My Drop the Mic Moment
I didn’t actually have a snowball’s chance in Texas of getting a job in radio without experience, but being in my early 30s and living in the new age of Ms. Magazine and self-actualization, I felt foolishly encouraged to try my luck. It was, after all, 1975—the International Year of the Woman. Well, la de da, here goes nothing.
My path to a radio career was inspired by “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” which ran for seven years in the ‘70s. Her character, Mary Richards, was a single woman who worked in broadcasting when very few women had a chance at a career on air. Her boss Lou Grant would say, “She’s got spunk…I hate spunk.”
I signed up to take an Assertiveness Training course in the small Northern Michigan town where I had recently moved. I needed a confidence boost and thought it would give me a fighting chance.
After a series of lectures, which included ideation of success, we were to do something we always wanted to do, but were afraid of trying. It had to be so far out of our comfort zone we would surely fail. Well, that should be easy; I was already confident I could do that.
I called the first station and nearly hung up when someone answered:
“Hell-low, WZYX, how can I help you?”
“Hi. Who do I speak to about an on-air position with your station?”
I thought that sounded professional enough as I used my newly practiced, deeply resonant ‘radio voice.’ This was the smallest station in the region and I hoped they would consider me a person who had enthusiasm, if nothing else. I also had a few college level communication courses that I’d share with them at my interview. That should impress them.
“Ah, no one. We’re not hiring,” the snotty receptionist then hung up.
That’s okay; I expected to fail at least once on the road to success. Feeling as though I might have a chance if I talked to the right person, I continued calling all the small to mid-level radio stations in the county without any luck. No matter how encouraging the Assertiveness Training course was at each session, I was beginning to think this was just a pipe dream. Finally I called the largest and most popular radio station covering a third of Michigan with the absolute knowledge they would not be interested in me. Somehow that made me feel confident.
“Good morning, WJML, the music station and news covering 19 counties in Michigan. We’re proud to announce…”
Oh for cryin’ out loud, shut up before I lose my nerve and hang up.
She finally did and I popped the question, pretty sure what the answer would be. I mean, I’d already lived through so many excruciating failures. What was one more?
“Hi, I’m new to the area and absolutely love your station. Who can I talk to about working there?”
I was so nervous, I forgot to use my professional ‘radio voice.’ Surely, I was doomed, until I heard her say:
“Yes, we’d love to meet you. When can you come in?”
All right! Maybe there was something to this Assertiveness Training. Here I was, Mary Richards reimagined, getting my shot at the big time.
Driving the next day to the rural outskirts of town, I parked my car on a gravel lot and walked to the Clampett-style trailer where the station was located. The ‘big time’ looked a lot less glamorous here than it did on television. Walking up the two metal steps and into their cramped headquarters, I was greeted by a guy who was sitting on the edge of a desk bantering with the receptionist. He was a tall, imposing man, yet he made me feel instantly comfortable when he greeted me.
“Hi. Thanks for coming in. I’m Dave, the station manager and to say we’re happy you answered our ad would be an understatement.”
Ad? I had no idea what he was talking about.
We retreated to a quiet corner of the station where he could interview me. Commercials with familiar jingles were being made in one of the tiny offices while a top 40 song blared throughout the trailer. I saw a popular DJ in the broadcast studio that I listened to every day and had wondered what he looked like. He looked like a 14 year-old boy with pimples.
Dave and I sat down in the news director’s office and he asked me to tell him about myself. I told him I had taught first grade in Chicago and of the two radio classes I had taken at college. He looked at me and smiled.
“You know, you are way overqualified for the position we have available. The only job we have open is for a janitor.”
However, as it turned out, Dave was exactly the right person I had been hoping for. He hired me, not for the janitor position, but as a stringer, a warm body who attends community meetings in the county, writes up a news report, then calls it in to the station to have someone record it.
“Would you be interested?”
Within two years, I was promoted to News and Public Affairs Director and was also in charge of training and nurturing newbie stringers. Hopefully, they also learned from my mistakes. Like the time I attributed Legionnaires disease to orgasm instead of an organism. That earned me the nickname Rosanne, Rosanna Dana, the moniker given to Gilda Radner, a member of Saturday Night Live’s early days. She played a hilarious newscaster whose news was more malapropistic than realistic.
While the television character, Mary Richards, had worked at WJM in Minnesota, I became the radio character who worked at WJML in Michigan. There are some interesting coincidences in life once you connect all the dots. And, in this case, those dots created a picture of my future career.
No matter what all the Lou Grants in the world may think, ya gotta have spunk to realize your goal!
Marlene DeVere: “I have traveled and lived in various parts of the country and in the Middle East, but it has been the inner journey—explored through writing memoirs—that has been the most satisfying. Early in my career I taught first grade, writing to my heart’s content. Admittedly, it was mainly just the alphabet, but it got me to rethink my vocation. Eventually, I left teaching to pursue a long and enjoyable career in broadcast journalism, and as an advertising copywriter. I am now living under the kaleidoscope skies of Tucson, Arizona writing mostly flash nonfiction. I have published in Lalitamba, tiny essays, Scarlet Leaf Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bright Flash Literary Review, Proem Journal.”