Sunday, August 11, 2013

P.D. In Absentia

Another Jay Trachman Treasure:

What a beautiful phone call I got today.  "You were my PD."

The caller explained that the PD they had wasn't very bright or experienced, and my writings taught him about how to be a real personality. "I was his PD????"

I thought... I hope I did the job well...

Did I impress upon him the importance of having something to say? It should be so obvious, but it isn't -- not to a lot of young jocks and their PDs: the importance of entering the studio each day with more material than one could use. Last week, I ran into Chuck Carson at the post office. He was morning man to my mid-day "housewife" shift when the two of us were both brought to Fresno by Triangle Broadcasting, decades ago. After not seeing Chuck for many years, practically the first reminiscence we Shared was about how we were suddenly required to do show prep. It was probably the most important thing we learned, on that job.

Did I help him to understand that entertainment is about helping another to experience emotions, and that one emotion is as good as another? At that very job, on KFRE, I started out hiding behind jokes and "oddities in the news." Then, one day, I happened to look out the window while walking between the on-air studio and the news room, and saw the most magnificent double rainbow I'd ever seen. I Shared it with my listener -- I must have gushed all over it -- and the phones lit up like I'd never seen them before; everyone had his or her own descriptive phrase or impression to add, and very quickly I learned that there were better ways than comedy to affect -- and infect -- my listener.

Did I teach him how to talk to one person, and why it matters?  I remember Mildred, the older woman who had the "hots" for me; she was out of the target demographic and her devotion sometimes bordered on frightening... But, needy as I was, I found it easy to talk directly to her on the air, knowing that she understood -- not just my words -- but my emotional tone... Over time, I realized that when I spoke directly to Mildred, many people felt like I was talking to them. At later times in my career, my Personal Listener was Bonnie, and then Steve... It mattered not; it was the idea of talking to one specific person, that made me sound intimate and real, and "liberated" me to show the spectrum of my emotions.

Did I help him to develop the self-confidence to show his real self to his listeners? Perhaps it was the day when I was just coming down with the flu -- I wasn't sick enough to stay home yet, but I felt like death re-heated. I told my listener about it, and invited everyone to phone in with their own special versions of "poor baby" for me. It was one of the most powerful bits I ever did; there were offices full of people saying it in chorus; someone doing it in Spanish, someone else serenading me, and the phones stayed lit beyond the end of my show. Tell your listener you feel crummy? It worked so well for me, I was ready to risk trying a few other emotions...

Did I impress him with the idea that radio is a business, as well as an art? Oh, what a tough lesson that one was for me. I was "Jay Trachman, DJ hero!" Don't mess with my programming, don't try to tell me what music to play, and don't bring me spots thirty minutes before they're supposed to air, on a Friday afternoon. Ultimately, the station was sold, the new owners deemed me more trouble than I was worth, and I was shown the door. The saddest, most embarrassing thing about it was, on reflection years later, I understood that they were right.

Did I teach this successful radio manager, back in his early days, well enough to help him become successful in a rough business? Oh, I hope so.  Being a program director -- even in absentia -- involves a great responsibility to the people you're trying to "direct." One needs, not only to lay out the ground rules and formatics, but to help them to put forth their best each day, to celebrate their job, their work, and each other, and constantly, to grow better at what they do. I hope I was up to the job.

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