In 2010 I was consulting a station and it was pretty evident early on that the General Manager didn’t like me. This would have made my mom apoplectic: “How could she not like you?!” My services had been foisted on her by corporate and frankly, she was stuck with me.
During one meeting she asked, in all seriousness, “How many listeners have you killed?”
This question would have been offensive to some people but I took it as a compliment so I leaned back, looked thoughtful, put on a face of “deep contemplation” and finally replied, “Killed? No….(more thoughtful consideration)…no…never have killed anyone.”
To be honest, I did have a contest winner ski into a tree and have an asthma attack in West Virginia, and a trip winner got cut by flying glass when Hurricane Iniki blew out her hotel room window on Kauai.
But killed? Nope.
When I was at the Emmis CHR in the Twin Cities we did a series of events over three summers where we probably fed 10,000 people. Actual darn DJ’s preparing and servicing actual darn food and not one casualty. I’ve always been kind of stunned by that.
Me? I haven’t fared as well.
There have been some near-misses. In 1987 there were jetboat races on the Mississippi River north of downtown Minneapolis and ESPN was going to be covering it. The Marketing Director had me and another promo team member hang our concert banner from a railway trestle over the river. This required the two of us to climb this metal relic that had been built around 1900 like monkeys. We each had a corner of the banner with a rope tie as we climbed the criss-crossed girders to a height of about 75 feet over the river. In a wind. Holding with one hand what amounted to a sail, we wrapped our legs around a beam as CHUNKS of the rusty thing flaked off. Holding with one arm to the beam, the rope clenched in my teeth, with my free hand I looped the rope around the beam, fed it over and through the loop and then pulled tight. If we’d fallen it would have been a death plunge to a concrete pier that anchored the trestle to the river.
We finally returned to where the tent was on the riverbank and the Marketing Director pointed out that my corner of the banner appeared to be about ten inches higher than Marks. My suggestion to him was so profane and anatomically impossible that I will decline to include it.
The following Summer a hot air balloon guy that we did stuff with had the brilliant idea that someone from the station (me) would stand ON TOP of a hot air balloon as it floated over downtown Minneapolis holding a piece of foam core board with a bus art piece stuck to it.
Again, with holding sails.
He would then from another balloon, above mine, take a photo. “It would be great if we could get the IDS Building below you in the background.”
I give a lot of credit to Dan Seeman, now a legendary market manager (he even has the award with that on it!) with Hubbard who said, “Not in a million years.”
And then of course there were the fireworks incidents.
The first would have been during the St. Paul Winter Carnival in February of 1986. There were going to be fireworks and even though they weren’t synched to music, the idea was to have our van out on the Wabasha Bridge during the show.
It was cold, duh, but a humid cold which I guess impaired some of the shells. The first clue that this was not going to end well was when I saw the company who they’d hired. They were a bunch of guys who ran a fishing lodge on Lake Of The Woods in their spare time and as a hobby, liked to blow stuff up. There was an industrial dumpster filled with sand and metal tubes for holding the shells. A guy would walk out, drop a mortar in a tube, light it with a flare and then run away. If it didn’t go off right away, he’d walk back, peer over the edge and relight the fuse.
Because of the humidity, some of these shells were going off about 50 feet in the air, or, pretty much right above me where I was huddled in the station van, screaming at Gregg Swedberg on the cell phone that “I’m going to die!”
Gregg suggested that I was being dramatic until I brought him out to the parking lot on Monday and showed him the scorch marks on the roof.
In 1987 at the Aquatennial fireworks me, the Marketing Director, his girlfriend and Rick Cummings were almost blown into tiny charcoal briquettes when one of the shells misfired. We had the van down at Nicollet Island so that the cell phone could be patched to the pyro guys who were firing on cues from a reel to reel running back at the station. Very high tech.
We’re standing there, maybe 50-75 yards from a field of sand where mortars were buried and fired remotely, and it was a crescendo of BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM pop BOOM BOOM BOOM.
Notice the pop? That was a shell that misfired and arched slowly, end over end over end to land behind us and explode next to one of those three foot high wooden posts that are set in rows to establish parking areas. Charred the crap out of it.
Same thing in 1989 at the 4th Fireworks in St. Paul. I was standing there with Boomer the station engineer as flaming wadding showered down on us. This time the “pop” had a shell bounce across the street and go off between the legs of a guy who was sitting on a curb enjoying the show. He lived but it fried his junk.
Let’s see….oh…SUNBURNS! My shoulders are a tapestry of faded brown marks from two incidents: 4th of July at a waterpark in Charlotte that had me on-site for a day long broadcast and ended up in the ER with burns that night. And the Aquatennial Milk Carton Boat Races in 1988 when I was tasked with putting our inflatable boombox on a pontoon boat in Lake Nokomis for 9 hours.
Again, ESPN was covering this very iconic novelty event and the idea was that as their camera on the beach panned from left to right, tracking the people on their homemade creations, there would be our big logo. I was out there are 8 am with extra cans of gas for the generator and except for swimming in to get a hot dog, I was out there until 5 pm. In BRIGHT July sun.
When I finally putted in to the beach John Hines, the morning guy looked at my magenta tinted shoulders and said, very simply, “That’s gonna hurt.” I ended up in ER with some kind of shock and was put on a drip and epinephrine.
I got diagnosed with skin cancer in 2019, but that’s kind of mundane….
…in 1989 I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to be the Promotion Director at Kiss 102. It was at a time when there were numerous local efforts to bring an NFL team to the Carolinas and we were a part of one of these grassroots movements, ie: we glommed on and were trying to bring in clients/$$$ with it. I’d been at the station for less than two weeks, was still living in a Holiday Inn and took our station vehicle to a grocery store appearance in Pineville where people could sign the petition.
I pulled up at the curb, the Co-Op Director was there, we popped the lift gate in the back, pulled out the requisite six foot table and started setting up on the sidewalk.
Joy: Do we have stickers?
She came to the open back door of the van standing to my right. (I heard some loud revving behind us but didn’t really think anything of it. )Ah…there’s a brick of stickers in the van so I went up on my tiptoes, leaned way in to reach the stickers and BOOM.
I kind of came to sitting to the left of the van on my butt and looked back to see Joy sitting on the ground, her legs crushed, screaming.
What had happened was that it was North Carolina in August and it was 1000 degrees. There was a woman leaving the store with her groceries, she had an infant and didn’t want to put the kid in a hot car so she had her 16 year-old daughter pull the car up to the curb and crank the AC while she checked out.
Daughter #1 pulls the car up, puts it in neutral and sets the parking brake.
See where I’m going?
Mom gets in the car, buckles in the infant and with me and the van 6-8 feet ahead of her THINKS that she’s shifting from P to R so she can back up and give us a wide berth.
Nope. She went from N to D, pushes on the accelerator (the revving I heard), nothing happens, she realizes the parking brake is set, she pulls the lever to disengage that….and her car took off like a rocket, hit us against the bumper and literally rebounded back to her original spot.
Because I was on my toes it got me in the calves but with so much force that rubber from the bumper was IMPRINTED on the front of my jeans. Joy suffered near traumatic amputations of both legs. They called for Life Flight for her but it was at Charlotte Motor Speedway on a call so I rode along in an ambulance with her for a 25 minute run downtown.
It was ugly. They saved Joy’s legs and she got a settlement that was enough for her to start her own agency. I got a “bone bruise” and enough to pay for my wedding reception. I consider myself REALLY lucky.
Isn’t Radio exciting and dangerous?
My next brush with death was at an appropriately named “Stop The Violence” dance in Richmond, California. Richmond is the town that people in Oakland avoid which tells you everything you need to know.
It was me and Chuy Gomez and his turntables on the stage in an auditorium and about a dozen cops. There were a few people dancing but it was pretty blah. And then we heard chanting. It seemed to be coming from two directions and voile’, coming through doors at opposite ends of the gymnasium, chanting gang slogans, were the two most feared street gangs in Contra Costa County.
Life Lesson: when members of the Richmond Gang Task Force look terrified, it’s time to rethink all of the bad choices you made in life.
Chuy said, “Dude, we’re out of here” and we initiated the fastest breakdown in DJ history, rushing the equipment and speakers out the stage door into the van and taking off as the crowd spilled out onto the street and started throwing bricks and bottles at each other.
I could have worked at Waffle House. I hear they have Dental.
And finally it was literally the final promotion for me at the station. I’d given my notice and was segging into what has become an almost three decade career as a consultant. “Consultant”. It has the same kind of stink to it that “White Slaver” would have had in 1880.
I’d done this promotion literally a hundred times:
Piece of cake, right?
The show was Mary J Blige with opening act Kris Kross (not the “Think Of Laura” guy) at Concord Pavilion.
The winner was a young woman who lived in Pleasanton and her guest was her 13 year-old brother, who was literally the largest 13 year-old in northern California. This is significant.
My assistant Arlyn booked a stretch through a barter service, it picked me up in front of 55 Green Street at 4 pm, we dashed across the Bay Bridge, picked up the girlfriend of the DJ who was hosting the dinner and was going to meet us at our on-barter restaurant in Concord, at her work in Oakland, dashed down the 880, to the 580, got the winners, we’re back on the 680, making great time and BOOM. (Again with the BOOM)
The privacy glass was up so we were unaware that the driver saw stalled traffic ahead of us, applied the brakes (again with the brakes) and there were none.
We went under the back of a truck going about 55. That was us. The truck was going 0.
We stopped…what’s the term?…abruptly.
I was sitting in the J seat with my left shoulder up against the divider, right behind the driver who was lucky not to have lost his head. So I wasn’t going anywhere. The DJ’s girlfriend was seated to my right, facing out the right side of the car. Her left cheek imprinted right under my right armpit. I know this because there was a silver dollar pancake smudge of her foundation makeup there. And from the back of the limo launched the largest 13 year-old in north California who completed what the DJ’s girlfriend had left unfinished which was to break nine of my ribs.
The TV exploded. The booze bottles exploded. I grab the cell phone on the wall and went into work mode. I called the hotline. Get the vehicle at the Pavillion to come and get us and call Ray and tell him to skip dinner and meet us at the show.
I hung up and that’s when I realized that I couldn’t breathe.
Both winners are fine. The driver has a cut on her hand. The DJ’s girlfriend ended up with whiplash but everyone was fine except me. And ONLY in California would another limo arrive before the freaking ambulance.
I gave the girlfriend all my spare cash, told her to take them for dinner and gave her my camera to take photos with the winners and the artists.
The paramedics arrive and their first question was “Do you have Kaiser?” health coverage. I said “No, and believe it or not, this is going to be a workers comp accident.”
Paramedic: So where do you want to go?
Me: Whatever hospital has the best food. (I’m serious)
And that’s how I ended up in John Muir Medical Center where my dinner the second night was a petite filet with mixed greens, cheesecake and a glass of cab that was chosen for the meal by the hospitals FREAKING WINE STEWARD.
The epilogue was something that only Radio people will understand: the winner bitched and complained that her night “had been ruined” because she had fastfood instead of the sit down dinner, and demanded tickets to another show.
Me? The Traffic Director at the station had a husband who was a lawyer and he started going after the limo company. He said that I could expect upwards of $70,000. The DJ’s girlfriend was part of the suit since she was a fitness instructor and had to take a leave of absence.
A month later we’re summoned to the lawyer’s office.
Life Lesson: when a lawyer looks uncomfortable and can’t look you in the eyes, be afraid.
There were these entities in California known as “non-admitted carriers”. Not to simplify things, but basically if you wanted to be an insurance company, you could. Cool!
Paramount Limousines of San Mateo had an insurance company called Consolidated Insurance Of Arizona.
Patrick The Lawyer: “Where do you think Consolidated Insurance Of Arizona is headquartered?”
Me, being optimistic: “New Mexico?”
Patrick The Lawyer: “Close. Uruguay.”
They’d disconnected their phones and in the eloquent phrasing of the warden of Shawshank Prison, “They’d up and vanished like a fart in the wind.”
Patrick ended up seizing property from the limo company and I got $2800 and a six month love-affair with Codeine.
It seemed like an appropriate way to end 11 years of day-to-day radio work.
Why am I telling you this? As a cautionary tale to people who are looking at work in Promotions. Check Soldier Of Forture. Maybe there’s some work in Angola that will be more lucrative and less dangerous.