A face for radio: How to get fired in less than four hours

Columnist

I don’t discuss my radio career often. For starters, some of the litigation hadn’t been settled until recently. Another reason I’ve been quiet about it is that it was very brief.

I was hired as the overnight disc jockey at a small, independent FM station; the voice of Baytree Avenue between 13th and 18th Street – if the weather was clear. The owner had already sold the overnight airtime, so all he really needed was someone to change the records.

Yes, records. This station did not have a CD player. That was fine, though. The station also did not have a format, a program manager or any sort of real structure. It was basically an audio billboard.

I worked the overnight shift, midnight to 6 a.m. In addition to my record changing and ad running duties, I was required to perform station identification once per hour and conduct an Emergency Broadcast System Test once per night.

Over the weeks, I worked my way through the record collection. Apparently, at one point, the station had been a country-formatted station. By “at one point,” I mean circa 1927. We had the largest collection of tinny yodeling music in the tri-state area. I would play these records and challenge my listeners to call me and put a stop to it. I called it “The Hour of Hate.”

The phone never rang.

“The Hour of Hate” had convinced me I had no listeners.  So, I decided on another fun, little radio prank.

Every night, at 3 a.m., I would conduct the test of the Emergency Broadcast System. Radio stations with actual budgets have a pre-recorded tape of the test that plays just like an advertisement. At our station, it was a signal generator and a script.

It came time for the evening’s test. I began to read the script, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System …” I finished reading the intro, and played the test tone.

It was while the test tone was playing that I had an idea. The disc jockey had a wonderful, awful idea.

I ended the tone. I started to read the conclusion of the script, “… if this had been an actual emergency, the tone you just heard would have been followed by … ”

The next word in the script was “instructions.” I didn’t say “instructions.”

I said, “… the sound of me screaming like a little girl and running out of the building.”

The phone rang.

Did you know the FCC listens to every broadcast? Did you know it was against the law to make fun of the Emergency Broadcast System? Did you know that they fine the on-air talent as well as the station? Did you know that you could be fired in less than four hours?

Me neither, but I know now.