Shortly after I conned my way into my first TV station job, I struck out to do the very same in the exciting world of radio. Hey, if I can push expensive antique cameras around the warped studio floor, surely I could master the local FM airwaves. At least that was my thought process as I leafed through the yellow pages in search of a station to grace with my undeniable talent. Maybe I was feeling cocky, having just scored a minimum-wage gig at the CBS affiliate. Whatever the case, I set aside my lack of ambition just long enough to ring up a couple of program directors around town. Besides, I thought as the phone rang, once they heard my dulcet tones, I’d probably spark a bidding war. After all, I was Captain Nemo.
No bigger than a broom closet, the broadcast booth aboard the U.S. S. Mount Whitney had been my island of solace in a sea of discontent. Had it not been for a few shipmates, I would never have known about the small compartment just down from the flag bridge, the dusty little booth with Vietnam War era turntables and boxes of LP’s and carts from the Armed Forces Radio Network. No, the buddy who first let me in to that tiny space had no idea the monster they were unleashing. Once I got a look at the antiquated control board, with its oversized knobs and still shiny toggle switches, I was hooked. The fact that the noise produced within radiated all across the ship via close circuit radio was but a distant thought;. I was seeking refuge.
I found it - soon forgoing precious at-sea sleep just so I could sit and spin the finest in late 80’s FM hits. Though I’m still not sure any of my shipmates ever listened, I quickly developed an evening radio show and a persona to go with it: ‘Captain Nemo’s Taps to Midnight - featuring an eclectic mix culled from the official onboard library and a dozen bunkmates CD stashes. I guess you could say I was playing radio, but it was one of the few things that kept me sane as my ship did lazy circles off the coast of Guantanamo Bay for weeks at a time. I’d pull the lights down low in my inner sanctum, crawl into a pair of government issue headphones and forget all about all the haze gray and underway world on the other side of the hatch.
The Navy didn’t make me a radio star, but it did leave me convinced I was somehow born to broadcast. That realization deepened when the second program director I got on the phone that day invited me to come in for an interview the very next day. Eighteen hours later, I steered my battered Toyota into the gravel lot of a rundown one-story building on the edge of town. After checking in with the world’s most disinterested receptionist, I sat and waited I the chintzy lobby, mostly sober, over-cologned and excited about my new career as a radio stud. Imagine my surprise when the Program director - a fellow in a wrinkled sweatshirt not much older than myself - poked his head through the door and motioned me back.
Though the P.D. looked like he slept in his clothes, he was all business. Tossing my cassette of Captain Nemo’s greatest hits aside, he jammed a few sheets of paper at me without ever listening to it. I was halfway through filling them out when I realized I had the job. Beaming inside, I scribbled details stole glances at the aging equipment around me. Only some of it looked familiar, but that didn’t matter; this guy obviously knew talent when he heard it. Half an hour later, the young man with the sleepy eyes escorted me out, told me to report back the following Sunday night for my first on-air shift, and promptly locked the door behind me. I skipped all the way to the car, ecstatic at being discovered and in awe of the Program Director’s astute grasp of my immeasurable talent. Little did I know, he’d merely been checking for a pulse.
(Next Time: Crash and Burn...)