Guess Who's Behind the Microphone
Radio. It has come a long way from our parents or grandparents' days before TV, when they huddled around a giant piece of furniture listening to fuzzy broadcasts of music, serial dramas, news and presidential chats. By the time I was a teen, radios had shrunk to the size of my hand, and I spent most of my free time with the radio firmly clamped to my ear, listening to '60s rock on KFRC, KYA and KLIV. Today, I still listen to the radio, music while I'm working, talk shows, sermons and country music on the road. Nights when I can't sleep, I put on my headphones and let KLCC's all-night jazz lull me into dreamland. Today, we can even listen to the radio on our computers.
But where does all this radio music and talk come from? How does it work? Well, I've been on the radio a few times, most recently Jan. 28 on "Book Talk" here in Newport. Early in the morning, I crossed the snow-slick parking lot of the little shopping center beside the JC Market, opened the glass door marked KCUP 1230 am, walked down two steep flights of loosely carpeted stairs and arrived in the reception area. Rebecca Cohen, host of the show, was waiting.
Through the glass wall, I could see a group of men in suits and hear them discussing the current economic situation. Are we in a recession? Will the president's proposals work? They would be finished discussing the state of the world at 9:05. Meanwhile, Rebecca and I sat on a blue loveseat. We talked about the snow, both glad to have made it safely into town. I showed her my books. She paged through them, made some notes.
The men in suits paraded out and it was our turn to enter the dimly lit studio. We sat at a round table with four sets of headphones and mics. Rebecca showed me a red button to push if I needed to cough or clear my throat, and instructed me to put my headphones on. I heard loud commercials and a roaring sound. "This is what our reception is like here at the station," Rebecca explained, shaking her head.
Suddenly the sound cleared up, and Rebecca was talking on the air. I faced a mass of posters and pictures of past station activities and wondered about a tiny yellow kayak propped against the wall as I heard her introducing the show and then introducing me. That was my cue to say, "Good morning."
The show had begun. Rebecca had provided questions for me in advance, so I'd had time to think a bit and come off reasonably intelligent. She started with "Tell me a little bit about yourself." What do you say when you have only three minutes to summarize a whole career? I gave my usual spiel about starting to write as soon as I could hold a pencil and making little books out of cardboard and typing paper. I talked about going to San Jose State. Meanwhile the sound was being adjusted, and I didn't know if anyone was listening.
Soon it was time for a commercial. I sipped water, stared at Rebecca, and wondered about that boat.
The show went quickly. They always do. I answered questions, always feeling as if I had more to say. I wondered if I sounded like an idiot. I wondered if my voice was too high and girly like some of those giggly 15-year-old figure skaters I saw interviewed at the U.S. championships the other night.
Once my part was done, Rebecca, who in real life works for the Newport Library, did a long riff on library activities, followed by listing and commenting on the New York Times bestseller lists.
When I finished, I took my headphones off, left with flat hair. I gathered my books, my purse, and my coat, saying goodbye to Rebecca, thanking her for inviting me. I had planned to listen to myself and record the show when it was rebroadcast that evening, but wouldn't you know that was the night of the State of the Union address. I got preempted by President Bush.
It was my third time in that studio. A.T. Ronan from the community college interviewed me about my writing classes a couple years ago, and last Christmas, I sang holiday songs on the air, both at KCUP and at its sister station next door, Boss 100.7 FM, which plays music from "the sixties, seventies and beyond." I also interviewed morning DJ Pat O'Leary for a newspaper article.
Pat waved me in. He was on the downside of his shift, occasionally doing a station ID or the weather while monitoring prerecorded music, announcements and commercials. Unlike the KCUP studio, Pat's lair is small, bright and full of crazy things, a lot like him. He showed his latest Beatles memorabilia, a set of salt and pepper shakers. He has an Abbey Road sign, a ukulele, a box of tambourines, maracas and other percussion, a picture of Jimi Hendrix on the wall and more, collected over the years of broadcasting that started in Pat's grandfather's garage.
Pat faces a bank of computers, one showing the news, one listing every bit of live or recorded sound that goes on the air, one for . . . I don't know. He gets up at 4 a.m. to be at the studio at 5, preparing commercials, public service announcements, and station promotions. Although his show goes till noon, unless he's reporting from a live event, everything is recorded and automated after 10.
Sheets of paper spread around him contain information such as celebrity birthdays, strange news happenings, community events, and Academy Award nominees. His studio is his playground, with comfortable couches for visitors. He always has some kind of game going. Right now, it's "Buzz Word."
I was on the air in Berkeley, California shortly after Stories Grandma Never Told came out. The hostess and I sat at a counter in a tiny dark room. She went over her questions with me and suggested portions of the book I might read on the air. That was a wonderful interview, done with respect and intelligence. My proud father heard it in San Jose and taped it. Score one for the author.
I've been on radio and TV promoting my books quite a bit. You know never know what's going to happen.With Rebecca in Newport, she gave out the wrong date for an upcoming event, but we quickly corrected that.
While promoting Grandma, I drove three hours to get to a Sacramento network affiliate TV station and got horribly lost, arriving just on time. I expected a chance to do makeup or at least use the restroom, but I was immediately ushered outside into a garden. A woman held up my book, admitted she hadn't even read the back cover, and said, "We're on." The cameraman zoomed in as she asked me to explain what my book was about. Five minutes and it was over. I never saw the edited version.
Another time, on a cable access show in San Jose, Manuela, the Portuguese hostess chatted amiably with me for about 15 minutes in English, then said, "Agora vamos falar Portugues."(And now we're going to speak Portuguese) I shook my head "No!" because my knowledge of Portuguese was minimal and she had agreed to do the interview in English. But she did it anyway. At least I understood most of the questions, answering most of them yes or no. I have a copy of that tape. My biggest impression now is: Was I ever that skinny?
The Portuguese show was taped in a small black room with the hostess's husband running the camera. Manuela brought in a plastic potted plant for atmosphere, gave her lips a new coat of lipstick, and we were on the air.
Overall, broadcasting, especially radio, comes from tiny dark rooms where you speak into a microphone and hope you don't embarrass yourself. The studios are rarely as impressive as they look on the air, and there is never, ever enough time to say what you wanted to say.
Suddenly you're back out in the sun or the snow thinking, what did I say? Was it all right?
And as in last week's case, you walk into the grocery store to pick up a few things and you look around at the shoppers and the checkers, wondering: Did any of them hear me? Do they know who I am?
Next time you listen to the radio, picture some ordinary looking person pulled up to a microphone talking to an invisible audience who only know the name and the voice. Believe me, the picture in your imagination is a lot more impressive than the real thing—or the simulation they show in movies or TV shows. It's a hole in the wall with a microphone hooked up to a wire connected to an antenna somewhere, all run by human beings whose job it is to make sure the sound keeps coming out of our radios, avoiding at all costs that horror known as "dead air."
Plugs, blogs and all that stuff
I have sold essays to two upcoming anthologies. A Cup of Comfort for Families Living with Alzheimer's plans to publish "Respite from the Storm," while Humor for the Baby Boomer's Heart has accepted "Moose in a Noose," about my experiences with modern lingerie. Willamette Writers has reprinted my "Back it Up Today" column in its February newsletter. Meanwhile, my current Everything But Writing column at The Scriptorium talks about setting monetary goals for the writing year. Next up is how to find time to write in the nooks and crannies of our busy lives. Plus, my Freelancing for Newspapers challenge continues monthly on the Writers on the Rise e-zine. This month: interviews. I'm keeping up my Freelancing for Newspapers blog, adding new material at least every Tuesday, if not more often, and have started a Google group in association with it, so now you can subscribe (see the blog), get regular announcements and maybe even talk to each other. Please do sign up if you're interested in freelancing for newspapers. My other blog, Childless By Marriage, is still happening. I'm sharing my stories, but I want to hear yours. I promise I won't put them in my book without asking permission. I hate bragging newsletters, but you have to do some promotion to sell books. I have a new Media Information page on this web site. See menu at left. Check it out for basic info, a photo, bio, and sample interview. I'm also working on a new Blue Hydrangea web site for my publishing, editing and recording ventures. Oh, and I'm giving two workshops, "Freelancing for Newspapers" and "Everything But Writing", at the South Coast Writers Conference in Gold Beach, which takes place Feb. 15 and 16. See their website for the schedule of events. Classes are small so you can get some personalized attention and instruction, not to mention enjoying a couple days in Gold Beach.
Enough about me. I'll gladly share your news if you send it to me.
Oregon Coast writing events
The coastal Willamette Writers chapter had a great William Stafford reading session last month. With guest poets Ingrid Wendt, Ralph Salisbury and Ruth Harrison, we sat around in a circle sharing Stafford poems and anecdotes. It was surprising how many people had actually met the man who was Oregon's poet laureate for years.
This month, on Feb. 5, we welcome Ann Staley, a fabulous teacher, who is going to help us put the principles of Stafford's poetry into action. We'll be actually learning and writing, and I can't wait. The program, as always, is free. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the talk starting at 7. You don't have to be a member or call for reservations. Just come. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dorothy Mack at email@example.com for details. FYI, Dorothy knows all the speaker info. I handle the treasury, snacks, setup, and coordination with Willamette Writers' central board, and I can give you directions to the library.
Our March speaker is Monica Drake, author of Clown Girl, which I can attest is a fabulous book, so I'm expecting another great program.
Writers on the Edge, our other local writers' group, continues its Nye Beach Writers Series this month with journalist Elinor Langer, whose most acclaimed nonfiction book is A Hundred Little Hitlers: The Death of a Black Man, the Trial of a White Racist, and the Rise of the Neo-Nazi Movement in America. Langer's reading will begin at 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 16 at the Newport Visual Arts Center in Nye Beach, 777 Beach Drive. Admission is $5. An open mic follows the featured reader. The first 10 people to sign up get five minutes to read and are also welcome to sell their own books.
On the Home Front
Fred had his second cataract surgery last month, and it was
quite successful. We're both still adjusting to seeing him
without glasses. His vision is getting better and better.
We're all weary around here of snow, rain, wind, ice, power
failures, downed trees, and whatever else winter is going to
send us. We have to keep telling ourselves that summer and
autumn on the Oregon Coast make the rest of it worthwhile.
Even those seasoned Oregonians who usually maintain that
they love the weather are cussing it out and worried about
whether they can drive from here to there. What's worse,
I keep hearing that it's almost as bad in California.
Is this global warming or what?
Twenty Questions by Alison Clement. Atria Books, 2006. Well, I was wrong in last month's newsletter. This is not another book about Lucy Fooshee. I guess Lucy has gone off into the sunset. But this book has its own special characters. As the curtains open, school lunch lady June Dunlap reads in the paper about a woman who was killed in the same place and about the same time as she said no to a man who offered her a ride. The victim was the mother of one of her students, and June feels compelled to check up on this little girl. Soon she finds herself pretending to have been a close friend of the dead woman, Vernay Hanks, and is drawn into a complicated series of events that completely change her life. The book is set in the Portland area, so Oregonians will recognize some of the locations. Twenty Questions is captivating, with well-drawn characters and a plot that pulled me through in a weekend. There is a big surprise in the last few pages. Toward the end, I think things get rushed a bit, but overall, another good one for Clement. [
All God's Children by Rene Denfeld, Public Affairs, 2007. I'll never see the young people walking around downtown Portland and other big cities the same way again after reading this book. Denfeld, a longtime journalist, has written an all-too-accurate portrayal of young street families and the violence that colors their lives. She focuses on one particular group that formed in Portland and ultimately killed a mentally disabled girl named Jessica Kate Williams. Jessica wasn't the first victim, but her murder was the one in which they got caught. It's a frightening tale of young people seeking family, self-esteem, and structure in all the wrong places. Criminals become their "mothers" and "fathers" and they live by a code in which the mere rumor that someone did or said something they don't like can lead to beating, disfigurement or death. This is not a fun book, but it becomes more and more intriguing as the tension grows to the ultimate gory ending. This book is well done; I just wish it weren't true.
That's all for now. Happy birthday to all the February babies. Lent starts this week, so the Catholics among us are going be seeking out meatless meals on Fridays for a while. I think I'm going to give up French fries again. Don't laugh. It's hard.
Sometimes when the sun comes up behind the clouds, a big old rainbow appears. Look for it.
All contents copyright 2008 Sue Fagalde Lick
If you would like me to send you a link to this newsletter every month, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to forward the newsletter to friends who might be interested. Also contact me if you want me to stop sending the link.
Note: I'm in the process of taking the 2003-2005 newsletters offline, but I will provide free PDF copies on request.