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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

ADVANCING?

by George Lester
George Lester
One of my biggest failings is that I have a low threshold for boredom. There seems to be a pattern that I follow where ever I go. Stage one is when the new job strikes sheer terror in me because of the uncertainty. Stage two is when I start to get comfortable and begin to enjoy it. Stage three is when everything is so familiar that I can't find any excitement anymore. I don't think there is a definite timetable but I think it took about a year for it to run it course in my first radio job.

One day as I was thumbing through a trade magazine I read that a new broadcast facility was being built about 50 miles to the west of my present location in Louisiana. On a lark I drove over on my day off and chatted with the owner-manager. We seemed to mesh on ideas and goals and I was hired on the spot. So I packed my bags and made what was to be the first of many moves in the radio business.

When I reported for duty the station was still under construction. All the employees pitched in and helped in the technical work of getting the broadcast equipment ready to go on the air. My knowledge of electronics was practically zero but the engineer handed me a soldering iron and showed me how to connect a multitude of wires that made my head swim. Somehow I got the job done. It was really a learning experience starting from the ground floor like that and seeing our baby grows into a real, living, breathing radio station.

The little town had never had a radio station before and they didn't seem to be too excited about getting one. Everywhere we went trying to drum up advertising revenue we were met with almost total apathy. People would go to the local newspaper office and wait patiently in line to buy printed ads. I observed one day as the merchants handed over their money to a clerk who showed no appreciation whatever for their business. At that moment I felt that the future of our radio station looked pretty gloomy.

After weeks of exhausting work we were finally ready to go on the air. When the transmitter was turned on and our programming started flowing over our broadcast area it was exhilaration hard to explain. The phone rang off the wall with well wisher who acted as if they had never had any negative thoughts about our bold venture. We all felt that things were taking a turn for the better. Unfortunately, that balloon burst quickly on our first sales rounds after going on the air. Nearly all the local merchants still wouldn't budge and continued to trudge down to the local newspaper to gladly hand over their money to an ungrateful recipient.

Old habits die hard.

Aside from the financial side of the business I really was enjoying my daily broadcast time. I constantly worked at my craft and worked hard at perfecting it. I would listen to other announcers in nearby Shreveport and try to learn their techniques. It took a bit of doing but I would eventually figure out how they were producing some of the magic I heard on their programs. There was this one fellow who did voices and that greatly impressed me. He had his imaginary side kick and the banter between them was very entertaining. I knew I had to do the same. It sounded so easy but actually doing it was a lot more than I bargained for.

I decided my alter ego would sound like Abner from the old Lum 'n Abner radio show. I named him Cousin Ed. I practiced at home for hours trying to get the voice changes to flow smoothly with a minimum of pauses in between. Try as I might, I couldn't get the natural transition I had hoped for. I finally decided to tape the other voice while the records were playing and leave pauses for my live voice. This worked beautifully. Soon the feature caught on and was becoming quite well received. One day the station manager informed me that I was wearing out our only tape recorder that way and I would have to do it live or not at all. I was severely dejected at this edict but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was now forced to go back to the drawing board and learn how to do it live. It took weeks of off-the-air practice but it eventually started to meld. Cousin Ed stayed with for almost 40 years. Even today, after being out of the broadcast business for 15 years, I still have conversations with him to the amusement of my wife.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

November 1, 2006 column
 
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