Dec. 31, 2007
Patrick DiFazio switching on his microphone is a sight I've come to dread. It means the producer is about to lay into me for doing something else wrong as Alan Stock's temporary replacement on KXNT-AM, 840's "Morning Source" radio show.
"You're not enthusiastic enough." ... "You're too far off topic." ... "You suck."
But this sight is worse. After delivering a remarkably lame scripted rant and unanswered plea for calls, I look up through the glass dividing us for a lifeline -- even another insult to fill the silence. Instead, I find DiFazio's vacant seat. Engineer Mike Ellis has left, too. The control booth is as empty as my head.
"Have I been on the air?" I ask.
As a newspaper reporter, I have the luxury of thinking before I write, then editing however many times I want before deadline. I've changed this sentence you're reading now four times (and it's still not that interesting).
Radio is the land of the first draft, a land where writer's block doesn't mean hitting YouTube or checking your e-mail until inspiration comes. It means dead air; two seconds of which, before millions of radio and Internet listeners, feels like an eternity (four seconds of which feels like a Hannah Montana concert).
Finally, the airwaves fill with something other than my own nervous laughter. The station's cricket sound effect is apparently operable by remote control.
Only 195 minutes of entertaining left to go.
I came prepared to be a conservative radio talk-show host, or so I thought. I listened to Stock, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity all week. I wore a Ron Paul campaign shirt and gun-store hat for inspiration. I even coined my own catchphrase: "putting the right back in right wing."
"Just remember," Stock advised me over breakfast before departing for a Hawaiian vacation, "what would Reagan have done?"
I started off OK, I thought, by decrying the legislative approval required for Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons' proposed education cuts. He should be able to cut whatever he wants, I argued. In fact, he's not going far enough. He should demolish all Las Vegas public schools and replace them with coal-burning power plants.
Then I went to the phones.
"Didn't we have a budget surplus when Guinn left?" asked a caller named Kurt. "And, if the state is so broke, how can it afford to send every teacher in Nevada a $200 credit card?"
This is when I instructed DiFazio to patch through only callers who are less intelligent than me, so I can answer their questions with something resembling knowledge.
"That's a tough task," DiFazio responded.
Honestly, thinking hurts right now. As a morning radio talk-show host, your day begins by staring at an alarm clock you can't believe you actually set for 2:45 a.m. Waking up so immorally early is necessary to gather the current events you will discuss once the "on air" light flashes and eight bottles of iced tea are introduced to your system.
"Chemical stimulation is a necessary part of this job," Stock told me.
Stock -- born in Lakewood, Calif., some number of years ago he won't admit -- shifted into morning radio after stints as a psychotherapist (which explains his tolerance for DiFazio) and cable TV host.
"But then I got healed," said Stock, who joined KXNT in June 1999. "I enjoy being able to talk about the issues because I'm a news junkie anyway. So they pay me to talk about the issues I'm interested in, which is cool." (His salary is something else Stock won't admit -- other than placing it somewhere between the $12,000 and $12 million that radio-hosting generally pays per year.)
"You are trashing my radio station!" program director Jack Landreth yells at me on the air.
I don't exactly have a topic for the 8 o'clock hour anymore, because I borrowed it an hour earlier, when only a couple of listeners phoned to react to my rant against environmentally efficient homes.
In reality, radio talk-show hosts have 40 minutes of talking to do per hour. (Commercials -- which Tivo and I race past at home -- are my new favorite thing in the world.) But 40 minutes is still a lot longer than it sounds. In fact, if life could be lived entirely in the experience of being a first-time radio talk-show host, dying at what feels like 500 years old would be possible.
Landreth wonders why I'm not mentioning the pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's 16-year-old sister. So I rail against the younger generation's sexual promiscuity and call for the baby's father to be jailed for statutory rape.
And I finish in 22 seconds.
As my radio day creeks to a merciful close, Ellis lays down a music bed of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" over which Landreth will ask listeners to review my performance. He taunts them by pretending that keeping me beyond today is actually under consideration.
For the first time all morning, all eight phone lines light up with a call.
Some are positive. (Word up to my personal friend, Biana!) But Brian's is more representative: "The test needs to end. I think we've definitely proven that an idiot can't do it."
Nancy -- annoyed less by my lack of anything intelligent to say and more by the shrill, nasal manner in which I'm not saying it -- adds, "Why don't you sing 'We represent the Lollipop kids' before you go?' "
I comply, but not before paraphrasing a truly great American: "You won't have Corey Levitan to kick around anymore."
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.