Monday, November 3, 2008

The Great Constipated Elephant Story

As a kid I used to work part time at the local radio station – reading news after school and being a ‘DJ’ on weekends. Yes, they were as desperate for talent then as most businesses are today.

Now, in broadcasting, especially in small town radio stations, it is the sworn duty of all staff to make the on-air talent laugh unprofessionally while the microphone is on.

This is done in some rather creative ways – up to and including setting the news copy on fire (back in the days when it was paper anyway), having office staff lick the ears of the announcer, undressing them, making rude sounds, pulling the chair out from beneath them, and so forth, all while live on the air.

Of course I myself would NEVER do any of these rotten things to my fellow broadcasters.

Well, actually, most of my fellow announcers would lock the doors at the sight of me approaching, perhaps thinking I would be dropping my pants and mooning them again through the newsroom window. Or other such amusements as occurred to my fevered brain.

Like switching their record players surreptitiously from 33 to 45 rpm or vice versa (yes we played records back then). (Readers under age 35 please ask your parents what records are).

Station scoundrels would try this nonsense on me all the time, but for some reason it never worked. One prankster thought I would crack up if he waggled his willy at me, but a quick smack to his scrotum with a ruler soon disabused him of this notion.

I was the Iceman.

One night while on shift by myself, however, it came to pass that I had to read 10 minutes of news, 2 minutes of weather, then 10 minutes of sports. It was quite an exhausting pile of stuff.

The station I was at (CJYR in Edson, Alberta if you must know) was called a ‘rip n’ read’ – we didn’t re-write the news at all, we just ripped it off the wire printer and read it.

The preparation for a newscast was extensive. It consisted of dashing into the newsroom, grabbing a pile of news summaries and the sports scores, then running back into the control room, turning on the microphone and commencing to read in your finest ‘Broadcaster’ news voice.

Rehearse? Not so much.

CBC it wasn’t…

One night I, as usual, didn’t rehearse or even look at the material, and in the middle of the newscast I started to read a very funny story about an elephant in a zoo somewhere that had become constipated. In its ongoing efforts to remedy the situation, it started eating all sorts of items, including a large rock.

I found this story amusing, such that it got me chuckling, which is a no-no, so I tried to suppress it, which proved fatal.

Anyone who works in the industry is nodding their head at this point. There is nothing more dangerous or volatile than suppressed laughter. It simply cannot be stopped.

I’m afraid my response was quite unprofessional – to the point of guffawing so badly I had to turn off the microphone, and when I turned it on again some 30 silent seconds later, I was crying with laughter.

I’m afraid the listening audience was subjected to snorting and choking that I’m sure came as something of a mystery. One minute he was reading a newscast and now he’s choking and laughing and crying? What station is this again?

Tears streaming down my face, I had to cut my losses and go to music. I couldn’t even read the weather for the rest of the shift – it would send me into convulsions again.

Luckily I think the boss was out of town or I would have gotten his patented Professionalism Speech. I figured since only about 6 people were listening it probably didn’t matter.

Anyway, the constipated elephant story succeeded on its own where my colleagues had failed miserably, which was even more humiliating.

I suspect any broadcasting outlets wishing to interview this professional columnist about his acclaimed work have just crossed me off their list of studio visitors.

Maybe they’ll phone instead.

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