Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Off the Air...

The nightmare of broadcasters is "dead air." A gap in the program. Silence.

It literally is a nightmare. Although I've only had the dream perhaps twice in the nearly two decades since I left radio, many broadcasters tell of a recurring dream where a song being broadcast is ending or a program is running out and the broadcaster is either locked out of the studio, mucking through mud unable to get to the microphone, or is kidnapped by gangsters or some other weird thing.

For me, there were two memorable off-air instances while I was doing a radio talk show in Colorado. The first involved an interview which was going nowhere. For some reason -- I guess as sort of a human interest thing -- I had in the studio two teenage girls who were exchange students from Ireland. I don't remember much about the interview other than it was bad. Whether the girls gave lame answers, were unable to say more than a few words in response to my questions, or I exhausted every angle I could think of and had nothing more to talk about, I don't recall. About all I remember is the stench of showbiz death as I looked at the clock and saw that I still had perhaps eight minutes to fill on the Interview to Nowhere.

At this time our station had an old AM transmitter that was on its last legs. Every once in a while for no reason the old beast would just shut itself down. And we'd be off the air. Someone from the on-air staff would have to then run into the transmitter room and turn it back on. This was a big nuisance, but the old transmitter was scheduled for soon replacement.

It was during my poor interview with the Irish girls that the transmitter chose another one of its times to fail. And, as I recall, I and/or my producer could not get old thing back on the air. Minutes ticked by. The station was dead in the water. Memory is hazy on this, but I believe it took the entire rest of the time of the allotted to the Irish girls' interview to get the station back on the air. I do remember that I was grateful that the radio station decided to crash just then and give me a reprieve from an awful broadcast experience.

The next memorable off-air experience happened after we had replaced the sick old transmitter. Things were running smoothly now and no longer were we having those dreaded dead air experiences. Again, I was conducting an in-studio interview and it was with a Christian man who described how God had overcome his addiction to pornography. I don't remember the details of the interview (it might have been related to a book he had written on his experiences) but I do recall that in the course of our conversation the unthinkable happened: the transmitter failed. I was shocked. The producer ran to the transmitter room to get us back on the air. While we're waiting to continue broadcasting, my guest said to me: "That happens all the time when I go on the radio." What? This man regularly goes on radio to speak of being freed from his addiction and the stations regularly get knocked off the air? I looked at him and realized what he was saying: there was a dark spiritual element to his addiction and an apparent unseen force attempting to stop his message from going out.

The experience was beyond coincidence. If it had been just our station, I wouldn't have thought much about it. But the transmitter taking a dive occured not just in our case but had occured elsewhere when this man would go on the radio.

To what do I attribute it? Satanic forces worked against this man, I believe. He had escaped the clutches of an incredibly destructive addiction and demonic powers worked to disrupt his attempt to explain that escape.

Finally, on a lighter note, years ago there was an old broadcaster story drifting around which, for the sake of the man involved, I hope wasn't true.

The story went something like this: there was a neophyte radio announcer who was faced with a situation in which his radio station had unexpectedly gone off the air. Speaking into the microphone, the man said:

"Pardon us, ladies and gentlemen, but we are off the air."


1 comment:

  1. I remember once in the seventies our station was knocked off the air. The engineers told us we would be back in about 30 minutes. One of the secretaries suggested we tell our listeners that we'll be back on the air in just 30 minutes.