My Career in Broadcasting
By Peter L DeHaan
the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took
on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student.
One job was at a machine shop, where my sole goal was to have
all body parts intact when I left. Another job was
laboring at a meat processing plant, which after seeing how the
product was handled (or rather mishandled), rendered me, for a time,
leery of eating any meat.
also worked as an electronic technician at a music store. Lacking
any musical inclination, this exposed me to the eclectic persona of
the musically minded. Their idea of a day job to
pay the bills, allowing them to pursue their passion of music at night
was a complete enigma to me. This job was also
interesting because I was paid by commission – 50 percent of
whatever labor charges I billed. At first, we were
busy and by carefully using my time, I could bill honestly and still
earn an acceptable paycheck. However, when the
workload slowed, my integrity reduced my pay somewhat south of minimum
wage. Although my supervisor was fair at dividing
the jobs between us, there wasn’t enough work for even one person,
let alone two.
the new guy, I thought the right thing to do was to find another job.
The placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening
for an audio engineer at a TV station. Interviews
would be held that day at school – be there at 5 pm. I
arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of
people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously
interviewing a group of candidates.
was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from
the previous decade and despite the powerful magnification of his
Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Ralph
led us, three hopeful candidates, to an open classroom and the
interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Ralph
would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going
last. With my classmates embellishing many of their
answers, I struggled with how to honestly present myself as the
desirable candidate. The classmate who went first,
also felt at a disadvantage. Finally he blurted
out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This
position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Ralph responded.
“I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one
boasted. Then all eyes turned to me. Should
I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally
irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another
deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to
avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class
FCC License. Of course, this meant nothing as far
as the job was concerned. Everyone was
uncomfortable on this whole exchange but as the last one to speak, I
felt it more acutely.
to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When
would you need us to start?” I inquired.
“As soon as possible,” was Ralph’s reply. “I
can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.
“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.
“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.
“Okay,” Ralph replied, “be at the station at 6:30
tomorrow morning.” I was hired!
first day I watched Ralph work and did a lot of listening.
As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There
was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts, and on some days
production work in between. However, he was more
interested in regaling his glory days as a DJ than he was in training
me. It turned out that Ralph was also a silent
partner in an out-of-town trucking company. Ralph’s
presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As
soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Ralph would be gone.
my second day, Ralph let me touch the control panel and I did the
first live segment. It was a 30-second weather
report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman
was cued and turned it off when he was done. There
was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke.
I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news
segment. Ralph did the third segment: news and
weather – two mikes!
half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There
were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings
for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live
announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment was running
long or there was time to fill. The hardest part
was that I was instructed to not take initiative, but to obey the
director. However, to respond in a timely manner,
one had to anticipate his directives, but could not react until
the third day, Ralph called in to tell me he would be late.
He reviewed expectations of the first two segments and I did
them solo. He called later, before the third, and
we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show.
I did the third segment by myself. Then
Ralph called to say that he had been watching and I had done fine.
Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!”
I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in,
but let’s talk through it just in case.” I
never saw Ralph again; my “training” was over.
sweaty palms and an anxious gut, I somehow muddled my way through the
noon show, knowing that any mistake or miscue would be heard by
thousands of viewers. By the time the half hour
show concluded, I was physically and mentally exhausted. This
was a prelude to a pattern that would repeat itself before each noon
show for the next several months. If only I had
gotten more training to boost my confidence.
training was fine for production work. Time was not
an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If
I hadn’t been trained on something, the director would instruct me.
The live shows were a different story. It
was tense and nerve-racking; perfection was expected and errors were
not tolerated. This produced an incredible amount
of pressure and anxiety.
stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a
result of the directors; I worked with three. My
favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my
job and was empathic and understanding. Unfortunately,
I seldom worked with him. The second director was
aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or
how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work
with him too much, either. Most of my interaction
was with a third director. During live broadcasts,
he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled
– a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder.
And everything was laced with expletives. Management
via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get
through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was
unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even more
most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day
caused me to hate my job. Thankfully, my time there
would be short as graduation was nearing. I grabbed
the first job offer and gave my two-week notice. The
day after I tenured my resignation, my regular director walked in and
inquired, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t
I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. Besides,
I just gave my two week’s notice.”
he exploded. He had some papers in his hand and
slammed them on the table. “I can’t believe
it,” his face turned red and with a curse, threw the papers on the
floor. “We finally get someone good and they
don’t pay him enough to stay.”
was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned.
“I’m not good.”
the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”
about Ralph?” I asked.
was an idiot. He was always making mistakes.
We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it
up. You did better your first week than he ever
I make mistakes everyday, too”
mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few
viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers
and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I
am a good!
surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day.
The nerves were gone, I made no “mistakes,” I wasn’t
yelled at, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My
job was fun.
my second to last day there, I was introduced to the weekend audio
engineer. She was thinking about taking over my
shift. She wanted to see what was involved in doing
the noon show. Unfortunately, that noon show was
the most difficult I had ever done. There was a
live band in the studio, with each person and instrument separately
miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. In
that half hour, I would use every piece of gear in the room, plus the
entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it
was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I
performed my part with ease and without error, earning a rare
compliment from my critical director. At the end of
the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.
My protégé shook her head. “I could
never to that,” she concluded and left the room.
last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As
such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How
might things have been even better if I had received more training?
What if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?
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