Ok, funny story alert. Funny now anyway, at the time this was horrifying. One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain: “Humor is tragedy plus time,” and that is so true. It’s amazing how time allows us to look back and laugh at ourselves.
I think I mentioned this once before, but I had a previous career working in radio. I actually worked in radio for a total of 8 years, with the first couple years in on-air jobs as a DJ. Not the kind of DJ that wears ill-fitting ties or light blue leisure suits while getting the crowd pumped up at wedding receptions. No, I was the dude on the air spinning records (CDs) and telling you what the time and temp was – even if you didn’t care.
I have plenty of stories of times I had dead air which is when one song ends and you’re not ready to play the next one so there is nothing being broadcast but “dead air” while you scramble to get the next song started. Dead air is a big time sin in radio and too much of it will get you booted out of your job. But dead air is still not the worst thing you can do as a DJ.
I worked in a few different cities with one of them being a medium sized city in out-state Minnesota. It was a classic rock station and had a pretty good reach with the signal traveling about 50 miles in all directions. One weekend my dad and a couple of his friends were at a lake cabin in our listening area for a guys outing. You know.. drinking and fishing. In that order.
About halfway through my shift I got a call from my dad saying they were out on the lake listening to our station. They requested a couple songs and hung up.
To give you a little understanding on how the equipment in a radio studio works, there are two ways to turn the microphone on and off. It has a switch that always has to be turned on to work, but there is also a sliding level that raises or lowers the level (volume) of your voice. It’s just a matter of preference how you turn the mic on and off. I would do both, usually pulling the slide all the way down which basically cut the volume on the mic completely. But sometimes hitting the button to shut it off first.
So back to my dad and his buddies. After his call, I went on and did my little radio nonsense, starting to say the next song was going out to a group of guys fishing on whatever the hell lake it was. But I stumbled over my words and ended up sounding like an idiot. I don’t remember what I said specifically but I know that I tried to make up for it with a stupid joke about getting tongue-tied but then screwed that up too! I pretty much came across like some kind of slapdick shithead. I pushed the button for the CD player, starting the next song, hit the off button on the mic and just stood there with my eyes closed. I was embarrassed and pissed. I’d made mistakes before.. playing the wrong song or having little moments of dead air but I very rarely stumbled over my words. I just didn’t do that.
So standing there with my eyes closed I simply said the word “FUCK“. But there was a problem. I heard myself say it. I was wearing headphones and shouldn’t have heard anything but the song playing. Unless the damn mic was on! I looked down, and yep it was on! I thought I had turned it off, but had missed the button somehow. I quickly shut it off and threw my headphones. I was mortified. Swearing on the air is about as bad as it gets. While sitting there wondering how many people may be listening (there were about 75,000 people in the listening area) I realized I had been recording my shift on a cassette tape as I almost always did since in radio your demo tape is what gets you your next job.
Upon listening back I was lucky the song was a loud one as you could barely hear me saying FUCK but it was faint, buried in the music. If someone wasn’t listening close they probably wouldn’t have noticed. I never heard from my boss, any listeners or co-workers so I assumed it went pretty much unnoticed. And when I talked to my dad they were loopy enough at that point that they didn’t notice either. And the word-stumbling I did? They thought it was an intentional joke – they said it was funny.. ha!
So in hindsight, kind of funny I guess. I wish I still had the tape, but back then if I didn’t think I would be using it for my demo, I recorded over it the next time I worked. And as you can imagine I was in a hurry to record over that little FUCK up.