Saturday, February 21, 2009

Radio Silence

I've been a big fan of 97.1 FM Talk since my days selling copy machines. I would wake up in the morning and listen to Howard Stern ramble on about porn stars and midgets during my commute from Burbank to Santa Fe Springs. When I left the office to hit the field, Frosty, Heidi and Frank kept me company with their amicable and often insightful banter. At three o'clock, Tom Leykis took over with his loud mouth and rules for getting laid without spending any money. The guys in the office were all fans, and we would talk about what he said when we got back to our cubicles around five.

When you sell copy machines you spend a lot of time in the car. You wander all over your territory in search of a business you haven't seen before and nobody wants to talk to you. It can get lonely out there and it hit me hard in the beginning. I found myself getting really involved in all the shows on 97.1.

I listened every day. EVERY DAY. Okay, fine, I may have listened to my iPod every now and again, and I flipped over to NPR to catch up on world events from time to time, but there really wasn't a day that went by that didn't have 97.1 in it. Over time I grew to prefer Frosty, Heidi and Frank over the others, but I still listened to all of them.

When Howard left for Sirius I got Adam Corolla as a replacement. He had some hiccups in the beginning but I was one of the early adopters, empathizing with the enormous expectations he had hanging over him. His support staff changed a little over time, eventually adding Teresa Strasser, Bald Brian and then Danny Bonaduce. Danny didn't last long, but they did give him his own hour between FHF and Tom as a consolation prize. I listened through it all.

When I switched over to selling pharmaceuticals, I lost touch with a lot of my copier friends but everyone at 97.1 came with me. For four years now I've heard their thoughts, laughed at their jokes and choked up at their personal tragedies as they aired their dirty laundry on the airwaves. I've sent them emails, called their shows and loitered on their websites.

On Thursday, I found out there was going to be a format change.

CBS radio had decided to end the FM Talk station entirely, firing everybody on every show in favor of a computer-generated, Top 40 format. No more hilarious rants from Adam, no more tongue-in-cheek apologies from FHF, no more narcissistic bragging from Danny and no more insensitive, shock-jock antics from Tom. My friends were scattering and they all stumbled through their Thursday shows, trying to find the right words after years of talking.

Cut to Friday. This was THE DAY and everybody was prepared with montages, testimonials, special guests and grand gestures. I lucked out and was able to hear Adam Corolla sign off, promising to show up in the form of podcasts and TV shows. I jumped in my car for the last forty-five minutes of Frosty, Heidi and Frank, wiping my eyes as they thanked their listeners for being such a big part of their lives. I had to work through Danny's big goodbye but I did manage to catch Tom "blowing up" the station with one of his trademark nuclear drops (Blow Me Up, Tom!) as I drove home, another week in the books.

The air went dead. Then there was a long tone, like something out of a bad science fiction movie where all the robots try to kill everybody. More dead air. Then the montage started...

I don't know enough about pop music to tell you all the artists represented in the hodgepodge of craptastic music, but I can tell you it felt like a bullet in my chest. After they wrapped up their medley and promised 10,000 songs without commercial interruption, they played their first song: Kanye West's Paranoid. I turned off the radio before the song finished.

Look, I understand the money angle on this whole thing. Eight people worked on Adam Corolla's show alone, and all of them had to be paid. You'd have to pull down some absurd ratings all day long if you wanted to justify the staff costs for that many shows when you could get mediocre ratings from a computer playing the latest Beyonce hit. The economy is bad and every company has to tighten its belt. I get it, but I can't feel good about it.

It's Saturday now and I'm sure my radio friends are all trying to deal with their hangovers. I can't speak for the others, but I know that Frosty will dive into a pile of cheeseburgers, Heidi will go for a run and Frank will smoke a joint, all of them trying to clear their heads and figure out what to do now. They will all make it through the day and so will I, because it's Saturday.

Come Monday, I have no idea what I'm going to do without them.

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