Wednesday, August 27, 2008
At first it was like a dream working at free-form rock station WIBA FM Madison. As an announcer, I had no restrictions on what I could play. The first song I played on my first show I filled in for was Peter Gabriel's "And Through The Wire" from his third release (the one where his face is melting). I still have a decaying cassette with the "air check" of that first program. I fondly remember playing tracks by Frank Zappa, Brand X, Brian Eno, the Roches and many others that you would be shot for playing on commercial radio these days.
When I got my first full time job working the late shift from 11pm to 5am I thought my head was going to explode with excitement. I remember cashing my first pay check and thinking that I would have paid THEM for the opportunity to be on the air. Working the night shift is a strange and surreal thing however. First and foremost, when you stay up all night and try to sleep all day, you are fighting against thousands of years of basic evolutionary sleep patterns. There is something very fundamentally "correct" about sleeping when the sun is down that has served humanity well for a very long time. I found out quickly that I just never slept as well during the day and I never really felt rested or refreshed. This was something that no amount of "black out" curtains or earplugs seemed to help. Then there's the fact that everyone else you know is on a completely different schedule. It's hard to maintain friendships, let alone any kind of romantic relationships when you live the nocturnal life. Trying to avoid that, I switched back to a normal schedule on the weekends...a big mistake which almost threw my system into complete shock, turning me into a narcoleptic zombie.
Aside from the effects on my sleeping habits, there was the curious matter of the late night listeners. Not everyone that's up at that time is insane- but a large portion of them are at least a bit..unusual. I quickly became a favorite of every poor soul that like me had to work the late shifts. My regulars included employees from 7-Eleven, custodians, night watchmen and drug dealers from across the city. I had one guy who called me every night and yelled into the phone "Prince. Now!" and then slammed the receiver down... that was it- EVERY NIGHT! Like I said...unusual. (and no, I never gave him the satisfaction of playing him Prince- I'm just perverse that way).
I could fill fifty columns with stories about the night shift. There were police men who were supposed to be working the night shift but instead came and hung out with me three nights a week because they thought it was cool to be at a radio station. There were women who called up with invitations to come over after my shift (even though they didn't have the faintest idea what I looked like). There were party boys who drove by the station and left a case of beer for me when I refused to let them in. (of course this would be the night my boss had a fight with his wife and came to the station at 3am only to find their "offering" on the station doorstep). Most of all there were lots of really, really lonely people. People who could not sleep because they were bedeviled by any number of demons. Sometimes they were soft and sad and sometimes they were loud and angry but they were always lonely and music was barely helping them get through another night. I had more than one caller tell me they were contemplating suicide. (I kept the number of the local suicide hot- line right by the phone). There's something about the late night hours that brings out the desperation in all of us. They don't call it "the dark night of the soul" for nothing.
All of this weirdness was bearable because I was young and I was loving what I was doing. Then came the day I came into work only to find a printed out "playlist" outlining all of the songs that I was required to play that night and every night thereafter. The days of "free-form" radio had ended-
To be continued...
Posted by Global Noize at 10:01 AM