Tag Archives: radio

Respite

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How decades can vanish in an instant…

Last May, Jeff and I went to Destin, Florida for a vacation.  We used to live and work in the area and every time we go back for a vacation, we drive through that same little town on our way to the beach.  And every time we do, I always remember the people we worked with and wonder whatever happened to them.  Last year I finally did some research and found out about my favorite one.

Martin was my first ever “work husband”, at my first radio job, so early in my career that I didn’t even have terminology for what that relationship was!  He worked the same midday air shift time as I did, in the FM studio while I was on the air in the AM side next door.  I couldn’t begin to count the times he put his side on “auto-pilot” for 10 or 15 minutes and came to stand in my doorway to talk and laugh with me.  He left the station, and radio, in 1989, about a year before the company was sold and everyone else was laid off, resulting in Jeff’s and my return to Knoxville.  We lost touch with many of our connections from there, including Martin.  But I often thought of him and wondered how his life had worked out.

Flash forward to last year’s vacation when I searched his name on Facebook and found several entries, including a face with a smile that was warm and familiar.  I sent a message and introduced (or re-introduced!) myself, apologizing if he was not the Martin I remembered and saying to have a nice day, and if he WAS the Martin I remembered, I hoped he would get in touch.  It was, and he did, and we became Facebook friends and began a correspondence.

Over the ensuing months Jeff and Martin also connected on Facebook…but the more substantial communications were between Martin and me. (I was always a letter-writer…now I am also a message-sender!)  We all decided that a trip to Asheville to visit Martin was in order, and I couldn’t help thinking it was a little ironic that we had all met 500 miles away in Florida only to end up living a couple of short hours apart.  Other things developed over the ensuing months as well, resulting in much more frequent messages between me and Martin…changes in his health and home life, a hospital stay, drama, frustration and sadness as he is in a transitional life stage now.  I’ve been humbled and amazed at his transparency and his remarkable sense of humor in the midst of all he is enduring of late…the same humor which endeared him to me almost 30 years ago when I first met him.  He often makes me “snaughle”—my term for the snort-laugh.  We have become family…which I warned him might happen, saying, “We’re bonding and God help you, because my friendship is relentless.”  He has assured me that he is OK with it.

For a brief moment I was nervous about us seeing him again in person, thinking we might end up with nothing to say to each other and the whole situation could become weird and awkward, especially since we had planned for him to spend the night with us.  The exact opposite scenario played out, as we stayed up very late with rarely even a moment of silence amidst all the catching up, storytelling and abundant laughter.  Jeff finally put himself to bed and Martin and I stayed up for maybe another hour winding down and feeling grateful…and decades vanished in an instant.

The next day came, and with it, Martin’s time to leave.  Jeff and I both hugged him goodbye, thanking him for coming to visit with us and for all the laughs we shared.

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Walking out onto the gravel driveway in my stocking feet and watching him pull his car away, I felt happy and sad and a little weepy all at once.  The end of a sweet visit often evokes such emotions in me, and this one, which had been so many years in the making, seemed especially poignant.  The rest of our afternoon was spent poking around in a bucket-list bookstore I had wanted to visit, getting supper and stopping by a fancy chocolate shop for treats, enjoying Jeff and his company.  The whole trip was a much-needed respite from the stressful realities all of us deal with on a daily basis.

The following day it was time for us to head back home, and back to reality.  Messaging with Martin, I admitted that I cried when he left.  He was understanding and sympathetic, as he always is.  And as always, a joke happened.

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Take Me There

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Radio days…

This time of year always brings with it a tsunami-sized wave of nostalgia, memories of holiday seasons past and the people who fill those memories.  Sights, smells, flavors and especially sounds, fill my head and heart with both laughter and longing as I recall the many hours I spent “on the board” working in radio stations playing Christmas songs in the solitude of a tiny studio, music unheard at any other time of year except in my memories.

Working on the air was, for me, a chance to touch people without ever seeing them.  Different from live performance in that I spoke to an audience I couldn’t see, radio also allowed my listeners to imagine what I might be like without ever laying eyes on me.  I had regular callers at every station I worked for who, for the most part, were friendly, polite and respectful…even those who flirted and asked me out, sight unseen!  There were also occasional callers who made me feel uncomfortable, even threatened.  Anyone who has ever been on the air has experienced such things, especially my fellow “lady jocks”.  We all have stories to tell!

I’ve been out of the business for a long time now, but listening to the radio this time of year always takes me back to specific times and places.  I can’t hear Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” without being transported to the top of Sharps Ridge, remembering the view from the studio window…often with my friend Ron visiting after finishing his own air shift at another radio station across town, drinking coffee and smiling at me from across the console.  This is the same Ron with whom I shared my shortest radio gig and built one of my longest friendships, until he passed away last year. That relationship is not over…it’s just changed until we’re in the same place again.

A simple song can take me there.

The synth intro to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” immediately returns me to my first radio gig in a tiny building in the Florida panhandle.  I worked in the AM studio where I played Southern Gospel music and preaching/teaching programs, while next door the FM station aired “Light Rock & A Little Country”, hence the Paul McCartney holiday offering.  I cut my radio teeth there, learning how to do everything the old-school way because of the antiquated equipment I worked with.  My real-life husband and my first ever “work husband” worked on the FM side, with the work husband and me sharing a shift time and often standing in each others’ studio doors talking and laughing between songs on automation.

A simple song can take me there.

Music is such an evocative force in my life, whether I am singing it or listening to it.  The music I played during my radio days is especially poignant.  Those sounds bring to mind both the places and the people with whom I shared them.

A simple song can always take me there.

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(At my first radio gig, Circe 1989)

 

A Blind Date

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But not the way you might think…

Some of the dates in my life, or in my family or friends’ lives, are significant for different reasons.  Mama’s birthday on Independence Day, Aunt Martha’s on Cinco de Mayo, Uncle John Bryant’s on Leap Day, all seem to speak to their personality traits and characters.  My friend Paula has had numerous strange and sad events to occur on March 17 in different years.  Over the years some of my Delta Omicron students’ recitals have been on memorable dates as well, such as Friday the 13th, or Halloween.  This year one of those recitals happens tomorrow, and this student will always remember her Senior Recital date.  April Fool’s Day.

April Fool’s Day has significance for me as well, as it is the grant date stamped on my FCC permit.  Back in the Stone Age when I began my career in broadcasting and media, a person had to apply for a permit from the Federal Communications Commission in order to operate a transmitter at a radio or TV station.  Those permits had to be posted in a central location in the station.  The last place mine was posted, it was taped into a binder, and when I removed it, the tape ripped off part of the text on the back side outlining the rules and regulations, and what it was illegal for me as an operator to do on the air with our signal.

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I’ve joked over the years that my April Fool’s FCC permit grant date foretold what my career would hold in store!  The fact is, I had no idea about the journey upon which I was about to embark.  I was flying blind.  I had not gone to school to prepare for a career in radio and television, so I graduated from the “earn-as-you-learn” school of radio on my first job.  And for years, because I hadn’t studied broadcasting in school, I felt like a fraud and secretly feared that the Media Police would eventually discover me and throw me out of the business!

It turns out that my career in broadcasting has yielded me some of my most lasting friendships, taught me valuable skills and spanned nearly 3 decades.  From my first radio job where I played actual vinyl records and my first TV master control position using an antiquated commercial tape sequencer called Digitrol (a nightmare machine with a 9-second pre-roll!), I have seen old technologies fade away and new ones emerge.  Radio and television also seem to attract creative types.  I’ve worked with more writers, poets, artists and musicians than I ever dreamed possible outside of the professional music and art world.

I always tell the young people I work with through Delta Omicron to “have a plan, but be open to surprise”.  Over the years I’ve learned that God takes us where He does, when He does, for a reason.  Had I not been open to surprise—to flying blind—I would have missed my whole career and all the blessings it has brought me.  I am still very actively involved with music and pray that I always will be, as long as God gives me opportunities to serve Him in that way.  But my profession has been elsewhere, at least to this point.  And God has given me chances to serve there as well.  So it’s all good.  I’m still in many ways flying blind…and still very much open to surprise.

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Proverbs 3:5-6 gives wonderful advice.  “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.”  WhereEVER those paths lead.

 

Eulogy

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Radio, roses, rat-tails and River Phoenix…

The year was 1993 and I had taken a short-term job at an AM/FM in Morristown, TN, about an hour up the road from where I live in Knoxville.  I did a live mid-day shift on the country AM, and then production and voice-tracks for the night shift on the FM.  The job lasted 3 months.  The friendship with Ron that began there lasted 22 years.

When I met Ron he had a rat-tail, which, for those unfamiliar with 90’s hair trends, was a long, thin strand of hair hanging down the neckline of an otherwise short haircut.  It could be considered a cousin of the mullet, I suppose.  I’d never had a friend with a rat-tail before, but Ron didn’t hold that against me.  In fact, he never held anything against me, ever.  Oh, he’d call me on the carpet if I wasn’t being honest with myself, but he never made me feel judged.  He was one of my “easy” people…easy to like, easy to talk to, easy to be with.

It was just about this time in 1993 that the young actor River Phoenix died outside a nightclub from a drug overdose.  When I returned to work the following Monday, as Ron and I were talking about the story we looked at each other and, at the same time, said, “Poor dumb b@$&@%d!”   I think this might have been the moment when I realized that, yes, we are going to be friends.

My last day of work at the station, he sent me 3 red roses, one for each month I had worked there.  I still have them, dried, in a wreath with other flowers from years gone by.  We promised to keep in touch.  And we did.  And in those days, keeping in touch meant actually writing letters, since there was no e-mail yet, (certainly no Facebook!) and phone calls between us were long-distance.  For years after I left the station he continued to call me by my middle name, Diane, which I had used on the air, even addressing letters to Diane.

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Later on, when he was working Friday overnights at the big Knoxville country station and I was working early Saturday mornings on the big adult contemporary station across town, he would visit me in my studio before heading home.  He knew the layout of our building about as well as I did, especially the location of the coffee pot and the men’s room.  And I visited him at his place several times on nights when I was free.  All this was before security cameras were everyplace and “unauthorized visitors” were so strictly forbidden.

He gave me so many gifts.  When something was disagreeable, he would often say, “This sucks pondwater!”  This expression comes from me often to this day.  And his favorite line was, “Lord help us on the broadcast!”  For me, “the broadcast” has become a metaphor for my life, and anytime I am facing some important event, good or bad, I catch myself whispering, “Lord help us on the broadcast.”  When I went into the funeral home the night we received friends when Mama died…the day I stepped onstage to sing with my chorus at Carnegie Hall…when I’ve interviewed for jobs or auditioned for solos…”Lord help us on the broadcast.”

I had the chance to visit with Ron in the hospital the night before he died.  He was in a lot of pain, but we still had a good visit together, talking about my husband and dog, and his children and both our workplaces, as well as the old days we shared in radio when we first got acquainted.  He was flat on his back and unable to move, so when his supper arrived, I said, “If you feel like you’d like to try to eat, I’m happy to help you with your supper so you don’t have to hurt yourself moving around.”  He said that would be good and I joked, “It ain’t nothing for me to cut up a man’s meat for him.  I won’t tell anybody, but you can tell people this cute brunette with big hair and big boobs hand-fed you your supper!”  And we laughed.  He ate decently considering the pain he was experiencing, and after he ate I asked, “Now that your belly has something in it, do you think you could sleep if I went on home?”  He said yes, so I got ready to leave.  But not before we had the chance to exchange “I-love-you’s”.  At that point there was no indication that less than 24 hours later he would be gone.

Now as I face the grief process for yet another treasured friend who died too soon, I feel many emotions.  I am sad, of course.  But I’m also grateful, for more than 2 decades of friendship and memories, for the clock he sent me as a housewarming present with a note saying he’d try to get by the studio that weekend for a visit, for the t-shirt from his station that he gave me and that I treasure (and can now fit into).  And I am especially grateful for our last “supper date” when I was able to offer him some nourishment for both his body and, I hope, his heart.

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And once again I find myself walking into a daunting place, whispering, shouting, praying…

Lord help us on the broadcast.

Vox Humana

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“The human voice is the organ of the soul.”—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Mama always told people that when I was born I came out singing.  I certainly don’t remember it, but I would like to think that my birth cries were at least a little bit musical!  Today’s church services and the choice of operatic soprano Renee’ Fleming to sing the Star Spangled Banner for the 2014 BIG FOOTBALL GAME (which, apparently cannot be called by its more “super” moniker unless one has permission to do so) have gotten me thinking about the human voice, mine and other people’s.

I’ve been singing pretty much all my life, from the time I was a small child.  It was just how I expressed myself and the thing I loved most to do in the world.  Those things are still true.  I took voice lessons beginning in the 8th grade and continued through college, earning a Bachelor of  Music in Applied Voice (it’s called Vocal Performance now).

As a voice student and musician, my fascination with the human voice led me into many other areas of study.  Classically trained singers, for example, need to have at least a shallow working knowledge of several foreign languages.  My first ever voice teacher started me with “the singer’s language”, Italian, a language of pure vowels and the art of bel canto, which means “beautiful singing”.  Singing in a foreign language made me feel very grown-up, but it also gave me a desire to learn how to make my foreign language diction as convincing as possible.  The ultimate goal is for listeners to think whatever language I am singing is my native tongue.

Singers also need to know certain things about how the human body is put together and how it functions, more than the average person generally needs to know.  Our bodies are our instruments and we have to understand how they work.  The voice doesn’t start in the throat.  It starts deep in the abdomen with the diaphragm, a muscle which we spend years strengthening in order to breathe deeply and efficiently, and to control the expulsion of air in long phrases.  We are trained to imagine filling our lungs up from the bottom in order to maximize their capacity.  Once the air is in, it is all about controlling how it comes out, but we have to be able to relax certain muscles even as we exercise this control.  The air passes through the vocal cords, two of the tiniest and strongest muscles in the human body, producing vocalizations of all kinds…singing, speech, laughter.

In college one of the classes I took and enjoyed was Physics of Musical Sound.  It fascinated me when my professor showed us an oscilloscope, an instrument that measures the human voice and other sounds, producing a sort of “sound print” of what it has recorded.  And much like fingerprints, these sound prints are unique.  I remember thinking how much I would love to have a picture of my very own voice print.  Now, with modern technology, one of our computers here at home has an oscilloscope, and I can capture my voice print!

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I spent a number of years working in radio, primarily as an on-air announcer and commercial copywriter/producer.  My musical training kept me mindful that I needed to be careful with my voice.  Even though it was not singing, radio work was also a very specialized use of the voice, and I knew both radio people and singers who developed voice trouble due to improper technique and bad habits.  My radio years were a lot of fun, and I think they gave me a different appreciation for the communication that is only possible with the human voice.

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I still do a bit of occasional voice-over work for a friend’s radio stations, but my first love will always be to sing.  I let my singing go for a long time, making the excuses we all make about not having enough time or energy to commit to music… something I would not allow to happen if I could have a do-over.  As it is, though, I sing as often as I have the opportunity.  Singing is, for me, a way to express the feelings for which there are no words, a way to thank and praise the God Who spoke the universe into being with His Voice. I will hope to sing for as long as l am able, expressing, thanking and praising with my own vox humana. 

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“I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath dealt bountifully with me.”

Psalm 13:6