Radio DaZe

Radio DaZe:

The trip back from North Carolina was like the Bataan death march. First of all I was driving a very large U-Haul with no air and a bottomless gas tank. Hitched behind it was my Ex-Wife’s mammoth Plymouth so the entire rig was longer than an eighteen-wheeler. It was difficult to drive and impossible to turn around. Of course every time we stopped I would get boxed into a situation where I had to turn around. This made me crazy and not a real happy traveling companion.

Speaking of traveling companions we had picked up a stray dog before we left Jacksonville. He had been hanging around the apartment complex, a mutt of indeterminate origins and dubious hygiene. So naturally just before embarking on this tail tucked between our legs journey home we decided to take the dog with us. We left on a Friday so the dog became “Friday.”

So we presented a rather unappetizing picture, the three of us. I was unkempt, unshaven and borderline depressed. Ex-wife was the size of the Goodyear blimp and “Friday” flea infested and mangy. We planned on stopping off in Philadelphia to see a classmate of mine, Larry Cohen.

Larry was a big fellow, tall with a booming voice. He had married his high school sweet-heart, Bonnie and was working at a small station in Trenton. Larry was a newsman and a good one. We had developed a close relationship in college, both drinking buddies and professional. He had visited me in NH a few times over holiday breaks and had sampled my famous spaghetti with meatballs.

Larry wanted us to settle in the area in the worst way. He had arranged job interviews and looked up apartments for us. He had Bonnie hook up the Ex-Wife with a doctor and a hospital. Larry had laid in a stock on our favorite beer and even bought some Muenster cheese, a favorite delicacy from school days.

I wanted nothing to do with it. My mind was moving in weird patterns in those days. My thoughts were: Get the Ex-Wife to my folk’s house. Have the baby. Get a job, any job, anywhere.

Larry was bereft. “No Rising belly-buster spaghetti,” he lamented as I broke the news to him. As it turns out a few months later Larry was working for me. But that was so far off the charts as to be almost unfathomable at the time.
We pushed on to Vermont and my parents’ house. The Garden State parkway turned us away at the toll-gate because the car in tow had no working stop lights. We had traveled more than 500 miles over two days without them but now we needed them. And I had to back up.

A kind-hearted service station guy ran wires from the back of the truck to the back of the Plymouth, taped to the car roof. I think he saw the dog, my bedraggled self and nearly bursting Ex-Wife and took pity. I don’t think he would take any money. The wires flapped around merrily at any speed above 30mph but worked sufficiently to let us on the turnpike.

We made it to Hartford Vermont, near White River Junction and my parent’s house.

Looking back on it now, I can’t imagine what my parents must have been feeling. They had just dislodged my sister to college, I was away from the house for years now and now we descend on their empty nest lives like a pack of mangy dogs. Including a mangy dog named “Friday”.

Both my broadcasting friends and my boyhood chums were trying to find me a job. My grip on sanity at the time was tenuous. I had this in the back of my mind. Pratt and Whitney was hiring in Hartford Ct. They were making jet engines and were very busy. It was rumored if you had a pulse and could walk upright you would get a good paying job with health benefits. My thinking was, take the job, take out insurance, get the Ex-Wife set up and then throw myself into a running jet engine.

I was not thinking too well. Saner heads prevailed.

When I had worked at WKNE several of my friends from school had worked at WCFR in Springfield Vermont. Oddly enough I got one of them, Ken Barlow, a job at WKNE. He hated it but that is another story.

WCFR had a mid-day opening. My friends insisted that I apply, although I was resistant. WCFR was a very small station in a tiny town. I had worked in larger stations in bigger markets. This was a step backward. But I was unemployed and the birth of my son was coming soon.

WCFR was a legend in radio circles at the time. It was a true “Top-40” station, playing all the hits of the day which was unheard of in a small town like Springfield, VT. It had a monster signal, 5000 watts on 1480, a pretty clean channel on AM at the time. It was only a daytimer but it had a FM that stayed on after sign off, but was programmed separately.

WCFR was run by Carlos Zezza, a legend himself. The station was named for Carlo, Frank and Ruth , his children. When I met him he was up in years and was showing it, but still sharp as a tack. I was pretty cocky, sure that I was over-qualified for the job and a shoe-in for the position. Carlos set me straight in a hurry.

Looking over my resume he noted my college experience. He peered over the paper and harrumphed, “College radio, doesn’t count.”
I was floored.
“Hmm…WKNE, good, good. WJNC, how come you only stayed there a short while and are here now with no job?”
Carlos got right to the heart of the matter.

I stammered something about being a Yankee out of my element in the south.

Frank, Carlos’ older son was in the office, standing deferentially beside his dad. He laughed. Carlos turned to him and barked, “You think it’s funny, this treatment?”

Frank swallowed hard and shut up. The exchange probably got me my job but didn’t endear me to Frank, who was the de-facto GM at the time. I couldn’t know it at the time but they must have been thinking about selling the station even back then.

Carlos offered the job. Health care, midday shift with production, Saturday mornings I would do the morning show and $95 was the salary.

I was appalled. I had been making $150. I looked at these two flint-hearted business men and I knew there was no negotiation to be done. We shook hands and I became employed as a radio announcer again, my third job in less than a year out of college.

NEXT: WCFR is fun, I become a yucker and a Father.

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About James Rising

A recovering radio addict wrestles with the written word.
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