Read it on Medium: https://medium.com/p/e6c1f570ecaf
Anthropology degree in hand, my one practical job skill was broadcast DJ, hard-won such as it was on graveyard shifts at the college radio station. To be clear, I was terrible. Having been in the Youth Symphony and lettering in madrigal vocal music in high school, mixing music came naturally. But I was painfully bashful behind an open mic. Who cared what I had to say.
I followed my roommate to her hometown in Nashville to start my new life with the only entertainment connections I had through her family. First there was the job doing distribution of a nascent culture-politics weekly rag. Our workspace was an antebellum waterfront warehouse with no amenities — toilets, cooling/heating, clean air, decent lighting.
As the only one who knew how to do it I got put in charge of producing the weekly promo spots for the two big rock radio stations. At night we’d go to WROC’s swanky corporate studios to bang it out. I’d hand the tape to the DJ and next day it was on the air. For the other radio station, WKDF with the huge hearts-and-minds listenership, I had to hand-deliver the tape to the Program Director.
Except the second time, the Saturday of Independence Day weekend. Being conscientious, with concern for the agreement between the station and our paper, I called the DJ on the air. He was understanding but no, he could not accept the tape if I dropped it off, much less get it on the air.
Then he says, “Hey, aren't you the new female DJ? You just moved here, right?”
“Well, get over here! We need a female jock.” *
Note taken. The following Monday WKDF’s Program Director was filling in on the morning show, giving away tickets to a concert. I was the winning 6th caller. I told him my name and said that I also wanted to get him the promo tape I’d produced. He said I didn’t need to call in to get tickets.
Seated in his office he gave me the tickets and I passed him the promo tape. Then I told him I heard he was looking for a DJ.
FCC license: check. Air sample tape: check.
Cut to later. I earn a pathetic salary with no useful benefits. I’m covering the six-hour graveyard shift. I’m terrible. But it’s okay because it’s the one daypart that is not Arbitron-rated (influential on advertising revenue rates). Every night I identify inadequacies to fix by the end of the week, starting with conversationally reading the weather forecast without sounding like a dork.
This being Nashville, the station consensus was that I needed a relatable persona. Specifically, it was said, I needed to be a motorcycle momma. Exhibit a less extensive vocabulary and more of an attitude. Me doing this would require taking up smoking and drinking hard liquor excessively. I was impressionable and wanted to succeed, but no. I couldn’t do that. I don’t know that woman and anyone who did know that woman would know I was faking it.
Cut forward several years later. Same station, different program director. Now I’m on the 8-midnight shift — the hardest hard core rock daypart. It’s the nighttime sound track for students, grocery store clerks, people in their cars, and the Nashville recording industry.
By this time my vocal delivery shtick was down and I was a master mixer of LP vinyl. In the early 80s people didn't know it was a cultural renaissance; they just knew it was a party. Euro New Wave, punk, rap/hip-hop, LA garage, heavy metal. “Dearly be-lov-ed…”
But I was no motorcycle momma. Did market expectations change? Or did my station underestimate their audience’s tolerance for female stereotype range? I think a bit of both. Nashville had been a hard rock and Southern rock kind of town. With the national influence of MTV, ingrained locally by East Coast-native Vanderbilt students and session musicians, the Confederate flag-waving good old boys retreated for a while.
The comedian Chris Rock says that on stage he’s just a larger version of himself. I made an oath to myself early in my career that I would never say anything on the air that I would regret when I got home. So that’s me, too. I was myself, only expanded — more of a presence.
But “who” was I? I was not a Southerner, grew up in a strictly classical household, and no partygirl. Still, I had the highest ratings of any regional radio station during my daypart.
The station management suggested I do a poster a la Stevie Nicks. Like this:
One day my Program Director, a New Yorker who went by the moniker “Smokey Rivers”, decided he knew who I was.
“Your audience is a 13-year-old boy. He’s got an older brother in high school who he looks up to. This brother has a girlfriend. She hangs out at the house, and she talks to the younger brother, shares popcorn him.”
“She’s friendly, but the girlfriend is also a romantic figure. She is unattainable but approachable. The boy can smell her perfume, watch her brush her hair, and see how his brother takes care of her. To the boy, she is a girl-next-door version of Marilyn Monroe.”
“You’re the girlfriend.”
There were other visions. Backstage at a street concert someone told me I didn’t look how he expected.
Me: “Let me guess. You thought I’d have flowing jet black hair, wear a bustier and high boots, and carry a whip.”
Him: (meekly) “Yeah.”
Different 13 year old boy, different imagination.
So perception can be suggested with just voice and personality (and a soundtrack). I still sometimes fight identities imposed by others’ imaginations, how they want me to be.
Experience researcher of built environments with an anthropology provenance. Copyright 2004-2017