Going back to my hometown sometimes makes me feel bipolar but without Lithium. It's always a pleasurable experience to be able to see my family. In fact, there's nothing quite like the brothers and sisters getting together amongst a few bottles of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold and swapping tales. It's also amazing to be able to watch the growth of all the nieces and nephews.
The let-down occurs when I get in the rental car and start driving around the city. Usually, Donna and I have to visit our favorite haunts in order to bring northeast Ohio goodies back to Illinois. For her, it's usually peanut clusters from Ben Heggy. For me, it's trying to figure out how to transport a couple of 6-packs in luggage and getting it past the TSA folks. (as an FYI, a couple of pairs of old underwear will do when no bubble-wrap is available. One just has to pop the cap later while wearing latex gloves. It's also one of the reasons I prefer to travel by car instead of by plane.)
I like to drive past my old church. I like to drive past my old house. And I used to like to drive past my old place of employment, Lemmon's Market on 12th Street. But within the last year, it's been torn down. Let me tell you, that definitely instigated an extra prescription for Zoloft. I received some valuable life-lessons at that old grocery market. When we home during the holidays, I took the video-camera with me and stood there, for what seemed like an hour, filming that now-barren location. That one hurt.
As I mentioned in a previous post, my parents moved to an apartment on the other side of town. While making my way over to their place, I usually drive past the very first radio station I ever worked at: WRCW-AM. I pulled the car over and parked in front of what used to be the radio station, because it was last Friday that I learned that they tore that building down, too. Oh, Lithium, where is thy sting!
Back in 1985, I was teaching at Mansfield Business College in Canton. Although I enjoyed both being called "Mr. Anthony" and knowing that I was actually being paid to use my diploma, I was simply biding my time until I could get behind a microphone. Earlier in the year, I took a small tape-recorder up to my bedroom (yes, I was still living at home...how much money do you think teachers make?) and "pretended" to read the news, as well as perform some commercial copy. (I believe that I read a bank advertisement) I then put that cassette into an envelope along with a resume and drove it over to 1060 AM WRCW at about 10 o'clock that night and dropped it into their mailbox.
A couple of weeks later, I was coming out of a classroom and getting ready to enter another when the front receptionist told me that I had a phone call. On the other end was Ron Colander, the owner of WRCW, who told me that he had retrieved my package from the mailbox and wanted to talk to me. I couldn't believe it!
Later that week, on a Friday, I went over to the station. The blue building looked like an old ranch home that had seen better days. The reception area was a small room that doubled as the sales office. Mary Ann, the sales manager, told me to have a seat. While I waited, I could see through the large, double-glassed windows into, what I assumed to be, the On-Air studio. There was an older gentleman sitting behind the console and the microphone, the person who I assumed was on the air when I drove in. Next to him, furiously gathering records, was another disc-jockey. He was moving back and forth, grabbing stacks of records off a shelf and walking them to the other side of the room where he was stacking them in rows. I could see their mouths moving in conversation but I couldn't hear what they were saying.
Finally, Ron invited me into his office. (Ron Colander? Arcey Broadcasting? WRCW? Get it?)He was a short, slightly rotund, rather disheveled man who wore dark-rimmed glasses and spoke really loudly. He talked a bit about my resume and then asked, "Why in the hell do you want to be in radio?" I cleared my throat and, in my best "radio-voice", told him that I had been mesmerized, even as a child, over the sound of those voices coming through the radio speaker. I told him that my brother Mark and I used to lay awake at night listening to WWWE in Cleveland, paralyzed by the loud, boisterous rants of Pete Franklin on SportsLine. Later, my mother bought me a huge transistor radio, and I couldn't wait to go to bed at night so that I can turn the dial and see what faraway radio stations I could hear. One night it would be WOWO in Ft. Wayne. The next night, WLS in Chicago. Or WSB in Atlanta. I told Ron that I enjoyed teaching, but that I was one of those guys who always knew exactly what he wanted to do.
He seemed impressed. So, he said, "I'll tell you what. I'll have Mary Ann show you some of the equipment in the production studio. You come in after business hours with her and learn the equipment. Practice reading commercials, maybe put some music underneath 'em. I can't pay you, but I can let you learn. And, if there's a commercial you record that we can use, I'll put it on the air."
Well, I was all about that! So, he gave me the grand tour of the building, which included the production studio (I can still see those worn toggle-switches and those big round knobs on the board), the engineers room (Ron was also the engineer, in addition to being the owner, OM, PD, News Director, and trainer of radio wannabe's like me), and the bathroom. I officially met Mary Ann and then finally went into the On-Air studio. Whenever I smell something with that slightly musty/electrical-heat/vinyl-record scent, I think of walking into that studio. That's when I met Ricco. He called himself "The Italian Mouth", and man could he talk! He was just starting his show and as Ron was introducing me to him, he was reaching up on the top of a shelf and pulling down a shoebox. As he was telling me about himself, he reached into that box and pulled out a red bandana. Like some kamikaze pilot readying himself for honorable battle, he ceremoniously tied that bandana around his forehead and said to me, with a kind of manacing look, "If ya wanna be in radio, ya gotta be crazy. Are ya crazy!?"
That kinda freaked me out. But what was even more enthralling was watching him. I had never actually seen a disc jockey ply his trade. He was a whirlwind of activity. Grabbing records, cueing them up with one hand while grabbing copy with the other. He was a blur of activity, flicking toggle switches, spinning those big knobs, and all with rapid-fire delivery, never missing a beat. We exited the studio and then Ron said goodbye and told me he'd see me next week. I wandered out to my car in a daze, really wondering whether or not I could actually do all the things that I had seen and heard Ricco do.
But I did. I spent all of the available time I could in that old blue building. In fact, my wife and I can still hum the music I used for my first-ever radio commercial, a spot for Grandma Shearer's Potato Chips. And now, almost 25 years later, I still remember that interview-day as if it happened yesterday. And as I pulled away and headed back over to my parents' apartment, I wondered if I'd feel so sentimental about everything that, in its own way, finally goes away. If so, then I wasn't handling it so well. It looks like I'd better stock up on Lithium.
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