-year old kid I liked to place that toy on the kitchen table at night and turn off the lights so I could enjoy its dash lights while I pretended to motor off toward some make believe faraway place. I used a transistor radio to listen to music as I drove because the one in the dash was just there for show.
At the time WCOL was pretty much everyone’s favorite radio station and the music of that era was especially attractive to kids my age. So I think it was there where I first thought that it would be pretty cool to someday be the guy in the radio that people would hear as they motored around staring at their own dash-lights.
That same year my brother received a small reel-to-reel tape recorder for Christmas and I would borrow it when he wasn’t looking and record myself as I pretended to be a radio announcer on WCOL. My mind then was probably more complicated to some than it would become later in life.
I would have my transistor radio on while I drove and at the top of the hour when the station would break for five minutes of news I would turn it off and turn on the tape recorder where in my squeaky little voice I would listen to myself reading stories from the Columbus Dispatch that I had recorded earlier. Playtime for me then sometimes took creative preplanning.
Fast-forward almost a decade; past my proclamations that I would grow up and become a race-car driver or a soldier and later what I was sure I wanted to do, become a printing press operator.
After a few years of honing my skills in South High School’s print shop I was gearing up to make that my career when I got side-tracked. When I began boasting to anyone who would listen to me that I was going to pursue a job in radio it was with no small amount of determination.
I was willing to do whatever it took to catch that first break even if it meant hiding in my bedroom with a tape recorder practicing tongue twisters, and yes, recording stories read from the newspaper.
My early audition tapes.
I was so determined that when I first began talking with radio station programmers and pleading for a launching pad to begin this dream I was offering to work for them for free.
The term intern wasn’t being used much in those days if at all but that’s what I was asking for. Anything to make showing up in a radio station every day more meaningful than just sitting in some lobby for hours waiting for an interview. I got that launch at WBUK-FM-96 in Columbus, not as an unpaid hand but for two dollars an hour. I really would have done that radio show for free just to prove I could do it.
When I decided to make a run at becoming an author it was with a similar mind-set that I might not make much of a profit, but I will not be denied seeing my work published.
I went into this particular project navigating by the seat of my pants much as I did when I took on the challenges of becoming a radio announcer. I didn’t know where I was going with it much less how it would turn out. When this book was initially published as “Life is a Jukebox” I read it with disappointment and anger, not sure who I was more mad at, myself or the publisher.
It was not the book I intended it to be, it didn’t contain all of the stories I wanted in it and it was full of uncorrected grammatical errors.
And when I brought these issues to the attention of the publisher we went to work to make it better and upon its second release it was still just a crude diary. Still it went on sale and was marketed around the world and people began buying it. My emotions became bitter-sweet in that my work was being taken seriously but it still wasn’t the work I wanted my name associated with.
So after several discussions with the publisher and amid numerous miscommunications with them I decided to throw the pages up on the table, shuffle them around a bit, edit some of them, burn a lot of them and do a complete rewrite.
An overhaul.
All of this while my second book “Honey I Promise” was going through similar production phases and aggravations. My plate began filling up very fast and I found myself immersed in more work than I could have imagined.
More learning curves than I ever experienced in radio and had I known initially that writing books would be this difficult... I would have still wanted to do it.
As a child, my mother when frustrated with me often used the word bullheaded when trying to explain me to others and sometimes remarked that I was the most stubborn kid she ever knew. But since I was her kid she was stuck with me. Now I am stuck with me.
Not unlike that two bucks an hour I earned on my first radio job the first printing of “Life is a Jukebox” has earned me a small amount of compensation. And like turning that first radio gig into better paying jobs later I am confident that this book will also find its way onto more bookshelves and into more people’s hands than it would have if I hadn’t taken a third look at it.
Once again I have to say to myself “Okay, the meager royalties I have received so far aren’t as important as the effort I am willing to put into making this adventure worth it.”And who knows, maybe by the time you are finished reading it you’ll want to see what “Honey I Promise” and even my third book, “Are those my Footprints?” are about. And if you do then I will have accomplished a lot of what I am hoping for. As for that first book... the publisher sent me a box of them and I gave many of them away to close friends and cautioned them that it was a terrible read but it has many useful purposes. I still have nearly fifty of them left and I have found them to make great door-stops and one can come in handy if one leg of a table is too short. One copy now sits beneath my keyboard to raise it to a more comfortable position and the pages from another comes in handy when I need to light my grill for cookouts. You get the idea.

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