Monday, February 16, 2009

The first ones were a charm

Clyph put me up to this. Unfortunately, the devil finds work for idle hands...

Nancy and I were stirring around in the memories pot on Valentine's Day at a very nice, large and new restaurant in the restored Hershey Press Building on Saturday. If you have an overactive mind, that is like poking a bear with a stick: you are going to get a reaction. You turn over those old memories like a jewel-toned glass witch's ball in your hand, and probably polish them a little before putting them back in the velvet bag to be brought out again sometime.

Clyph's story of an unusual start long ago with his Richmond newspaper career sent me in a similar manner into the Way-Back Machine of memory. We took very different paths; I've done most everything except oil wild-catting; once I gained some competence, or things started looking dim, I always felt other directions had to be explored. After much reflection, though, I have no explanation for this odd pattern: that is, the first six regimes/supervisors I worked under were great, and after the critical dividing line of 1973, they ranged dismally from the resolutely amoral to those who were all ambition and no ability.

After a first summer job cutting grass at Hollywood Cemetery among Confederate and local luminaries and early Presidents (my employer, a really nice guy, died suddenly of a stroke), I was doing landscaping for the office building at Willow Lawn Drive and Broad St (the grounds have long been paved over). My boss was an older, taciturn country fellow known to me only as Mr. Henry. We were on excellent terms, since he was happy to have someone who actually worked and didn't mostly smoke all day, and I liked the freedom he gave me. When the DJ at WFMV-FM 103.7 in the building noticed I was looking like walking heat stroke, he invited me in to the airconditioning. I took him up on it when my day was over, since I was curious (we listened to commercial radio back then, mostly to hear the new Beatles songs). WGOE-AM (anyone remember them?) was next door, but I liked the sophistication of the classical music at FMV, and really liked the guys there when introduced around. He offered me a job on the spot (like Clyph's experience), and I thought it looked like a real future, without humidity and wasps. That fellow, Nick, turned out to be a former pianist who had tragically damaged his hands in an accident. The manager was Bill Massie, a real Southern gentleman and a gentle soul. I took long evening and weekend shifts, and did my RPI homework while being paid to listen to, and learn about, music. Sweet.
Ad revenue and corporate support diminished to nothing, and the station was sold many times. I left when I took a semester off to go to Boston. Upon returning, I went right on over to WRFK-FM at Union Theological Seminary, where they hired me to train and supervise student scholarship on-air staff (I was the only paid one!). I had a great time, met some exceptionally rowdy ministerial students whom I went to the neighborhood bar/pizza joint with after work, and got to program 10 PM - 1 AM myself, just like at WFMV. Never any interference from the boss (the Seminary president), just knowledgeable advice and guidance. I also learned audio and video editing tricks in the media department when an employee was on a year-long maternity leave. WRFK carried on the classical format abandoned by WFMV, and I understand they later sold the frequency to WCVE which carries it forward today. A station in South Carolina was assigned the call letters WFMV. They probably don't realize we called it "frog music in Virginia," and had hundreds of frog images around the studio. They may be more serious, but I doubt they have more fun.
After graduation, Uncle Sam tapped me on the shoulder and I had to leave, reluctantly, the exciting and creative radio environment.
Things only got better. I was assigned after training to investigating hot-button cases in the Special Actions Branch of the Pesonnel directorate, U.S. Army HQ, deep in the Pentagon. My co-workers were sharp as a scorpion's tail (we did the NY Times crossword in ink during lunchtime), and my four officer/bosses were real gentlemen, completely honest, very dedicated, people you could respect without reservations. We had a pact, which I was never to see again (they laid it out the first day). That was, you take of us, we take care of you. We never wavered from that commitment to each other. I was so sorry when my three years were up, but I hated DC traffic and life in the outlying NoVA suburbs with a passion.
That was the dreaded 1973, a year of depression just as bad as right now. Nowhere to go, and no savings anyway, due to the cost of metropolitan living. The second worst decision I ever made; should have taken them up on their offer of a plum 3-year assignment in Brussels. The charm was broken. You don't get enough good chances in life that you can afford to pass one like that up.
I never worked for anyone after that who didn't either let me and my co-workers down, or in other cases, deserved any respect at all. Those of you who have been stalled, laid off, driven crazy by the mentally ill in petty positions of're also wondering about how things worked out.
As Bob Dylan said, Nothing is revealed.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent. A real talent. There is a book in this somewhere, keep it up.