It’s Labor Day and As Usual, I’m Laboring

I didn’t want to write a post until Tuesday. I wanted to take some much needed time away from blogging, but well…you know me.

I felt compelled and here’s why.

In a few hours, I’ve got to switch gears from “writer” to broadcast Journalist.

I’m going into to cover the afternoon shift at a Houston radio station to anchor news cut-ins regarding Hurricane Gustav. You see, I used to be a radio and TV news anchor and talk show host. This will be like coming home again, except for the fact that I haven’t really been on the air in almost two years.

I’ll be fine. It’s a lot like riding a bike.

I hope.

And really, it seems only fitting that I’m working on Labor Day–something I’ve done so many times before in my long, illustrious 27-year career on both sides of the microphone. While I really would’ve have loved to have had the day off (last week was hellish on all counts. I believe the kids would call it “totally fucked up”) but I need the bucks, though I hate it has to be at the expense of most of coastal Louisiana.

But even so, I’m thankful to be working at all in this economy and when I go in tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of my good friend, Martha. She was one of the first female FM disc jockeys in Texas. This was back in FM’s infancy; the early years when these stations were considered “underground”. They were so hip and they played albums in their entirety. Their advertisers included head shops, free clinics and record stores.

The jocks rarely spoke, but when they did, it was done in this cool cadence. Low and slow. They were called “bong-hit jocks” and considering it was back in the day, there was probably a lot of truth in the rep, but hey, that was the sound.

Some of my best conversations with Martha have been over Scotch and angst as she recalled all that she endured in those early days of FM radio.

Good God almighty, talk about sexism!!

Martha was the only woman on the air at her station and this was the norm for a number of years. She was subjected to sexual overtures, verbal and physical harassment, not to mention the fact that she was paid less than everyone else and relegated to crappy shifts, overnights and holidays.

You’ve heard of Hollywood’s infamous casting couches, right? Well, from what I hear, early radio apparently had hiring turntables.

And unfortunately, radio was a man’s world (even more than it is now) and Martha had to suffer in silence; something she regrets today, but what could she do? She didn’t have the law on her side. Even so, she persevered and eventually, made her mark. She attacked that glass ceiling with a pick ax and busted through.

I’d love to say that radio has changed, but it hasn’t—not completely. I know from experience that many women are still paid less than their male counterparts. And not only that, we’re often relegated to “news and traffic twinkie” status on morning shows. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find women handling mid-day DJ duties. It’s a prime shift ONLY in that you’re in at 10am and out by 2pm, but the pay is usually far less than the drive time jocks.

What’s drive time, you ask?

RADIO PRIMER:

There are two drive times in each broadcast day, Monday through Friday. One is in the morning as commuters head to work–that’s Morning Drive and the other is Afternoon Drive, as commuters head back home. These shifts are highly sought after. They have the most listeners and more advertisers buy time during these particular day parts. As a result, drive time salaries aren’t too shabby.

And this is the typical on-air roster you’d find in a typical day at an FM radio station in Anywhere, USA. The morning show is usually comprised of a team; invariably, that’s almost always two men and they have a producer who chimes in from time to time as he pushes all the appropriate buttons. There’s usually a “stunt boy” who goes out in the community to do outlandish things; a sports anchor ( if the station skews a more male audience) and last but not least, a female who serves as a human laugh track/traffic bunny who with a giggle and the patented “Oh, you guys!!”, fends off tits and ass jokes.

Then, there’s the afternoon guy, who usually works solo, save for a “traffic girl” who pops in from time to time because she’s part of a traffic service which the station utilizes.

This scenario isn’t everywhere, but it’s prevalent.

By the way, I was never a traffic bunny. I refused. I was a news anchor for a very popular male oriented morning show here in Houston, but I took a swing at every hard ball thrown my way and I’m damn proud to say I often hit them out of the park. Boob jokes never went anywhere with me. I’d always counter with a dick jokes. I assure you, I gave back as good as I got.

Women need to be strong and it’s my goal to eradicate that obsequious bullshit from our on air roles. This determination has certainly helped me. In my last job, I was in management, something unheard of 30-plus years ago. I hired as many women as I could and insisted that they be strong on the air.

Take no prisoners; definitely, take no shit.

In closing, I’m grateful to women like Martha. They are pioneers who felt “the pinch” two-fold; the assault on their bottoms and the ones in their paychecks. They over came so many indignities with grit, determination and grace. If I’ve made any strides in this industry, it’s partly because of these strong women.

Why did I stay? Because it was what I knew and I was good at it. Besides, I don’t mean to paint a completely distorted portrait of radio, though like most industries, parts are fractured. It can be be fun–it has it’s moments, but it can also be very trying. It doesn’t always play fair. To survive, you must try to cope with its extremes.

I learned how to do from Martha. She also taught me a great deal about courage.

You know, there’s a saying that’s often associated with courage. If you have any of it, it’s said, “you’ve got balls”.

Well, I might not have “balls”, but I’ve learned to wear my ovaries very low.

Happy Labor Day.

5 comments

  1. Hi from New Zealand!

    Radio!? Though I always found this job so fascinating, I know nothing of the insider stuff. The other romantic vision of Radio hosting I have is that from the great Sitcom: Frasier (Hello Seattle, I’m Listening!)

    But what you describe is awful. Discrimination, poor working conditions and boob jokes!?

    I used to think that I was someone who got rotten deal in this world…but more I hear about what women have to go through, I conclude you girls beat me to it (being the bigger victim). Incidentally here’s one post I wrote on my other blog:

    http://neurotica911.wordpress.com/2008/08/31/wanna-get-raped-come-to-new-zealand/

  2. Good afternoon, how are you’ll doing? how are you feeling Martha? I hope you are doing well! And, I’m glad that we didn’t get hit by “Gustva”! LK, I hope you had agreat week-end and say hi to PM for me. Take care, all of you!

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