Thursday, November 30, 2017

From the Archives - Radio Station Poetry


It’s a slow news day at albertnet so here’s another poem from my archives, complete with all-new footnotes. This one goes way back to spring 1988, after high school but during my year off before starting college. I was working as a receptionist at a radio station in San Luis Obispo, which was a really easy job ... most of the time.

Radio Poetry – Spring 1988


I went to print a lame computer file,
A task that rarely causes any strain.                                 2
But this time it’s become a real trial
Because my finger has betrayed my brain.
I pushed the wrong damn key, or so it seems,
Which set disaster into motion quick.                              6
Deleting files hurts my self-esteem;
And I’ve just done it, with one finger flick.
Of course a backup file isn’t there:
Erasing it, another of my feats.                                        10
And my mistake caught everybody’s glare;
I botched the job by trying to be neat.
     I’m glad my job seems still to be intact;
     But that move wasn’t helpful, that’s a fact!               14

Footnotes and commentary

Letterhead: Class FM

Yes, this radio station was actually called “Class FM.” As you can see, the call letters were KLZZ, which was the manager’s second choice because he couldn’t get KLAS. (Maybe KLAS breaks some arcane FCC rule.) As receptionist I was required to answer the phone, “Good evening, you’ve got Class!” The deejays gave me a hard time about that. In fact, one of them was bored once and swooped by my desk to snatch up the ringing phone before I could, and answered, “Good evening, you’ve got gas! I mean Class!”

The competing radio station in our moldy oldies genre, US 98, had the slogan “Rocking the Central Coast with hits, we’re US 98!” There was a standing dare among our deejays to actually say, on the air, “Hitting the Central Coast with rocks, we’re Class FM!”

Line 1: went to print

Though this is obviously a pretty lousy poem, I like the internal rhyme in the phrase “went to print.” I wish the rest of the poem matched this strong start.

Line 1: lame computer file

Of course a computer file can’t be lame, exactly, but I was a teenager, so “lame” was naturally one of my favorite words. (I’ve just checked in with one of my resident teenagers and she says “lame” isn’t used that often nowadays ... it’s reserved for special cases because “it’s like the ultimate insult.”)

Computers weren’t quite so ubiquitous back then. I think there were only one or two of them in the whole radio station. This was long before most teenagers (outside of a few nerds) did anything on a computer, so the station manager assumed I would be unable to operate ours. He was  astonished to learn that I not only knew WordStar, but could even type fast. I’m not saying he was impressed, exactly, but I think he found my rare skills kind of cute.

Line 2: causes any strain

Word processors didn’t do a whole lot back then, so using them was a breeze. The hard part of my job was keeping busy. The only reason I even had the job is that this radio station was located inside a mall, and the mall rules required that all businesses be open and staffed during mall hours, which ended at 9:00 p.m. My shift therefore started when the daytime office manager’s shift ended at 5 p.m. On those days that the main staff left on time, I could relax, but when they were milling around I had to look busy. This was a challenge because there was almost nothing for me to do there. There was barely enough work for the office staff. It was a new station and just finding its footing.

You know what did cause strain? When the station president got drunk. He had a sizeable wine collection in his office (which the deejays said was highly unusual, alcohol being traditionally banned from radio stations for obvious reasons). This guy had serious personal issues, and when he got drunk  he got mean. His favorite drunken activity was to chew my head off for “abusing the position” by “studying on the job.” My standard defense—“Sir, I’m not even a student!”—fell on deaf ears. Once the deejay rescued me by calling me into the broadcast room: “Dana, come in here, we’re about to do a contest!” This ruse amazingly did work; the president failed to grasp that I ran the contests (i.e., took the ninth caller) right from my desk.

Speaking of strain, those contests really were pretty  tricky. The deejay would announce the contest, my phone would light up, and I’d have to blow off the first eight callers very quickly to have the ninth caller queued up in time to transfer him or her to the deejay’s phone, so this lucky winner could be on the air receiving the prize. Sometimes I’d get flustered and accidently disconnect the winner, meaning I’d have to take the next (i.e., tenth) caller to transfer in to the deejay. In this case both the ninth and tenth callers would get the prize, but the ninth caller would be furious about missing that little bit of radio fame.

The other problem was if too few people called in, and I’d be anxiously willing the phone to ring again so we’d actually have a winner. It’s embarrassing to recall how long it took me to figure out that callers had no way of knowing where their call actually fell in the onslaught, meaning I could say whatever I wanted. I could tell the first caller, “Congratulations, you’re the ninth caller!” and transfer him or her into the deejay, then get rid of all the other callers, perhaps telling each and every one of them, “Sorry, you’re the eighth caller.”

Line 3: it’s become

Glaring verb tense mismatch here. Heaven will take note.

Line 4: my finger

I’m not sure which finger this would have been. To save and exit from a WordStar document you typed Control-K and then X. To exit without saving changes you typed Control-K and then Q. So really, two fingers betrayed my brain: my ring finger that failed to type X, and my pinkie that typed Q. But neither of these would actually delete the file unless I hadn’t saved it at all. Who knows how I screwed this up. How lame is that: in a sprawling 14-line poem I failed to properly document the failure mode so as to learn from my mistake.

Line 6: set disaster into motion quick

It’s a good thing I was hired on as a receptionist, not a poet. This line is just plain embarrassing. Deleting the file was almost instantaneous. There was no disaster to “set into motion.” One second the file existed, and the next it didn’t. And a “disaster”? Please. It’s not like I had done a bunch of research or composed a precious manuscript. Whatever that file was, it could just be retyped. Sure, this might take time, but as I said, I had gobs of time. Nothing but time.

Line 7: self-esteem

Now this is just plain laziness. I needed a word that rhymed with “seems,” and blithely landed on “self-esteem” without any concern for accuracy. I was not some emo kid, let me assure you. Hell, emo hadn’t even been invented yet. I cannot fathom why I even bothered to write this sonnet if I wasn’t going to even try to make it good. In fact, I’ll bet in the next ten seconds I could write a better line. “I turned my day into a dreadful dream.” That’s better. Of course, the original eighth line no longer follows so I’ll have to rewrite it, too: “I screwed the pooch with just one finger flick.” There.

Line 10: Erasing it, another of my feats

I half-wish I could say I made up  this part solely to add a line or two to the sonnet. But in fact, I actually had deleted the backup file. Unless you’re an old guy like me, you probably won’t remember a time when disk space was considered valuable and something worth conserving. The 5¼-inch floppy disks we used back then held precious little data: 160 KB, which is 1/25000th the capacity of the 4-GB micro-SD cards that I happen to have a whole Ziploc baggie of. (Imagine a stack of 25,000 of those 5¼-inch floppies, holding the same amount of data as a thumbnail-sized card!) I filled up more than a dozen of those big-ass floppy disks during college, with nothing but text. Saving file space in those days was as sacred an act as saving trees.

Line 11: caught everybody’s glare

Okay, this part is just pure fiction. I doubt anyone in that office paid any attention to anything I did. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. The bulk of my “work” was chatting with the deejay, to keep him or her from being bored. Most of the time the deejay during my shift was Beverly Hayes (her broadcast name), and we had these long, rambling conversations interrupted periodically by her required on-air utterances (e.g., “That was Neil Diamond with ‘Forever in Blue Jeans, and you’re listening to Class FM, 101.3”). Occasionally we sang along with the music, really belting it out. Sometimes I would have the strange experience of hearing two versions of Bev simultaneously: one talking in real-time about, say, the La Brea tar pits, and the other an on-air playback of an ad she’d recorded for the station: “Not elevator music, not hard rock ... just smooth, easy-listening favorites from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s!”

Needless to say, my file deletion wouldn’t have caught the deejay’s glare. Who, then, was even watching? It could be that as a teenager I felt so self-conscious, I naturally believed that everybody automatically noticed my blunder. Perhaps the office manager did, if she was waiting for me to finish typing the document. But she wouldn’t have cared. She was a pretty cool gal, in her twenties, with a blond perm, a stick-thin figure, and a fondness for stiletto heels. She drove me somewhere in her Jeep once (I can’t remember where or why) and as soon as she turned the key in the ignition this MegaDeth song came on at party volume. Shoot, what was her name? I remember her walking through the station singing along to Peter, Paul, & Mary’s “Where have all the flowers gone?” but changing up the lyrics a bit: “We rolled them up and smoked them, every one!”

Line 12: trying to be neat

Isn’t it odd how much the act of using a personal computer involves aesthetics? Try turning down the screen resolution on your PC and you’ll immediately find that something is seriously amiss. Back in 1988, of course, all monitors were monochrome and every character was highly pixelated.  (And mere characters were almost all there was, graphics being a long way away for most applications.) About all we could do to improve things aesthetically was to shorten the list of filenames that would zoom by when you typed “dir” and hit Enter.

Line 13: job seems still to be intact

Could I really have been worried about losing my job? Well, perhaps, since it seemed too good to be true that they would pay me the princely sum of $5.50 an hour just to sit around yakking with a dejay (and, yes, occasionally putting up with a chaotic contest or a drunken tirade from the big boss).

Now, $5.50 an hour might not seem like a lot to you, or to Eminem, who rapped, “I’m tired of jobs startin’ off at five fifty an hour/ And then this boss wonders why I’m smartin’ off/ I’m tired of being fired every time I fart and cough.” But he wrote that in 1999. Adjusted for inflation, my pay in 1999 would have been $7.73 an hour. Hmmm. That still seems like not very much. In today’s dollars, though, it would be $11.59 an hour. That’s pretty good, actually. My daughter says she’d take it. (How did I calculate all this? Click here!) 

I was supporting myself on that receptionist job, plus my day job as a bike mechanic, so I’d have hated to get fired for deleting a file, farting, or coughing. I don’t recall ever farting or coughing at that job. I did, once, sneeze spectacularly. This was far enough along in my receptionist career that Bev had gotten tired of walking out to my desk from the broadcast room every time she was done talking on-air and had started another song. So she invited me to roll my chair into the broadcast room next to hers, and we’d just keep the conversation running right up until the current song was ending. Then she’d flip on the mike, the “ON AIR” light would go on, and I’d know to shut up. But one time, a sneeze took me by surprise—in fact it took us both by surprise—and was totally picked up by the mic. After a short, awkward silence Bev said her bit, flipped off the mic, turned to me and said, “Congratulations, you just sneezed all over the Central Coast.”

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