I became resigned to the fact that I suck at being a newsreader at WJNC. Resigned maybe is not the exact word. It was pointed out to me by PD that the General Manager had heard one of my news broadcasts and that I had the temerity to mispronounce “North Carolininians”. I said it Carol line ians. The old guy apparently got upset, and relayed his feelings to PD.
There was also the day I came across “Tar Heels” in a newscast. I had never seen the phrase, had no clue what it was making reference to. I made a joke about it. Not a good idea. These faux pas got me on the radar of the guy in the big office.
Bob Mendlesome was the owner/GM of the WJNC/WRMC Empire. I don’t know how old he was but he seemed to me to be older than God. He was in ill-health having suffered several heart-attacks and I remember what struck me about the guy was that he had a big leather recliner in his office. Bob had little to do with day to day at the stations. I only saw his office twice, my first day on the job and my last.
In most other ways my days at WJNC were going smoothly. I was able, after about two months, to convince the PD that under his excellent tutelage that I now ‘got’ the format of WJNC and he could trust me to program my own songs. It didn’t take much convincing but he did say “If anyone complains it’s your ass, sonny boy.”
You really had to love a guy like him.
The pregnancy was the primary reason for my good behavior. Even though I was miserable at WJNC I knew I had to stick with it for the sake of my growing little family. Plus, deeply ingrained in me was the sense that failure was not an option. I could do this.
So I plodded through the days, becoming more and more adept at production and programming the evil automation. I even learned a little about country music so that I didn’t sound like a complete moron when I was recording the intros to the songs for the county FM.
I still showed a bit of subversion where I could. I just couldn’t play it completely straight, I had to put my twist on things.
Every day after the noon news we played a bit by John Doremus called “The Passing Parade”. Doremus was this leather-lunged big time Chicago radio personality on WMAQ and his show was this syndicated vignette sort of deal. It was awful, dry and not really all that entertaining. But I suspect that Mendlesome loved it so I tread carefully around it.
Doremus would end his five minute show with what he called a “smoker”, a kicker story to take him out on a high note. I found this hilarious because they invariably fell flat. His last words were always, “So put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
So in my own inimitable fashion I decided that I needed something to end my show with.
I came up with a “Flusher”, and no, I didn’t use a toilet sound effect. I just read some kicker or some pithy saying and ended with “So put that in the hopper and pull the chain.”
Well, I found it funny. Oddly enough no one ever commented on it.
But my days were numbered at WJNC.
The owner’s son, a burn-out acid casualty if I ever saw one, was in charge of the little business the station ran of selling and installing FM convertors. If I recall correctly the price was $19 and he got $5 per installation. The units probably cost $9 in quantity so the station made $5 on the deal.
Installation was a laugh. You plugged the car antenna into the unit, plugged it into the car radio antenna socket and plugged the unit into the cigarette lighter. When you tuned to 1610 on the AM radio you got the thrilling sound of FM (Mono) in your car and you could then tune the adapter unit to the FM station of your choice.
I think they actually sold quite a few of them. I know the kid was always working on a car in the stations parking lot. There were rumors that things disappeared from the customers cars on occasion but they never went very far. Mendlesome was powerfully connected, as I was to find out, and I think he squashed any allegations that his ne’er-do-well son was in any sort of scam.
Sunday nights were excruciating for me. The 12 hours at the station tested my stamina and my patience. I was to discover that when I get tired and angry good things do NOT occur. It was so boring that I became restless so I prowled around the station, trying doors and snooping. The majority of the programming was on tape and ran at least half an hour or a full hour so I had lots of free time.
At about four months into my employment at WJNC I asked PD if there was any sort of chance that I could get a little raise. I thought I was doing pretty good and I really needed some more in my pay envelope. I should have picked up on his reply that I wasn’t long for the WJNC payroll.
“Well, son, I don’t think the timing is quite right for that,” he said.
When I questioned him about why, he became evasive. This was on a Friday afternoon.
Timing is everything in life, I have found.
That Sunday night I was prowling, looking for anything interesting to make the hours go by a little faster. Once, the alcoholic copywriter, Jesse, left his office door unlocked and I found a huge stash of glossy pornographic magazines in his desk. Those made the night go by quickly!
This particular night I was downstairs by the area where Mendlesome Junior kept the AM/FM convertors. On the air was the “Classical Music hour” which I had decided was going to promote the most Avant-garde music I could find. That particular night I recall the listeners of WJNC were enjoying St. Giles Cripplegate by Jack Nitzsche and the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s music but only in the broadest sense.
The week before I had treated them to Philip Glass at his most atonal. I just couldn’t resist.
As usual I reacted to a situation where I perceived I was being mistreated by acting out.
Walking along the corridor I noticed one of the ceiling tiles was out of place, lifted up slightly. I figured there must be something hidden up there so I grabbed a chair from the production room and proceeded to investigate.
Several things happened at once. I got up on the chair, which was an unfortunate choice because it had wheels and wasn’t very stable. As I stretched to reach the ceiling the chair went one way and I went another. I fell to the floor with a crash and the chair went spinning down the hallway.
Just my luck the chief engineer, with whom I had a few nasty conflicts over broken equipment he never fixed, arrived on the scene. No one had ever been in the station on a Sunday night. Was this great timing or what? I was lying prone on the floor, under the ceiling tile that I had managed to dislodge. He took in the scene and went to get a ladder. Never asked me if I was OK or even looked at me.
I was pretty well out of it as I watched him investigate the ceiling. Hidden up there were several of the AM/FM convertors. To this day I am not sure but I would bet you money that Meddlesome’s errant off-spring had stashed them there and was branching out on his own. The Engineer grabbed the loot and disappeared.
The very next day Charest met me at the door as I arrived at work. He had a little smirk and I should have put it all together.
“Mr. Mendlesome wants to see you,” he said.
“Uh, oh,” I thought.
Sure enough as I was escorted into his office I noticed several items on his immense desk. The AM/FM converters, my headphones and my framed F.C.C. license. I didn’t need to be told, I was being canned.
I of course, denied anything to do with the converters but it was hard to explain what I was doing standing on a chair under them. I was screwed and unemployed and on the street before 10 minutes had passed. No discussion.
WJNC denied my unemployment benefits because I was fired for “cause”. I went to a lawyer to see what could be done. After taking a retainer and a week he called me up and reported that “Bob, his friend” had told him the whole story and I was lucky not to be prosecuted. Kept the retainer too, the son of a bitch. So begins a life-long love affair with lawyers. And an unhealthy hatred for General Managers who lie. It would serve me well.
A few months later I heard the sad news that Bob Mendelsome had passed on to the great recliner in the sky. I sincerely hoped it happened when he opened the latest magazine I had subscribed him to. Ads ripped from the copywriters porno mags for “Big Jug Roundup” and “My Sister and I” provided me with addresses so I could get Bob on some interesting mailing lists, anonymously.
I spent two weeks shopping myself around with resumes printed with almost our last dollar. No one in Jacksonville would even return my phone call. Clearly my reputation preceded me or else Mendelsome had deep sixed me but good. I finally got some interviews in New Bern, about an hour east of Jacksonville but nothing panned out. One manager called me in for a second interview simply to upbraid me for referring to his station as “Small market.” New Bern has population of about 29,000 now-back then in 1974 I am sure it was a really ‘small market’ but so much for that.
I was broke, out of work, out of hope and about to become a father. It was about as low as I would ever get. I rented a U-Haul truck, stuffed our possessions in it, put the wife’s car behind it on a stiff hitch and headed North.
NEXT: A detour on the way home. Life begins anew and WCFR starts it all.
The Rant D’Jour is from 2005 but is still timely. It’s about the voices in my head.
Maybe it’s coincidence. But in my never ending search for signs of the oncoming apocalypse this ranks right up there…more