Chapter 17 – Just Ten Years
On April 18, 1943, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander and Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy made a terrible mistake. He did not know the United States had cracked several of the Japanese codes and knew to the minute his schedule for a morale building trip to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. Two American P-38's with special fuel tanks were waiting. Clutching his sword to his chest, Yamamoto watched with horror as the right wing folded up into the fuselage and the fiercely burning Japanese G4M2 plunged into the jungle.
Four days later, I was born in Eppard Hospital in Cloquet, Minnesota. What is most amazing, the building still exists at the corner of 6th Street and Carlton Avenue. Today, it is a decrepit house with a sagging porch. The siding, gray, faded and shabby, looks as if it has been there all this time. There are Appalachian families who would spit on this house. Every time I drive to visit my brother I pass by wondering how it still stands. I am always surprised it hasn't collapsed from fatigue leaving nothing but the imaginary brass plaque heralding my birth, the only tourist attraction in this strange little town. This is the first time I have admitted to a Cloquet birth. It was much easier to just lie and say I was born in Duluth. After living in Duluth for a few years and remembering my months working in Duluth, I realize there is no point to the lie. There are Appalachian families who would spit on Duluth. And I wouldn't blame them.
This is a big world and just like that week during World War II, big things were happening and little things were happening. And both events had an effect. The wind blows a pebble of sand across the beach. A little thing. The piece of grit gets in the eye of a man walking by the water. He pauses to deal with the moment of irritation and that extra time on his walk delays him thirty seconds meaning he passes through the intersection thirty seconds after the eight year old boy crossed it on his bike without looking. Did that gust of wind and grain of sand save that little boy's life? Life is made up of trillions of interlocking events. Throw into this stew the vagaries of human emotion and it means we are just along for the ride and Doris Day had it right; Que Sera, Sera. What will be, will be.
From the moment Nick Jollymore introduced me to the world of DJ's and radio shows run by real people and suggested I should be a part of it, my goal was to work in the Twin Cities. I used to visit my Aunt in Minneapolis. She lived a block from Loring Park and there was just something about the big city that fit my personality. Although I listened to WEBC, the local Top-40 station, as a kid, when Nick introduced me to the skip signals from around the U.S., I discovered WLS in Chicago and KOMA in Oklahoma City. Stations in Detroit, Little Rock, Omaha came into my bedroom with incredible clarity late at night when I twirled the dial on my AM radio. In the early 60's on a visit to the Twin Cities, I heard KDWB for the first time. This was a great radio station. They were all great radio stations. Minneapolis and Saint Paul, though. That was was where I wanted to be. I lusted for it. When I finally arrived in 1968 I was where I belonged.
If you have read these endless pages you know there were peaks and valleys. There were moments of sheer bliss and unbelievable despair. During those ten years I had opportunities to leave. I was sort of hired in Chicago. The PD of the station told me on Friday, “Let's do it. I'll call you next week.” That Monday he was replaced as PD and...well that was that. I turned down a chance at San Francisco 6 years before I actually worked there. There were feelers here and comments there but I never really considered leaving. Until, that winter of early 1978. I am reminded of words I first heard from Deane Johnson, my PD at KDWB. Like Yamamoto I made a terrible mistake. As Deane used to say, “I put the plane into a power dive and didn't let up on the stick!”
I hear often from former friends and colleagues who stayed. Twenty, thirty years later they still toil in the Twin City Vineyards. I didn't. I got a grain of sand in my eye and it took me to Duluth, Modesto, San Francisco, Seattle/Tacoma, Modesto, San Francisco. I don't regret leaving the market I loved so much. I don't regret the sturm and drag that followed. It was just life. Que Sera, Sera.
It was one of those typical Minnesota late January days. Very cold and dry as a desert. The still air had a bite that took your breath away. In the headlights of my Toronado, Interstate 35 was dark and bleak as I drove north to Duluth. It was an unusual trip. First, I was going home without stopping to visit my family. I was going up and coming back on the same night. I was going to make the deal that would sever my relationship with Minneapolis/St. Paul. Greg Austin was keeping me company. He alone, knew what it was all about. It was Greg who originally showed me the newspaper ad that led me to the hotel on Highway 100 for the interview and was now directing me north to take the job. I was leaving KSTP and the Twin Cities to be General Manager of WEBC in Duluth. I was nervous as hell.
I have tried to analyze the reasons for this move. I have a long list. KSTP was an AM station and didn't have a chance of a musical future. The politics at KSTP were daunting and frustrating and had tired me out. There is a certain sound to the words...General Manager. My Dad lived up north and I know he would be proud of me. All true, but none totally accurate. Even though I wasn't totally happy at the prospect of leaving the 'big time' for Duluth and WEBC there was this gnawing feeling that if I didn't do it, I would regret it and be making a big mistake. It isn't fun to be torn apart by indecision. It is even worse to be torn apart by decision.
The mood during that trip north was somber. Certainly not with the joyous anticipation of my trip from Green Bay to Minneapolis ten years earlier. There was something else bothering me. Honestly, I was going to work for people I didn't like. This was a first for me. I worked for people I didn't know, but grew to respect. I worked for people who frightened me and lost that fear as I got to know them. I worked for people I truly liked. Never had I even considered working for someone I didn't like. They may have been very nice people. They had families; people loved them. I met some of their friends. I am tempted here to say, well, Hitler had friends too. That would be cruel. The point is I have changed in the last 30 years. It was a mistake for me to work for them at WEBC. Their mistake AND my mistake. A match made in hell. I should have answered ALL the questions on my eharmony.com profile before buying the ring.
We drove directly to the station on 9th Street. Greg waited in the lobby while I went into the General Manager's office with the owner and his brother. I was there to be hired and I was about to be screwed. My fault. I was committed. The decision was made. All that remained was the frosting on the cake and the hand shake. At some point, the question of compensation arose. The younger brother was prepared and took out a small piece of paper, just slightly larger than a Post-it and wrote upon it. He handed it to me. He had written a base yearly salary and, “ plus commission 10% increase yearly month to month”.
A lawyer would have had an immediate cardiac infarction and I would have gotten a proper contract. (See above: My fault. I was committed. The decision was made.) I nodded and we shook hands. I smiled on the outside. I wonder if Yamamoto felt the same way that morning in 1943 when he got on the airplane. Anyway, a few housekeeping details were discussed and it was decided I would join them in a few weeks. A psychological failing of mine causes me to eat when I'm happy and eat when I'm depressed. I'm surprised I didn't eat twice because I was neither. My enthusiasm was in Limbo. Greg and I drove back to the Twin Cities and I went home to Cedars North. The feeling was like something bad was looming. I remember sitting in my living room feeling badly about leaving someplace I loved. Emotionally, I was already separating myself from the Cities. This happened to be again a few years later when I moved from San Francisco to Tacoma. A lot of movies are made in San Francisco and early during my Washington State stay I avoided movies shot in San Fran because they made be wistful and unhappy.
I was also afraid because I had to tell Jack Nugent I was leaving. A career failing has always been a loyalty to my employer that was seldom, perhaps never, returned. In the morning, with heart beating I went to Jack's office on the third floor and told him. Either I did a good job of selling the opportunity or Jack didn't really care if I left or stayed because in his normally avuncular way he congratulated me and that was that. Once I left there was no coming back. I wouldn't do it and the powers at KSTP wouldn't have it. This was really a final decision. I went back downstairs to my office and Jack walked down the hall to tell Stanley. I had crossed the Rubicon.
The following weeks are a blur. The word got around and was met with a mixed reaction. I found myself constantly explaining my decision process and finally got begrudging congratulations or raised eye-brow disbelief. Any new adventure should include sadness at what you are leaving behind and excited anticipation of new challenges and opportunities. I had the former and none of the latter.
When decisions like this are made, everything accelerates. The following weeks passed in kaleidoscopic whirl. I told my family I was coming home. Not just to visit but to stay. During the couple of weeks between that winter ride to Duluth and my actual arrival on the job there were a half dozen good-bye lunches, a small good-bye party at my place and a Don Bleu arranged good-bye roast. A few days before I left KSTP, I was lured to the parking lot behind the main building. There in the cold was a bus loaded with friends, colleagues, and lots and lots of record promotion guys. (They were there to pay for everything) The bus went to a restaurant in Hudson where I was well roasted. It was fun and unusual. I have never been one to get many kudos from my fellow broadcasters. The fans have usually liked me but my fellow workers tolerated me. Am I being ungrateful when I say I got the feeling that most of the people on the bus would really have rather been someplace else?
On a Thursday afternoon at the end of February, I turned in my keys and door passes. (I kept my picture ID as a souvenir) That night a friend and I went to dinner at Murray's and late the next morning I drove north. Until I figured things out, I was going to stay with my Dad.
Everything that happened to me before I worked at WDGY, KDWB, U100, & KSTP was prologue. Everything after is epilogue.
Monday morning I drove to the studios/offices at WEBC. I was introduced to the staff and got busy. It wasn't that WEBC was in trouble. It just didn't seem to function. Most decisions were being made by the brothers and their long-time minions at corporate headquarters in Fargo. There was little team-work between sales and programming and there was no game plan. Like so many stations, WEBC was just drifting, doing things the way it was always done or the way it was done in Fargo. No body was thinking outside the box. Come to think about it, no body was thinking inside the box either. I knew there were things I didn't know. On the other hand, there were things I knew. During my years in radio I learned just by watching uber salesmen like Mike Sigelman and his gang. I had seen hands on GM's and dealt with some of the elites of promotion and programming. I even had personal moments of successful innovation. I wasn't a blank slate.
On my first day at WEBC I should have noticed the albatross sitting on the corner of my desk. There were comments and asides that didn't bode well. The first time I'm told that 'this isn't the big time' the warning flare should have exploded in the air. When it became a litany...uttered regularly I should have loaded a 38 and shot myself. I am not going to list the little slights and sarcasms tossed my way regularly. I wasn't there long enough to really care. The next five months changed my life. When I left I was angry. Now, when I think of what followed, I thank the brothers for luring me out of the Twin Cities and setting me on a path of adventures beyond any thing I could ever have contemplated.
During my first month at WEBC, the ref should have thrown the flag for piling on. The first crisis I remember was at the beginning of my second week. Everything station seems to have a woman who really runs things. Sometimes it is the bookkeeper and sometimes the traffic person. If they don't have the actual title of Office Manager, they have it by default. WEBC had one of those. This woman had been at WEBC for years and she was leaving. Retiring. I was crippled and someone had stolen a crutch! Days later, the chief engineer (of many years) decided to retire. There was no Program Director and no programming direction. The receptionist/secretary was thinking about quitting and the Sales Manger thought he was GM. On top of this, the station was carrying thousands of dollars in uncollected money for spots and sales were in a mid-winter slump. During the second week at WEBC, I drove back to Minneapolis for a doctor's appointment. After that meeting I had another thing to worry about. Then, on the weekend at the end of my second week at WEBC, my Dad asked me if I was going to Mass, told me he was going to shower and dress and make breakfast and while shaving had massive heart attack. Sitting at the kitchen counter, I heard the crash as he fell. I tried CPR but the doctor later told me Dad was gone before he hit the floor.
I was devastated four years before when my mother died on the first day of my new job at WYOO (the future U100). Losing my father at this point was almost more than I could bear. I don't remember much of the next few days because the doctor gave me something. Many people have lost their parents. There is a unique difference though. Most children marry, create their own family, and although the hurt is real, there are many life-rafts to carry the load. When for whatever reason, you are not married, have no children, you really do feel like an orphan when you lose your parents. For the first time in my life I was without someone who would always, without fail, love me, welcome me, and provide for me. My Dad would always look at me with the same eyes that looked at me with pride on that April day at Eppard Hospital.
The whole week was lost. The station drifted while I mourned.
Shoot Me! Please!!
It seemed appropriate that during the week following my Dad's funeral, the weather in Northern Minnesota was terrible. An early April snow storm blanketed Duluth making just about everything difficult and, if possible, I was even more miserable. As part of my deal with the WEBC brothers, I got a car. Am I being shallow that, because the car was a two-year old “Something?” my enthusiasm waned even more?
Actually, my enthusiasm was lower than a well-digger's ass. Wait a minute. Is that supposed to be colder than a well-digger's ass? Doesn't really matter because it was low AND cold. During that week in April, I closed out my apartment in Minneapolis. That was a great apartment. When I left that it there was a vague depression the enveloped me. Either I seriously would miss living next to the Mississippi or I was not looking forward to cutting the Twin Cities radio-umbilical cord. Cut it I did and that week-end was I living in Cape Cod in the eastern reaches of Duluth – Lester Park. I rented the house because of the huge added on room and one-wall fireplace. The knotty pine walls in the room didn't thrill me. In retrospect, the best thing about my new home was its proximity to Sammy's Pizza. During my months at WEBC, Sammy's sausage and mushroom was my Prozac.
I am not sure of the chronology of the various remembered events so I won't even try. At various times and in some order, I was tested. It didn't kill me and it didn't make me stronger.
At the top of the list was a replacement for the Bookkeeper/Office Manager. After years at WEBC, the woman who virtually ran things gave her notice and left. We advertised for her replacement. Were the radio gods smiling at me when a wonderful middle-aged motherly red-head walked through the door? Her resume was superb, her attitude refreshing and I hired her without the least qualm. Problem number one—solved!
About this time the copy machine gave up the ghost. The sales manager was quite happy to report he had worked a trade with an office company in Superior, Wisconsin (just across the bridge and a twin city to Duluth for those readers not familiar with the northern boondocks). There was a slight problem with the trade. The office products company didn't want to give us a regular copy machine. They had a bunch of crap like mimeograph machines or ditto machines or stat machines. Technology they would have loved to get rid of but nothing WE needed. An entire day was wasted looking at what they were offering, rejecting, asking the sale-manger what he was thinking, talking to the office products company again, re-arranging the trade and finally getting the deal done and a regular “Xerox” on the way. Later that afternoon I fielded a phone call from one of the brothers telling me that I had handled the whole kerfluffle poorly and embarrassed the sales manager in front of a client. When I defended myself I was met (for about the 10th time since taking the job) with the comment, “This isn't Minneapolis and you have to do things differently now that you are in Duluth.” If I had traded for the original Gutenberg bible printing press I would have gotten about the same amount of credit. (Sorry for the whining....)
I had to get a new PD. In the mean-time I had to involve myself in programming a bit. I believed then and I believe now that the audience has to be able to tell what you are by listening to the station. If a listener tunes in and hears a country song, you better damn well be a country station. Too often we made a mistake at U100 by trying to appeal to different audiences with different music. By doing that we didn't appeal to anybody. I was reminded recently of an axiom that is often forgotten. (Deane Johnson will nod knowingly if he reads this) You can't be hurt by a song you don't play. The program fine-tuning was limited to removing some obviously mis-placed music and tuning up the on-air promotional message. I think we started referring to the station as The Twin Port's WEBC. As a counterpoint, we used the weather reports and PSA's to include all the surrounding communities. Standard stuff now that you think about it but something that needed to be done. A few rules for the on-air crew and that was that. The rest could wait for a new PD, another hire that needed attention. And did I mention...we needed a new Chief Engineer. Oh...the traffic manager had left and the former receptionist was now the combination receptionist/traffic manager.
Somewhere along the years in broadcasting, by trial and error, I learned (and continue to believe to this day) that there should be no compromise with excellence. Another way of putting it: my way or the highway. Those new managers or PD's who came through the door and cleaned house knew something I didn't. As a condition of taking the job (even though it probably would have been a deal breaker) should have been...everyone working there starts from zero. Some may stay, most would not. My chances of success may have improved if I had canned the whole shebang. Instead, I took my queue from Fargo and the powers-that-be and continued to work surrounded by the 1978 version of a bunch of 5th columnists. This was not unique to WEBC. Everything station throughout my career had plotters and schemers. I am still at a loss to explain the motives the drive them.
The new traffic manager was mistake prone. Anyone who worked or works in radio knows how political ads are a unique problem. It was the primary season and of particular note was a race for judge in Wisconsin. Listening to the station I salivated at the nice buy we had gotten because one of the candidates was all over the air. His opponent wasn't advertising...at least with us...and I was rooting for our guy to be victorious. It a couple of weeks later when I was working over the week-end closing out the month and sending out the statements that I discovered a bit of a problem. The candidate for judge had bought a package of spots 2 per day seven days a week for 2 weeks. Somehow the traffic manager got confused and scheduled and ran seven spots a day for 2 weeks. Instead of 14 spots, he got 98. I will now revert to computerese: LOL. Of course, at the time I wasn't laughing. He had paid in advance for 14 and as far as the bookwork was concerned that was what he got. I was relieved when he lost.
Did you catch a clue in the previous story. You might ask, “Why was Rob closing the month and sending out the statements?” Isn't that the job of the office manager? That wonderful red-head should have been working for us for 3 weeks by that time but, alas, this isn't a walk in the park. This was WEBC. I thought I was in Duluth but I was actually on one of lower rings of Hell.
Two days before that wonderful woman was due to join our dysfunctional team, she stopped by the station and asked to see me. When I spotted her mascara streaked down her cheeks I wasn't anticipating good news. The bottom line: during her last week of previous employment she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer. The prognosis was crap because it was advanced. Rather naively and selfishly I asked if that meant she couldn't still work for us. Yah...right. No chance. She was convinced (and correct as it turned out) that she was going home to die. And so the process began again. A couple of weeks later I found another matronly woman with bookkeeping experience but she couldn't start work until the second week of May. So, during the first week of May, there I was sending out invoices and doing all that crap. Many times that week-end I listed General Managers I knew and wondered how many of them were spending the week-end doing bookwork. Sometimes, you just have got to do what you got to do, so in the end, I just did it.
I got a recommendation from Rey Lark in my search for a new Chief Engineer. In California I became familiar with a phenomenon I hadn't come across before. The contract engineer. One engineer would work for several stations. Competing stations. That would have been a wonderful solution to the WEBC problem. Get some local guy to do base-current readings and simple emergency maintenance and try to persuade Rey to be our Contract Engineer. Thing weren't done that way and I didn't know enough to be an innovator anyway. On Rey's recommendation, I hired the young guy from the Twin Cities. He was a great engineer. He actually knew his stuff. Oh....did I mention the other side of the coin? He had a terrible and chronic drug usage problem. By the time he arrived in Duluth he brought with him his tools and paranoia. During the two months at WEBC he crashed and burned.
The first sign of a problem was when there was a problem. Some technical glitch put us off the air and there was a problem finding our Chief Engineer. He wasn't living where he told us he was living. We couldn't get a hold of the recently retired engineer, so I made a management decision and called the University in Superior. A long time former engineer from the glory days of WEBC was a teacher there and he agree to run out to our tower site east of Superior in northern Wisconsin. We dispatched someone with a key to meet him and about 50 minutes later we were back on the air. It turned out that OUR Chief was already at the tower site when he got there and between the two of them they made the quick repairs to the micro-wave and got our signal back on. I asked the engineer to come back to the office for a talk.
It was simple. I told him, bottom line, you have to live someplace. You have to be available when we call you. These were the days before cell-phones and everything was just a little more complicated. Casually, I asked him where he was living. Oops! Wrong question. He said he had been living in his car for the last few days. My Chief Engineer was living in his car! I told him he had to: 1. move into a hotel/motel and couldn't live in his car and: 2. he had to be available. He assured me he appreciated my fatherly advice (more LOL)and the crisis was over.
About a week later I was sitting at my breakfast table having a bowl of cereal with fresh strawberries and reading the paper. The radio was on and I was thrilled because our new PD/morning show host was on and sounding terrific. Professional. And then we went off the air. I waited a moment or two for the signal to pop back on. It didn't. I could hear the carrier but there was no programming. I knew the transmitter was transmitting. The signal wasn't getting from 9th Street in Duluth to our tower array across Lake Superior in the country side of Northern Wisconsin. I waited a few moments for the signal to pop back on, but eventually I called and my diagnosis was right. The microwave was down. I waited. I waited. Time passed. I called again and the PD told me they couldn't get a hold of the Chief. It was Friday and the logs were packed and we were seriously losing money. We had to get back on and make up some of those spots. Call the University and see if the old engineer would do us a favor...again. Also, call the 'former' engineer and see if he could help us out. Meanwhile, I got in the car and headed into the station, hoping every block I'd hear the station pop back on. It didn't happen. I got to the station. The University engineer wasn't available but our 'former' engineer agreed to check it out and was on his way. About 20 minutes after I got to the station we were back on. There was still about 85 minutes of Friday Morning Drive (we considered morning drive until 10am...ha ha) and we managed to run about 20 minutes of spots between 9am and 10am and save the money. A bit after 10am, the old chief stopped by and came into my office. He told me didn't want to carry tales, but did I know that the NEW chief was living at the transmitter? What? I called out to the transmitter and told the Chief to come on over for a talk. When he walked through the door there was no doubt there was a problem. It wasn't just he was on something. He was devastatingly on something. During the next 3 hours I entered into his bizarre world. I took a lot of mind altering crap in my life, but my paranoia was benign and fortunately I stopped before my brain became that egg in that frying pan. My Chief hadn't. When we finally talked I learned that there were reasons he was living at the transmitter site. He had to protect it from the people on the farm across the road who were shooting guns at our transmitter, plotting against us. Also, he had to be there because the waves from Lake Superior (a dozen miles away) frequently washed over the building and all that water wasn't good for the transmitter. And just the night before, it was a good thing he was on hand because the floor of the transmitter building was covered with blood 3-4 inches deep.
Could this situation be salvaged? My advice was that he had to immediately go to St. Mary's . (They had a psych-ward) He refused. I told him he could not NOT sleep at the transmitter site. He insisted he had to sleep there. Foolishly I tried to explain to him that no Lake Superior wave could reach our transmitter and he looked at me with the same look you give to a six year old who says he is running away from home. At some point, the camel had too much straw on its back and I told him he was fired. He seemed to accept it. No notice. Not two weeks. Right now. Give me your keys.
We walked out of the office and ironically there were two young guys waiting to see my, now, former, engineer. By sheer coincidence these two buddies had driven up from the Twin Cities to visit and walked in on all this drama. Now I learned that all his possessions were at the transmitter and he needed to 'move out' so to speak. A little conversation and some explanations later, the visitors from the Cities agreed to help him move and see if they could help him. I was open in my opinion that he needed major help. Since the engineer had been driving a company vehicle, there was no way he was driving off in that. His friends were going to take him to the transmitter in their car and load up his stuff and take him home to the Twin Cities. They left and I followed with the keys 10 minutes later. On that drive across the Blatnik Bridge MY paranoia struck. Here I was driving by myself out into the wilderness of northern Wisconsin to over-see an extremely paranoid and delusional man's departure from the building he was protecting from waves and guns. Remember....there was blood 3-4 inches deep on the entire floor. It was at that point I stopped at a pay phone and called the Douglas County sheriff's department and explained the situation. They agreed to send a car to meet me at the transmitter. I arrived and parked down the road. I waited about 15 minutes until the sheriff's car arrived and now, bolstered by the law, entered into another WEBC nightmare.
The deputies, the Twin Cities friends, and I stood around with our thumbs in our asses while the now former engineer wandered about retrieving his belongings. The entire process was accompanied by a running commentary about blood, waves, men with guns, the unfairness of it all, and my future regrets when everything he said was proven true. Finally, it came to an end.
One more time, I tried to talk with him. I sincerely wished him well and told him that he must..had to...needed to get help. At that point he moved in close, gave me two or three hard finger pokes in my chest and said, “Hey...another time, another space.”
Another sad chapter closed. There is a movie called Marathon Man. Lawrence Olivier plays an evil Nazi who happens to also be a dentist. At one point he tortures Dustin Hoffman by drilling his teeth and threatening to use a chisel to clip one or two of them off at the root. It was a terrifying scene. That night I woke from a dream. A nightmare. The former Chief and his friends from the Cities had come into my home and were chipping out my teeth. I woke shuddering and for the rest of that night and the next, slept with the lights on and pots and pans tied to the door.
Previously, I have written about the end of May and my Memorial Day week-end with the WEBC/Fargo gang in Detroit Lakes. In order to avoid spending the week-end with them FISHING, I created out of whole-cloth an allergy to lake water and was able to leave. I don't mean to be a snob, but as I drove across northern Minnesota I felt like the Prisoner of Zenda, free at last. These people were wearing me down. I have trouble remembering ONE good thing about my almost 6 months at WEBC.
There is one. And to show how perverse one's memory can be, I can't remember the details. The PD I hired. I can't remember his name. I hope if he ever reads this he isn't insulted because he deserves to be remembered. He was a good morning guy, an excellent PD, he was a team player and on my side. I so left radio, mentally, when I left WEBC I lost touch. I know he was fired not long after I left because in the minds of the Fargo Brothers there was the stink of Sherwood about him. He didn't deserve it. He doesn't deserve my lack of memory. I guess, I just don't remember the good stuff. It is easier to whine.
As spring finally sprung in Duluth I continued to trudge into the station. As far as my job was concerned, I liked the leading part and hated the hands-on part. Since our bookkeeper situation was tenuous at best I spent more time than I wanted calling dead-beat clients and in a couple of instances, actually stopping by to get some money on their account. The owner of a furniture store in West Duluth actually chased me out of the store. Smoking cigars, listening for hooks, and picking hits at KSTP seemed a long way in the past. I bought a lawn-mower at Target and did the spring yard-work necessary to be a good neighbor. The ladies next door never failed to wave when I mowed, wave when I left for work, wave when I returned home, wave when I went to pick up my Sammy's pizza, wave when I looked out my kitchen window and wave when I carried out the garbage. It was a good thing there were two of them because that way they could rotate their vigil, 4 hours on, 4 hours off. They were really sweet, actually. The regular sausage and mushrooms were making my suits tighter by the day and still they treated me as if Brad Pitt was their neighbor. I am so shallow I'll take a compliment from anybody.
That spring during the ratings period we ran a contest that I had carried from KDWB to U100 to KSTP and now to WEBC. The Secret Sound. A hint of things to come. Eventually the Secret Sound visited Modesto, San Francisco, and Seattle/Tacoma. Every consultant, excoriated on this website for their lack of innovation and/or their cookie-cutter approach to their consultancy may now hoist me on my own petard, dismiss me for hypocrisy, and nod smugly. My only excuse is that The Secret Sound seemed to work where ever I tried it. At KSTP I came up with a new twist. The cash prize of $15,000 was paid out a thousand dollars a month over 15 months. At WEBC our budgets were smaller. Remember, as the 'brothers' so frequently told me, “This is not Minneapolis/St. Paul”. Still, for Duluth a $6,000 dollar prize paid out at $500 dollars a month was a market shocker. Doing the payout meant the hit to the promotion budget was spread out and easier for management to swallow. At KSTP we did a TV spot showing a mail-box. As the announcer explained winning a check every month for a year the visual showed an envelope being placed in the mailbox with snow falling (cross-fade) rain sprinkling (cross-fade) flowers blooming (cross-fade) autumn leaves falling (logo) The KSTP version was home-made at the TV station, of course and the WEBC version (improved) put together at a local TV station. At subsequent stations the visual got better every time. Practice makes perfect.
Despite the turmoil, both at the station and within me, there were some surprisingly positive things. The sales were fantastic. Our logs were full and year to year every month was up. Significantly up. February and March almost double. April was busier than my programming brain liked. I was on the opposite side of the argument and the packed log was hard to take. Still, thanks to my PD, the morning show was consistent and heads above the AM competition. Eventually, the engineering was being handled and once the blood was cleaned up our microwave operated reliably. We were actually making some plans to up-grade the archaic equipment. Staffing was under control and we were saving some money in the on-air and news departments. The sales manager was still a problem. Mainly because his personal relationship with MY bosses meant that every decision was filtered through his bias straight to Fargo. I have to admit I lost my temper and as is my wont, was free with the fuck this and fuck that and in several cases the fuck you's. Since I wasn't prone to 'run-to-mommy', the description of all this was left to others. I abandoned the field of battle. If I hadn't, it wouldn't have made any difference.
On the Fourth of July, I had friends visiting from Green Bay, as well as my local family to entertain. We planned an old-fashioned picnic at the zoo. I had many great memories of huge picnics with my family at this park next to the zoo in the western reaches of Duluth and wanted to recreate them. The weather didn't cooperate. The temperature was barely out of the 40's. In July! Instead, we had the picnic in my house along with a roaring fire in that wonderful fireplace. All during that holiday break, I was thinking about events at the station. I had decided I had to get control of the Sales Manager situation and knew enough about the business to realize that when you deliver an ultimatum you often get more than you want. At some point I decided it didn't matter.
While I was thinking and deciding, others were phoning and visiting and when I returned from the Fourth Of July break, my boss made a surprise visit. It is kind of funny to remember. An ultimatum WAS delivered. I didn't deliver it. It took me about 30 seconds to consider my situation. I didn't quit. Not really. I wasn't fired. Not really. I just refused to obey. What could the Fargo Brothers do? Oh fuck it. They fired me.
I am reminded of a cartoon my father had posted in the back-area of the grocery store. It showed a boss addressing his various minions with the words, “Anyone who doesn't agree with me please signify that by saying 'I resign'.” Before the afternoon was over I cleaned out my desk, removed my things from the crappy two-year old “what-ever-the-car-was” and got one of the salesmen to drive me home. I unloaded a couple of cardboard boxes onto the grass next to my driveway and sat the the steps gathering the energy to lug them inside. As I sat there smoking a cigarette, I took the first absolutely relaxed breaths of the last 5 months. For a moment I regretted my failure. Just for a moment. I closed my eyes, shook my arms and shoulders like I was shaking off something clinging to my clothes, and let out a long sigh. Relief washed over me.
When I finally opened my eyes, the ladies next door were waving at me.
Coming in Chapter 18 – Life Without Radio