You Never Get Over Your First Love

I am often told that I have a great face for radio.  This much is certain.

I am also often told that I have a great voice for radio.  Someone at work today told me that I missed my calling as a radio announcer and to a great degree, that’s the truth.  I missed my calling.  Or more correctly, I miss it.

I miss radio.  I miss it every time I listen which is at least every work day.

WFOB as it looks today. It's not changed much except that the studios are now downtown.

WFOB as it looks today. It’s not changed much except that the studios are now downtown.

My first awareness of the medium goes back further into my past than you’d think.  I know I was no older than five years old, though from memory my precise age is unclear.  My father took me out to rural Fostoria, Ohio where hometown station WFOB maintained its studios and transmitters.  It was in a little brick building behind which were three tall towers painted red and white.  He drove us up the long driveway and took me inside.

My first question of the man who greeted us was “Where do all the people sing?”  As a four or five year old, I was a little unclear on the concept of radio.  I recall being a little confused that there was no big studio for the musicians to perform in.  And no musicians.  If there was no studio, where was the music coming from?  Being too young to articulate this question, or perhaps too young to understand the explanation, I was whisked in to the announcers booth and told what to say while the Man who Greeted Us worked some equipment. After a couple of missteps, and an eventual “Great job!” from the Man who Greeted Us, I heard the sound of my own voice coming from the monitor in the booth:

“You’re listening to WFOB and WFOB-FM Fostoria with studios in Bowling Green.”

I had a slight speech impediment as a kidling* so “Fostoria” came out more like “Fos-tohweea.”  I might have said “full-time studios” but that may just be me remembering their long standing station ID that I heard for years every time I listened.

I remember little else of that visit other than being completely wowed by the experience. I felt like quite the celebrity when I got home and Dad turned on the radio in the house for me so I could hear myself doing the station ID a few times an hour.   I absolutely loved hearing my own voice on the radio!

That hasn’t changed a bit since.

A few years later, I saved my nickels and dimes and Dad took me downtown to the Montgomery Ward’s store on Main Street in Fostoria to help me buy a transistor radio. It was a little, red pocket model, a Zenith, I think, with a speaker in the front.  A small tuning dial allowed me free run of the AM radio band.  Included at no extra charge was an old-school earphone for listening without disturbing others.

If memory serves, it looked like this:

Vintage_Zenith_Royal_50_Transistor_Radio,_Made_in_USA_(8664443608)

Amazing what Google can find!

I’d remove it carefully from the box in which it came and once I was done listening, I even more carefully replace it in its box.  It was, after all, my most valued possession and I wasn’t about to leave anything to fate.

Anyway, I was just getting to the age when music meant something to me and I wanted to listen to the Friday night request show on WFOB (“We’re Full of Baloney,” as they came to be known.)  So Friday nights, once Mom sent me off to bed, I’d sneak out the box with my Zenith radio in it, carefully remove it, plug in the earphone and listen to rock ‘n roll until I either fell asleep or got caught.

That radio was with me for a long time.  I seem to remember having it quite a few years later at my grandparents’ house on Lincoln Avenue listening to a hockey game and trying to figure out what the hell was going on from the play-by-play.  That was mission impossible and I immediately and permanently lost any interest in hockey.

Other radios have come and gone but the love for the medium and the technology persisted.

When I was in Military School, my friend, Jeff Tobin expressed a similar interest in radio and armed with a cassette recorder and a little creativity, wrote, performed and recorded radio shows and skits.  Jeff had been a successful community theater actor and is an extraordinarily talented guy to this day.  But it was my interactions with him back in the day that made me realize that being on the radio wasn’t something that other people did.  Working in radio was within my grasp.

Jeff and I went to Westminster College together in 1976.  His Dad was the director of admissions there and me, as a “path of least resistance” kinda guy, applied there and was accepted.  Jeff and I performed live at Westminster’s annual newcomers talent show a radio skit that we’d written, performed and recorded the year before at military school.  We were a big hit.

The next day, Jeff and I went to the campus radio station, WKPS (now WWNW), to see about volunteering there.  We were greeted by one of the students who we’d later learn was Jim “Geem” Boyd who took one look at us, eyes widening, and said in a loud voice “Oh my God, they’re here!!!”  I checked with Jeff during his visit this weekend and he confirmed that this actually happened as I’ve described it.

Jeff and I worked at WKPS that year and throughout our respective tenures at Westminster.  So enamored with radio were we both that we got paying jobs at commercial stations the next year.  Jeff went to WGRP-AM/FM in Greenville, PA and Geem Boyd, now the news director at WHO Radio in Iowa, went to WFAR in Farrell.  Before trudging off to ROTC Advanced Camp that summer, I interviewed for an on-air job with WKST Program Director, Steve Mechling.  He told me that he’d write and let me know if I was hired before the summer was over.   I remember vividly receiving the letter at Fort Lewis and reading that I was hired.  And I probably still have that letter tucked away somewhere.

I had arrived.

Yes, there’s no doubt that I was unjustifiably impressed with myself.  I was a jackass kid who thought he had talent.  But Steve and others at the station tolerated me, taught me and let me make mistakes.  Folks like Bradley W. Baker, Gary West, Herb Morgan, Mike Grenci, Joey Macy, and many other talented broadcasters made that experience overwhelmingly positive in spite of myself and my over active ego.

After WKST, I went in the Army with the hope of working in Army broadcasting.  I weaseled my way into an assignment as the Radio and TV Officer at Fort Gordon’s WFG Radio.  Aside from my radio duties, the PAO, then Maj. Mike Miller handed me a 30-minute TV show to produce, write and anchor, so I had tons to learn. Maj. Miller also gave me the freedom to learn and make mistakes and I made more than my share of real whoppers at that job.

After my experience at Fort Gordon, I worked in radio at:

The American Forces Network, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

WCKJ Augusta, GA.  I only worked there two weekends.  It was a hideous experience.  You could play every record in the building in a six-hour air shift.  I’m not joking – literally every record.  On the upside, my sister got to hear me on the air for the first and only time.

KXDZ-FM and KABN-AM, Anchorage Alaska.  I did mostly voice over work for them producing 60-second “Good News” spots for the automated stations.  Though I was the morning man for a week or so when KXDZ went live from the Alaska State Fair in 1989.  I was told at the time that I earned the distinction of being the first on-air deejay to do a live, in-state radio show via satellite.  I have no way of verifying the truth in this statement but it’s fun to think about.

The American Forces Network, The Balkans, Tuzla Bosnia.  I led the radio and TV mission there, though I did no on-air work.

I did a ton of voice over stuff destined for radio broadcast over the years and of course, the on-camera stuff as well.  Plus the occasional acting gig.  But when I punch the “AM/FM/Sat” button on the Prius, it’s all about radio and I can’t help but sigh wistfully.

I’d love to get back into it but of course, it’s a very different industry far inferior to that of my formative years as a radio performer.  I know that if I were to go back, I’d be disappointed in what’s become of radio.  Still, I can’t help but miss it.

AT40Recirds

AT-40 used to be delivered on vinyl.

On weekends when I’m in the car and I punch the “Sat” button, I get a kick out of Sirius/XM’s weekend playbacks of old American Top 40 radio shows.  I used to engineer those shows on WKST.  As soon as I hear Casey Kasem’s voice and that familiar theme music, I’m right back in that dingy little studio at WKST playing the shows off of standard 33 1/3 records.

“And now, on with the countdown!”

* I’m not exaggerating about having a speech impediment.  It was bad enough that Mom and Dad sent me to speech therapy classes in elementary school for at least a year.  I had problems articulating “r” sounds.  I remember repeating the phrase “wed wabbits wun wappidly” until I was sick to death of it.  I finally mastered it but strangely enough, I never did see any wed wabbit wunning.

2014 – An Even-Numbered Year

No, I suppose that’s not the best thing I can say about 2014. But it was the first thing to come to mind when I wanted to describe the year in a nutshell.

2014-logo-stock-market-forecast-predictions-goldman-sachs-gold-europe-japan-options-trading-technical-analysis-etf-educationThis past year was actually pretty decent as years go. It had its high points and it’s low points and a lot of points in between.

Sidebar: My Dad always used to say, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” I always parodied it as “The shortest line between two distances is a straight point” or something like that.   The straight point always made the mathematician in me giggle.)

This year marked my return to the world of the employed. I wrote about my first year at Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center a while back.   In July, I unintentionally acquired the mission to coordinate a presidential visit to the Center. That turned out to be a huge shot in the arm both professionally and personally. I had not experienced any real successes for along time and successfully coordinating that visit was the kind of confidence builder that I didn’t know I really needed – but I did – much more than I’d thought. So for that opportunity, and for all of the great people at the Center and at the White House who contributed to that success, I am very, very grateful.

Emmett, biting an object that for a change isn't my arm.

Emmett, biting an object that for a change isn’t my arm.

We lost Bella and gained Emmett as our family dog. While in my mind, the jury’s still out on whether this is a good thing or not, in moments of clarity, I recognize that Emmett provides me with a little bit of calm quiet time when we go on our evening walks around the neighborhood.

Of course, when I come home from work in the evening, he’s at the top of the stairs wagging his tail like a garrison flag in a tornado, his teeth are often bared in an aggressive grimace that rivals that of a battle-readied Klingon, and he’s growling in a way that to the uninitiated would be a clear indicator for future avoidance.

Oh, he’s also licking my hand as fast as his tail is wagging. In between growls, there are squeals of either delight or constipation. But so far, he’s not pooped, so I’m going with delight.

He’s a canine nutcase. But we have a mutually beneficial relationship even though he’s bitten me on a couple of occasions. So Emmett, and you’ll only hear me say this once, I’m grateful for your presence in spite of that time you sank your teeth into my left forearm.

10711081_10204501114865980_4278450657355952218_nAnd to Beth Geyer, Mistress of the Universe and Supreme Leader of All She Observes, I am grateful for you, for finding Emmett, for believing in him when I didn’t and helping me find his inner sweetness. Really, REALLY inner. And not very sweet when you get right down to it.

Oh, and thank you for taking such good care of me, Nate and Garrett. You do good work and we all love you! And you’re really, really pretty too, which is a plus!

The Prius, some years ago.  It doesn't look much different today.

The Prius, some years ago. It doesn’t look much different today.

I’m grateful for my Toyota Prius. At over 205,000 miles, it’s going strong, in good mechanical shape and still fun to drive. It’s unexpectedly comforting to have a vehicle that is reliable, comfortable and fun to drive even if the technology under the hood is ten years old. Thanks, Toyota, for making such a terrific car. (I just noticed that I was grateful for the Prius last year because I paid it off. Well, at least I’m consistent about something.)

My brother, Jefferson, and his family at a German Ikea store which looks remarkably like the ones here in the U.S.

My brother, Jefferson, and his family at a life-changing German Ikea store which looks remarkably like the ones here in the U.S.

I’m grateful to the U.S. Army for a number of reasons, but the latest isn’t even something that affects me. Thanks for sending my brother, Jefferson and his magnificent family to live in Europe for a few years. I mention this because back in 1981, the Army sent me to Europe to live and it was an overwhelmingly positive, life-changing experience that I really do cherish to this very moment. I hope that for him and his family it is at the very least an equally positive experience.

Another sidebar: I admit I am more than a tad envious. I’d always wanted to go back for another permanent change of station to Europe. So I am grateful for the opportunity to hear about their experiences over there.

Here’s a quote from last year. It’s not like my social life has changed much at all, so this really still applies:

“I’m grateful to the online community for keeping me company when I can’t get out of the house, which is pretty much always. Thank you for entertaining me, engaging me and giving me an outlet for socialization even if it is virtual in nature. I recognize that you’re all real people on the other side of my screen, and I value your friendship, your candor and your confidence. I’m extra grateful that I DO get to see many of you in person from time to time. Thank you for being so welcoming and so supportive.”

I’m pretty sure I’m grateful for a ton of other things, but at this moment, I am too sleepy to write about ’em all. So for the moment, I’ll be particularly grateful for the opportunity to count my many blessings at the end of this very eventful and positive year and say thank you to all my friends for just being.  You all matter to me.

If I had to do 2014 over again, I’d do it with more comfortable shoes. Other than that, 2014…? You go in the “win” column!

Oh, and thanks for reading the stuff I post on this blog. It’s always a pleasure to interact with you even (especially!) when we don’t agree. Let’s make 2015 the year of cogent discourse!

And chocolate. Yeah, 2015 should have more chocolate.

Playing Catch Up with the News

I’ve not written much lately. You know, life getting in the way and all that rot. I am a terribly undisciplined person writer and don’t always post here or anywhere else, for that matter. But I got this web site and I really should feed it more often. But I’m lazy.

For now, since I am far too lazy busy to write lengthy essays on topical issues and in the spirit of feeding this blog, here’s a list of winners and losers from relatively current events.

Kim Jong Un vs. Sony Pictures:

Winner by KO: Kim Jong Un. North Korea appears to have single handedly dealt a serious economic blow to a major U.S. corporation. The accepted definition of terrorism, ”the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” applies here. We as a Nation should respond accordingly.

the-interview

(Sidebar: I’ll bet sales of “Team America: World Police” are going to skyrocket because of this. Therefore, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the only American winners in this transaction.)

 

Mid-term Elections: Republicans vs. Democrats:

Winner: No one. We still get the same guys for the most part. I long for a viable third party.

 

Kim Kardashian vs The Internet:

Winner: The Internet. She didn’t break the Internet. Kim’s butt is the broken one – it’s got a crack in it. (Hardy har har.)

(Sidebar: If you were expecting a picture here, you will be sorely disappointed.)

 

U.S.A. vs Cuba:

Winners: Everyone. We’re now a step closer (albeit a small one) to exporting American culture, commerce and freedom to Cubans. Besides, what was in place wasn’t working and after 50 years, it’s time to try something new.

Now, let’s sell those Cubans some DirecTV dishes!

 

Marvel vs. DC:

Winner: Marvel. While “Gotham” on the Fox network is terrific, Marvel has masterfully woven its characters into a rich fabric spanning movies and television. The finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” delivered a magnificent situation from which the Marvel universe will blossom even more. Well done, Marvel Studios.

Chloe Bennett as Skye

Chloe Bennett as Skye

Loser: Paramount Pictures. They still can’t get “Star Trek” right. Trek is as rich of a property as Marvel with an established fan base. Why they keep screwing it up is beyond me.

 

NASA vs. ESA:

Winner: The edge goes to ESA for landing on a comet ten YEARS after launching the damned thing. Philae’s successful landing on Comet 67P/Churymov–Gerasimenko is the culmination of a monumental undertaking by the European Space Agency. Well done!

ESA_Rosetta_Philae_CIVA_141113_1

NASA, please don’t feel left out. You only missed by a hair’s breadth. I have always loved what you do. You contributed enormously to my childhood imagination so I’m automatically prejudiced. Orion’s first flight was a remarkable accomplishment and paves the way for the return of American manned space missions. But dude, ten years? Man, that’s tough to top! (If that little explosion at Wallops hadn’t happened, you’d have had the edge. Just sayin’.)

NASA's Orion soon-to-be manned spacecraft.

NASA’s Orion soon-to-be manned spacecraft.

What a Difference a Year Makes!

One year ago:  Nate dressed up for school in celebration of my first day on the job.

One year ago: Nate dressed up for school in celebration of my first day on the job.

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary of employment with the federal government. (Yes, of the United States.)   I guess I must be doing OK because they’ve not yet asked me to go home and leave the parking pass behind.

This job has been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. After nearly two years of being unemployed, you’d think that any job would come as an unexpected surprise and this one was no exception at the time. That it’s remained unexpectedly pleasant for a year is really quite amazing.

The day I was hired, before driving out here to the research center where I work, I in-processed downtown at the DC offices near the Navy Yard. Without exception, everyone I encountered there told me how fortunate I was to have landed a job out here at the research center. Once I arrived on site, everyone here made me feel welcome and necessary to everything that was going on out here. It’s remarkable that such an attitude persists for very long at all but the truth is that everyone here still makes me feel that way. The real beauty of it? It seems that everyone out here gets the same treatment.

This place is overloaded with Ph.D.’s and engineers and smart people the likes of which I’ve not seen outside of academia. I am totally outclassed by pretty much everyone with whom I interact but no one has even once made me feel less than important even though I am less accomplished academically.

Sciency stuff:  The RABIT bridge deck assessment tool collects comprehensive data on surface and subsurface conditions automatically and simultaneously.

Sciency stuff: The RABIT bridge deck assessment tool collects comprehensive data on surface and subsurface conditions automatically and simultaneously.

I experienced a lot this past year. I got to photograph and briefly meet the President of the United States. I observed a small robot inspect an entire bridge structure. I watched a bunch of engineers and scientists break a bridge structure with over 300,000 lbs. of force. And a couple of spectacular car crashes NOT involving my Prius.

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? I’m grateful for having survived a year as a federal government employee. But more importantly, no one should ever disparage the entire federal workforce. There’s some serious — and I mean serious talent out here at Turner-Fairbank just as there was among my civilian colleagues within the Department of Defense.

But probably the most important and lasting thing that I’ve learned is because of my colleagues: dedicated service to your nation doesn’t have to come with a uniform.

Thanks for a great year!