“Technician Contrition”

map-greatlakesstates

CHAPTER NINETEEN

TECHNICIAN CONTRITION

All accidents begin with the commonplace.

One of our standard WTAC services was a feature called “Great Lakes Weather”, which included an “Open”, a “Production Bed”, a “Commercial Insert” and a “Close”. The “Open” was simply a jingle which sang:

“WTAC-Great-Lakes-Wea-ther”

The “Production Bed”, which ran underneath a live recitation of current weather conditions and wave heights on Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron, the Mackinac Straights and Lake Michigan, consisted of sound effects. This audio enhancement suggested mighty oceanic waves crashing against a shoreline; outboard motors merrily chugging along, blissfully transporting happy boaters hither and fro. Every seven to ten seconds, a really loud foghorn bellowed forth with unrestrained exuberance. All of this was on a “loop. It could keep repeating endlessly if necesssary and would never “run out” before an announcer completed conveying the appropriate information, which could vary based on unusual conditions or climatological complications.

The “Insert” was an advertising announcement and the “Close” was another singing jingle giving the client credit for sponsorship.

It was around eight-fifteen on a muggy August evening,

Bill Green was engineer-on-duty.

Bill was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, self-righteous, born-again Christian. He was continually gently asking all of us if we were “saved” or “wanted to find peace with Jesus” on the intercom between music breaks. He was not easily dissuaded in his missionary zeal and about the only thing that worked in shutting down the preaching was ruthless rudeness.

“The Lord loves us, Peter.”

Bill, don’t even think about getting into that with me again. It makes me crazy, Bill. I know you don’t like it when I say “Jesus Christ”, Bill, but- “JESUS CHRIST!!!!”

My favorite exchange involving Green was one I overheard one night between Bill and Steve Wayley, our long-haired, super-hip, unattached (but never lonely) all night jock. Steve had been visited at the station by an absolutely gorgeous eighteen-year-old airline stewardess whom he been “dating” for several weeks. After she left, Bill mentioned that he knew her from “church”.

I’ve known her parents for years, Steven. The whole family is wonderful. She was in my wife’s Bible-study class. She sang in our choir. I’ve always known her to be clean-cut. She’s a fine Christian girl. A very wholesome young lady, Steven”

“Yeah, Bill, wholesome. I’ve tried her holes some!”

Bill refused to speak with “Steven” again other than absolutely necessary technical communication for the next three months, and referred to him for the duration of their professional relationship with unkind slurs and icy contempt.

But Steve certainly shut him up.

Bill was also the most “pussy-whipped” fellow-employee I ever knew. He lived to please and honor Mrs. Green in every and any manner she deigned acceptable or appropriate. I suspect he was the one who promised to love, honor and obey at the altar, perhaps even changing the last word to grovel.

From time to time, Mrs. Green would call the secret WTAC control room number when she knew her Billy was on duty and issue fresh orders, usually relating to particular items she wished promptly procured by Mr. Green before returning home after shift’s end.

With instructions for the “Great Lakes Weather” sequence having been issued to Bill on the intercom, I went on live microphone to give time and plug the next song. Even as I raised my hand to cue the “Great Lakes”, a flashing red bulb next to the control room phone indicated an incoming call was on the line. Mrs. Greenwas about to ruin my peaceful sleep for years to come.

Since Bill hated and despised Rock ‘n Roll music for religious reasons as well as aesthetic, he always ran the control room “monitor” speaker as low as it would possibly go and rely on the unspoken announcer hand-signals to trigger each press of a button or twist of a knob. That way he cooperated without becoming contaminated.

Upon my signal for “Great Lakes Weather”, Bill hit the “Open” and then the “Production Bed” flawlessly. Almost. The crashing waves were pretty loud in my headphones, about twice the volume as usual, but I plunged into reciting the weather and condition information with spirited elan nevertheless.

Out of the corner of my eye through the soundproof glass partition, I saw Green reach up and answer the phone.

I finished my narrative on wind velocity, wave heights (“VAAAROOOOM” went the foghorn underneath my delivery at random intervals) and (“VAAAROOOOM”) weather summary in forty seconds or so and waved for the “Commercial Insert”.

“VAAAAAARRROOOOOM.”

I frantically clicked the “intercom” switch to get Greenwood’s attention.

“VAAAAAARRROOOOOM”

I repeated highlights from what I had already read and could see him through the studio window, comfortably reclining in his chair and staring at the ceiling, arm resting behind his head. Every ounce of energy and attention was focused exclusively on the control room phone to which he was now welded in perfect union.

“VAAAAAARRROOOOOM”

I reached up and started pounding on the control room window ahead, simultaneously providing WTAC listeners with a few unscheduled news headlines, a little more data about several forthcoming station promotions, several jokes, a rundown on various disc-jockey appearances coming up in the week ahead

“VAAAAAAARRRROOOOOM”

and anything else I could think of for a good five minutes.

“VAAAAAAAARRRROOOOOM”

I finally offered explanation of my curious

“VAAAAAAAARRRRROOOOOM”

plight and predicament and how I just couldn’t seem to get the

“VAAAAAAAARRRROOOOOOM”

engineer’s attention even though he could probably hear me pounding on

“VAAAAAAAARRROOOOOOOOM”

the studio window to wake him up and get him off the phone and I guess

“VAAAAAAAARRRROOOOOOOM”

he can’t hear me ’cause the window is soundproof so the only thing left to

“VAAAAAAAARRRROOOOOOM”

do is leave the announce booth and straighten everything out so you stay

“VAAAAAAAARRRROOOOOOOM”

right there wherever you are and listen to the waves and the fog

“VAAAAAAARRRRROOOOOOOOM”

horn and I’ll be right back.”

I lost it.

Tearing off my headphones, I tore out of the announce booth, spun around the corner and kicked open the control room door.

“JESUS CHRIST, ASSHOLE! WHAT THE FUCK’S THE MATTER WITH YOU?”

About half-way between “ass” and “hole”, Bill startled into reaction, suddenly torn from his trance. Mid-way between “fuck’s” and “the”, he realized that he had been inattentive and at approximately the word “you”, he darted forward in blind panic and hit virtually every button on the control board.

WTAC listeners, abandoned to waves and foghorns, were then treated to jingles, commercials, promos, the “Great Lakes Weather Close” and even the “WTAC Emergency Message Center”, all playing at the same time. Nothing really stood out. It was the worst sort of total train wreck. A sonic disaster. Complete audio hell.

I instantly realized I had compounded the problem with my rage. Bill, soul-shaken, wide-eyed and ashen-faced, was at the verge of total psychic collapse.

“Errrrrrrrrrr. Ummmmmmm. O.K., Bill”

Realizing how badly he had erred, Bill started sniffling.

Meanwhile, broadcast bedlam continued on “Big Six Hundred”.

“Bill, listen to me. Are you listening to me?”

A sad, tearful nod of the head indicated he was.

“Bill, turn every switch out of the “program” mode on every channel. Every switch. Every channel. Do it now.”

One by one, the individual channels were deadened until finally with one last

“VAAAAARRROOOOOOOOOM”

Bill turned off the Great Lakes Weather “Production Bed” and brought complete quiet to the “WEETAC” signal. I had been forced to issue orders for soul-savaging, career-scarring, first degree audiocide. The only true “mortal sin” in broadcasting was dead air.

The silence was deafening.

After calming Bill back down a bit more and apologizing for having lost my temper, I suggested that he open my microphone and turntable switches to the “program” mode.

I returned to the announce booth, keyed my microphone and spoke.

“This was not an actual emergency, nuclear war being far more merciful.”

Hitting the turntable, I went into “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and the All-Stars and slumped back into my chair. After a few more records, Green had collected himself enough to resume normal programming.

At such price was brotherhood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: