In My Opinion…
I learned early on in my career whenever I made a statement about anything, especially politics, I needed to say “in my opinion.”
As a DJ in Montana for a community radio station, my interest in politics began when I became informed of the positive changes happening in the studio.
A group of older residents was fighting the station’s changes to attract younger listeners. Because we were nonprofit, we relied on donations to keep up with the radio tower lease payments and pay the station manager, who made sure everything ran smoothly. The pay wasn’t great by any means, but the message was to show how beautiful music could be if we just opened up our hearts and minds. There was more to music than just classical productions. With the hiring and training of more people, the diversity in the music being played caused increased community listening.
The group called themselves “The Golden Triangle.” Made up of rich lawyers, retired doctors, and engineers, they decided to start a campaign to take over the radio station again. I say again because some of the board members had decided to retire, and their seats were taken over by a younger generation whose taste in music varied.
It was a Sunday morning. I was drinking my coffee and reading the local paper. I had just broken up with my long-term boyfriend, purchased my first house, and worked full time. I didn’t have many friends as I had only been living in Montana for six months.
The article was a half-page in length; the headline read something like this: Local, community radio station looking for disc jocks. A local reporter had interviewed the new station manager. He put out a call for anyone interested in working on-air as a volunteer. The hours were crazy because air time was shared with another city in Montana. That city was a three-hour drive away and on the other side of the Rocky Mountains and, because they were bigger, they got the prime times.
I was a student in the first class. The new station manager was ecstatic when he received the first class’s music preferences. The local stations played classic rock 24/7. The new study of DJ’s in public radio wanted to hear folk music, jazz, blues, local talent originals, indigenous, alternative, and techno, to name a few; anything but classic rock and pop and classical. Eclectic is what I called it.
The position was strictly volunteered, required a love of music, be eighteen years of age or older, and understand the importance of adhering to FCC rules and regulations. Training classes would begin in two weeks and run from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday for one month. After you passed the course, you would be placed with a seasoned DJ to help them with their show. The final exam was an hour-long show of your own and had to be taped. The Station Manager and his assistant would review the tape. If they liked what they heard, you would get a time slot of your own to play whatever you wanted.
I called on Monday and spoke with the station assistant. She asked me a few questions and told me she liked the sound of my voice, which is important in radio. Was I available to come in for an interview with the Station manager? After the interview, they told me I was eligible to attend the first class. I was excited and nervous at the same time.
I learned much in the class, mostly about FCC rules. There were guest DJ’s and many fun stories about their long-standing careers. I passed all the class quizzes and loved my classmates; the other DJ’s I would be working with. We became a close-knit group. I was introduced to my DJ buddy, Pat, an officer in the Air Force stationed at the base in town. His show featured techno music and his time slot was 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday mornings. The station, situated at the local community college, was small but comfortable. Pat showed me how to use all the equipment, the soundboard, the microphones, the headgear. We had a cassette tape recorder to record all our shows, two CD players, a turntable and a reel to reel. The soundboard was intimidating, but I soon learned how to manipulate my way around the soundproof studio.
My final exam is one I will never forget. A one-hour show took me over eight hours to put together. My selection of music consisted of blues and jazz. Everything had to be timed just right. Every half hour, I had to give the call signs, and every hour I had to read a PSA (public service announcement). After a series of music, I was to tell my audience the artist and the title of the song. The transition from one piece to the next had to be smooth with no dead air in between. Dead air is not a good thing when someone is listening to the radio. There was so much to remember, but the most important thing, turn off the microphone while the music is playing.
Since I was the apprentice, Pat turned everything over to me. He gave me an hour from his show so I could do my thing. Halfway into my presentation, as I began a new set of songs, I announced the wrong artist and the wrong song. Thinking I had turned off the microphone, as I looked over my cheat sheet, I realized my mistake and whispered to myself, “Oh, shit.” Imagine my horror when I saw the microphone light on! I immediately turned off the mic, and while the music was playing, I ran out of the studio and told Pat what I had said over the air. It would mean an automatic ‘F’ on my final, and I would not be able to be on the air again.
I was devastated. Pat went into high gear. He told me not to worry about it; he could fix it after my show. Pat said he could erase that small part without anyone knowing any different. When we played it back, he heard my whisper, ‘Oh, shit,’ and he started laughing uncontrollably. In turn, I started laughing. We both had tears in our eyes, and our stomachs hurt from laughing so hard. In the end, he was able to erase it, and it became our long-standing joke.
Several months into having my own radio show, I heard some of the rich, old board members stating their displeasure with the lineup of music. Not just my music, everyone’s music. They wanted to hear more classical music, but that wasn’t the new vision for the station. Their newly formed group, The Golden Triangle, would call the station on a weekly basis, complaining. Early one morning, around 2:00 a.m. I got such a call. If you were in the middle of a set and the phone rang, a flashing red light would appear. I took off my headphones and answered. This older gentleman blurted out, “Why do you always play that black music?” I questioned him, “Black music?”
“Yeah, like that stuff you’re playing now.” Knowing whatever I said to him would fall on deaf ears, I politely explained the short version of blues music history. He hung up. I made a note of it and informed the station manager the next day about what happened.
During the yearly fundraising, the Golden Triangle threatened to cut off funding to our community radio and only fund the other “bigger” city. We were not sure why because we held the radio transmitter’s license, and we were actually the owners, not our sister city. Our sister city told us they would turn the money over to us.
Board elections were coming up. They ran several ads in the local paper stating they would take over the station again because the Golden Triangle didn’t like what they were hearing. They told people not to donate to the local community station and announced who they had running for the board. Many small businesses and restaurants were behind us. In fact, whenever you’d go into their stores or restaurants, they were playing our radio station.
Here’s where the politics come in. These rich, old people started threatening the businesses and restaurants that supported us. They called for boycotts. They felt since the station was catering to younger people, who had no money and couldn’t financially support the studio as they could, they would hurt these businesses financially if they didn’t vote for their guys.
I was voted onto the board to represent the DJ’s of the station. I attended meetings every month, and I wasn’t the most agreeable person, especially when my fellow DJs were attacked. I knew how hard we all worked, for free, to give the community what they wanted to hear. Most of us worked full-time jobs and gave up sleep and leisure time to produce our shows. To hear from a select few people how terrible the shows were, I was frustrated not only for myself but also for those I represented. It was my job to stick up for them. I wasn’t too nice several times, and the newspaper reporter, who had supported our endeavor at first, became a biased reporter—quoting some of my answers in the meetings in the newspaper.
This was when I realized journalism had turned bias. The year was 1999. My thoughts were, if this reporter could be biased and get away with it, I could use my platform to counterattack them. And I did. After a scathing article written in the paper about the DJ’s shows and if people wanted the original station back, the reporter listed the people running for the board to take it over. In turn, on my next show, I referenced her article and the people running for the board. I implored our small-town citizens to think long and hard if they wanted to step backward in time or stay with the future. I listed the other set of people who were up for re-election to the board, and if they liked what they were hearing, I encouraged them to vote for those hard-working people.
The phone lines lit up! Not only in the studio, but on my station managers’ personal line. He came in and wanted me to playback my tape, which I did. He ran his fingers through his hair, and he told me since I decided to state on my show without using, “In my opinion,” they were entitled to equal air time! I laughed. Seriously? He told me that’s how it works in politics. I was stunned. However, the loophole was this guy couldn’t just be allowed to come in and use five minutes of airtime; he’d have to be a guest on someone else’s show. The DJ’s had a meeting and basically told this guy to pound sand. But the local reporter caught wind of it and used it for her next article.
During that election, they were able to get one person from The Golden Triangle on the board. After that, they could replace another person every two years until they eventually re-took the station.
I had moved back to California after the first election but stayed in contact with everyone. Once the studio started to lose money, and the Golden Triangle members started dying off, the station was returned to variety music once again.
A good friend of mine is now running it and has been for about ten years. All is well and good again in that small town in Montana. And me? Well, I’m into politics more than ever, thanks to those old cronies, may they all rest in peace!