In my work life, the things I do are measured by return on investment. I suppose the same can be said about my personal life, although sometimes the return is in personal satisfaction. Such was the case when I was a student at Rose-Hulman, where I was the morning show host on the campus radio station, WMHD. Such is also the case on this blog.
In pro radio, jocks covet the morning spot because it has the biggest audience and therefore the most prestige and best pay. But at WMHD, we figured that our biggest audience tuned in weeknights after 6 p.m., when students settled in to do the prodigious amounts of homework the professors had assigned us. I routinely did homework for six hours each night; my experience was typical. Sometimes I’d take a break and walk through the residence halls, counting dozens rooms from which I could hear our station. Or I’d visit the broadcast studio, where phone rang off the hook with students calling to request their favorite music. These unscientific ratings methods supported our belief.
Knowing people were listening and engaged made the evening shows fun, and most of our jocks wanted them. They filled fast with our best jocks. Afternoon shows were next most popular, but shows before noon were hard to fill. The morning show was nearly impossible to staff, as it meant being on the air at 7 a.m. – again, what college student wants to get up early? Well, I did. I was station manager, the top dog, and I could have any show I wanted. But I chose the morning shift whenever my class schedule allowed.
WMHD was in the basement of a residence hall. I lived in a room about a hundred feet away. When my alarm went off at 6:45 a.m., I’d put on my glasses and head right for the station, barefoot and in my nightclothes, stopping only to answer nature’s call. I’d pick out the first four or five songs, fire up the transmitter, and play the sign-on message. The Electric Breakfast was on the air.
Our station’s hallmark was that each disk jockey got to play whatever he wanted. For the morning show, I chose mostly mellow acoustic music, much of it from 1970s singer-songwriters, the idea being that the show would gently ease listeners into the morning. It really stood out against the station’s normal alternative rock and heavy metal programming.
I figure that most mornings I had just a handful of listeners. I am sure that sometimes I played music for nobody at all. At 160 watts, WMHD could be heard within only about a two-mile radius, half of which was a cornfield and a horse farm.
I would have been thrilled for hundreds of people to hear my show, but I was plenty happy with the way things were. You see, I loved to match key, tempo, and mood, mixing songs so that each one seemed a natural extension of the one before. I did it all by feel, and was supremely satisfied each time I nailed it.
Once in a while, the phone would ring. It was always a fellow who lived in nearby Seelyville who often listened to me as he got ready for work. He enjoyed the tapestries of music I wove and would call to tell me when he especially enjoyed a transition I made between songs. And once in a while someone would stop me on my way to class to say that he enjoyed what he had heard.
This occasional praise was all I needed to keep at it.
I am so glad I recorded a few Electric Breakfasts. This is an “unscoped aircheck,” as they say in the biz, of the first 45 minutes (one side of a 90-minute cassette!) of the show from Wednesday, April 6, 1988. You can hear pops and scratches in the records I played – unlike most radio stations, we didn’t compress our audio to eliminate noise and make the music seem louder. You can also hear the sleepiness in my voice; it usually took me most of the first hour to shake it. But I was not so sleepy that I couldn’t manage a few good transitions between songs. Check it out.
My blogging experience has been very much like The Electric Breakfast. Down the Road is a mere blip in the blogosphere, barely a whisper among the Internet’s clamoring voices. If this post is typical, it will find 15 or 20 views in its first few days. Thanks to the Internet’s long tail, it might find another 50 more readers in the next year. Given that this post has taken me three hours so far to write, that’s a lot of my time for a fairly meager response!
(There are exceptions. To my unending surprise, my posts about my vintage cameras get the most traffic. Posts about my Kodak Junior Six-16 and my Minolta Hi-Matic 7 are the most popular, with dozens of views each month.)
But I love the writing process and find it supremely satisfying when my sentences flow seamlessly into powerful paragraphs, which build an engaging story. And I love it when you leave comments, sharing your experiences or challenging my assertions or just saying that you enjoyed what I wrote. This is enough to keep me blogging indefinitely.
I never thanked that guy from Seelyville for listening. But I thank you for reading!
I’ve written about my radio experiences before – how I got started, how I was humiliated live on the air, and why radio wouldn’t be fun for me today.