Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ticket to Ride

Ask young radio announcers today if they have a broadcasting license and they might think you are putting them on. I am just getting over finding out that just ten years ago they were available for thirty bucks and a signed application. They may not be needed at all now.
When I first went after my Third Class License with "Broadcast Endorsement" the “endorsement” was the key because without it you could not legally record transmitter readings onto a log. That first attempt to earn one did not end well.
In those days there was a three-part test that you had to take from the licensing code-book. Elements one and two were simple, they were just about the laws governing broadcasting. However, the third requirement fell under element nine. The hardest math test ever designed for persons like me who did not pay enough attention in algebra class.
And forget calculators, they weren’t around yet.
The eight-hour test had to be taken at an office of the Federal Communications Commission and the closet one to Columbus was in Cincinnati, and since they had seasonal scheduling at the time that I needed to be licensed I had to make tracks for Detroit Michigan, the next closet testing location. Moreover, the tracks I made were in a snowstorm, 188 miles worth... in an old Plymouth with a bad heater and windshield wipers that didn't lay flat.
When I got close to the Detroit exit I nearly detoured into something called "Tunnel to Canada" when I nearly missed my turn. I dodged a bullet on that one. But having not thoroughly planned the trip out I arrived in Detroit an hour or so before daybreak and because the test was not scheduled until 9:00 I had time to kill.
To kill it my traveling mate and I had to find somewhere safe to huddle for a few hours. Not to offend the good people of Detroit but we found it to be the dirtiest, most frightening environment either of us had ever seen. All we saw was the downtown area, and it was a ghetto.
The weather was bad and there I was in this creepy area with a girlfriend, Patti who was just a teenager and who a few years later would give birth to my second son Kevin.
With only a little money and no plan except to take a test when the Federal Building opened we landed in some hole-in-the-wall of a restaurant to wait, and whatever I ate made me sick and probably less prepared to take the test than I already was. The morning was not going well at all and the rest of the day was even worse.
I should have spotted the omens and turned my 1969 Fury around and headed south at this point but instead I made it to the FCC for my test.
After breezing through the first two elements I began answering the questions in the final phase and soon realized that I wasn’t answering very many of them with any modicum of accuracy. I kept wondering what in the hell is this stuff?
That exam was more of a challenge than downtown Detroit in the winter at dawn. It was all in some horrible math language that I had never seen before, or if I had I had forgotten.
At the end of the day when the tests had been graded and the administrator revealed that I had failed I really felt like a failure. I was told that I would have to wait two more months to be eligible to retake it.
I don't know who had a worse day, me or my girlfriend who had to wait somewhere in the building all day while I was wasting my time doing something I obviously was not prepared to do. Worse than knowing I failed I had to tell her that the entire miserable experience was a complete waste of time.

I told her that I would not get the results for a few weeks. I didn’t want her trip home to be as long as mine was going to be, and besides, I was embarrassed. It was little comfort when she kept saying…"Don't worry, I'm sure you did fine."
I did not do fine and I couldn’t tell her that I didn’t. I had to make that long miserable drive home knowing that I had failed and remembering the face of the FCC guy who told me. But I did pass the thing and was awarded a license on my next attempt, and when I got it- it was a piece of paper not much larger than a standard envelope where it now lives in a dusty old scrapbook. Worthless now...seemingly priceless then.
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