Friday Fun: Speed is Not Always What it Seems
Today, I’d like to tell you a funny and true story that highlights an important point. We are all encouraged to go faster at work -- do more in less time. But, speed is not always straightforward. As you know, going too fast can cause errors that cost you more time than what you may have otherwise saved. This is a story about such a situation.
Many years ago, I was in the radio business. I graduated from Specs Howard School of Broadcasting Arts and was ready to go to work. They even had a placement service. New broadcasters went to Bumfuck Egypt to “develop their craft.” I recall the radio station in Bad Axe, MI was a coveted spot because their station was “good” for a small town. We’re talking really small here. I didn’t want to go to Bad Axe.
The business director at the school was "very unhappy" when I told him I was contacting Detroit radio stations. He said that he would disown me if I did that because I “wasn’t ready.” I pointed out that he already didn’t own me, so he was in no position to disown me. Our relationship ended there.
After a few weeks, I got a call from WPON AM in Pontiac, MI. The station was recently purchased by a group out of Fond Du Lac, WI. There were cost cutting measures and I was cheap labor. TAKE THAT DICK! (Richard Kernan, the business director at Specs Howard, was not a bad guy, but he did go by Dick.) I was not lucky enough to score an on-air position at first, but I was willing to work my way up. So, I did production, and traffic (which is scheduling all the commercials and public service announcements around the programming).
Eventually, they started to let me do on-air stuff. I made a few commercial voice-overs, I did some voices on the evening show, and an occasional news item. Then, one day, I got my big break. The news talk show host in the afternoon had an emergency and I was the only one who could cover him on short notice. I managed to do a pretty good job.
A few months later, the program director asked me if I could open the station. Some AM stations need to turned on daily because their signals. They have a different range at night, which overlaps with stronger stations. I was going to be a REAL DJ! YAY! FUCK YOU DICK!
I asked for a key to the door and the manager told me they would leave it open. If you live in SE Michigan, you know that leaving doors unlocked in Pontiac doesn’t sound like a good idea. But, who was I to argue? Next morning, when I pulled on the door, I learned that others think it’s a bad idea to leave doors unlocked in Pontiac, too. Because it wasn’t!
Panicked, I raced down to my car in the parking garage and drove to the nearest phone booth (no mobile phones yet). I called the program director who calmly told me to see the building manager. He had an apartment on premises so he could let me in. Here I was, standing in a phone booth in downtown Pontiac. I was minutes from needing to put an entire radio station online and I wasn’t even there.
Here’s where the real fun begins and the lessons start to unfold. I turned to run back to my car, which was illegally parked near the phonebooth. Because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, I decided to run underneath the marquee sign in front of the party store . But I definitely WASN’T thinking about the crossbar that sat at crotch level. I was not a great sprinter, but I had a good head of steam when I hit that bar.
You’ve seen it in movies, but hopefully you’ve never experienced it before. I lay there in a fetal position on the sidewalk in downtown Pontiac, fighting for my next breath. I wasn’t even worried about the excruciating pain because I actually thought I’d suffocate. Not being able to breath sucks! Meanwhile, the clock is ticking towards the time the station was to go on-air.
After a few more moments, I was able to crawl (no exaggeration) to my car. As I drove back to the office building, I tried to talk…nothing. Great. A DJ who can’t talk. This should be interesting. I get to the parking deck. The manager’s apartment is actually in the parking deck (which in retrospect is kinda weird).
Now, Archie, the building manager, was about 6’ 6” tall and pretty well built. He would be very intimidating if I didn’t know what a sweetheart he was. I still couldn’t stand, which at 5’ 7” fully erect, meant that the gap between my crouched figure and his was vast. Given that at that point the best I could do was whisper, I wasn’t even sure he would be able to hear me. He may have bent over, but he managed to figure out that he needed to let me into the studio.
With minutes to spare, I was ready! I pulled the two longest songs available in our adult contemporary format music library (Deacon Blues at 7:35 and MacArthur Park at 7:31). We were only allowed to play two songs back-to-back before we had to talk. This bought me about 15 minutes to get a voice.
I got the station online. Played the national anthem, a couple public service announcements, and the handpicked tunes. Meanwhile, I’m practicing talking with smashed balls. Who knew that your balls are so directly connected to your vocal chords? To this day, I wonder about how natural selection determined this is a good idea. Maybe if you can’t run or hide, it’s a good idea to be quiet so as not to get eaten by a nearby predator.
The first few song breaks were rough, but I got my voice back and finished the show. The few seconds I may have saved by not going around that sign are forever etched in my mind. They are a powerful reminder that there are good ways to save time and bad ones. Please consider speed in context. Sometimes the time you thought you were going to save gets consumed by pain and suffering later.