One of my favorite people in the world, and also one of the best morning people I’ve known, hung up the headphones in 2007 and moved out to Los Angeles to become an actress: a career move that no one has ever tried before.
She did some bartending, got a one-shot in a TV spot for Guatemalan DUI attorney (as a very stern look CHIPs officer) and running low on patience and money, followed her best-friend’s job path and became a flight attendant.
And I’ve learned that there are some startling parallels between our industry and her field.
Yes. It can be fun and she (usually) likes the people she works with and will go and party with and post photos that make other people jealous of her life. Just like our friends are envious when we post photos with artists and at shows.
But, just like Radio, there’s another side that our audience doesn’t see and it can be very UN-glamorous with long long hours and very little appreciation for the hard work.
And the pay is not what people think flight attendants get. Just like they all think we’re rolling in the dough.
They have passengers. We have listeners. The majority are nice and pleasant. And like our listeners, well, there are the others who can make two hours sitting in a Rite Aid parking lot trying to sell toothpaste via a remote, not the exciting Show Bizzy part of the Bustling Entertainment Industry that we’d envisioned when we joined.
It’s hard to go out there every Saturday to a car remote and deal with nasty people who ask for a t-shirt and when you don’t have one, will make a snide comment. That kind of stuff starts to eat away at you, which is why so many of us are a little jaded.
So…there’s a guy. Greg Thunder. He’s worked in the Twin Cities, Chicago, Denver and is now back in the Twin Cities doing mornings on Cities 97. Greg’s a Lifer. He’s seen it all. Done it all. And still, will go out and “turn it on.”
Mrs. Paige, who is also a bit jaded and worn down by years of drinking, huffing and prescription drug abuse, took the Paigettes to a KS-95 appearance at a grocery store when Greg was on the air there four or five years ago. A grocery remote on a HOT day. Greg did what he did best and turned on the charm and smiled and was pleasant through the whole thing. Why? Because that’s the gig and it. Pays. Off.
Ann had no idea who this guy was and he had no idea she was my wife. She comes in and is beaming and the girls are smiling and she’s talking about how she’d met the NICEST DJ ever. And how he had made spinning the prize wheel this dramatic event and how the wheel, seemingly as if by the wind, clicked backwards a few times and then once forward, and then back again…settling on some prize that made Olivia squeal. It’s just understanding that you can maybe, just maybe, send people away a little happier than when they arrived.
Which brings us back to flying.
When I started this job in 1992, the guy who had it before me left with a parting word of advice: find an airline and stick with it. And for 24 years, I have dadgum it.
I am to American Airlines what Prize Pigs are to us. They’re our frequent fliers and because we’re often idiots, we’ll treat them like crap. It would be like me checking in at MSP and “my guy”, Tom, mocking me for having no life and spending all of my time delayed or stuck in seedy hotels.
When I started, I was really really excited to have a job that allowed me to travel. And I still do. If you have enough people tell you “You have literally the coolest job in the world”, it would be an affront to God not to appreciate this thing that you somehow stumbled into and have held onto with a deathgrip for over two decades.
But flying has kind of become just a thing that I have to go through to get where I’m going.
And then….there’s Flight Attendant Wendy. I think that’s her name. I saw the gate agents in Dallas once pull her aside to compliment her on some kind of fashion coup (I think she matched her purse with her shoes) and they called her “Wendy”. So let’s go with that.
Even though she probably got into Tampa around midnight and was up at five, she will stand at the door and greet every single passenger as if they were the most important person she had met that day.
We all have things that we are required to do. So does she. She’s been on three flights of mine now and has done the safety drill in a different persona each time. It reminds me of the Bud Light ”Real Men Of Genius” campaign in that I actually look forward to what she’s going to do next. Like the time she stood mid-cabin and channeled her inner-Charlies Angel pointing out lights, lavs and exits.
What is one of the things that flight attendants always do pre-flight? They walk the length of the aircraft closing overhead bins. Flight Attendant Wendy? I saw her once do it with Batman-ish SFX. “Clank”. “Boom”. “Kerplunk”. And other sounds that you really can’t type. But she buttoned everything up for takeoff with panache.
As a frequent resident of exit rows, I’m now used to being asked to verbally confirm that I’m willing and able to open the hatch in the event of an emergency. Wendy? She will sometimes critique or ask people to repeat their response, with deeper or higher or more confidant voices. Why? Why not. And it gets a laugh. And how often do you laugh when you’re crammed against the wall by a man the size of Lawrence Taylor who has the middle seat and makes little sucking noises for two hours and two minutes (Minneapolis to Dallas) as if he has a piece of pork from last night that’s stuck between his teeth that he’s trying to dislodge.
I guess, my point is, that as Radio People we have things that we’re going to do over and over and over until it just becomes routine, but maybe for the person attending your event it’s their first ever Radio thing that they’ve gone to. I guess, we’d kind of like them to have fun and want to return.
Just like Wendy who deals with once-a-year fliers many many times a day, and I can pretty much guarantee that they shuffle off in no-worse of a mood than when they boarded. And that’s a is win for American Airlines.