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Reluctant Novice

DISC JOCKEYING : Radio Daze : An afternoon on the air, learning it's OK not to be slick, well-produced and boring.

June 13, 1991|Christopher Reynolds

Pity Joni Caryl. Fourteen years, she labors in the salt mines of the radio industry, doing news, doing disc-jockey work, doing most everything. Finally, she ascends to the post of on-air personality and program director at a new FM station in Ventura. Life is good. Then, one Friday morning in the studio, she looks to her left and sees that her guest disc jockey is . . . a reluctant novice.

You're not altogether at ease yourself. There are buttons. Meters. Racks of numbered tape cartridges and compact discs. A song list. An ad list, which takes precedence over the song list. Flashing lights and silent telephones. And taped to the wall, there's an inspirational quotation from Carl Jung. Exactly what kind of work is this?

"It's like flying an airplane that's going to crash at any minute," Caryl had explained, back when this was still a hypothetical adventure.

Now she leans into the microphone and a louder, happier, faster-talking being takes over her voice.

"Good morning, Joni Caryl on KKUR," says that voice, speaking over a background of music. The control board shows that she has 16 seconds to talk before the singer's voice kicks in. She takes 15 1/2.

"Years of training," says Caryl, punching further buttons.

Then comes your training.

At 11:05 a.m., under Caryl's guidance, you smoothly engineer the transition from "Two Tickets to Paradise," by Eddie Money, into something called "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak.

"Your first segue!" Caryl says.

Gathering confidence now, you go to a commercial. You punch in a promo. And in your small way, you even contribute to the career of the band Nelson (Ozzie and Harriet's grandkids, with hair to their navels) by playing their song "More than Ever."

Through all this, your timing is relatively tight. That's important, Caryl says, because nobody in radio wants to be known as a "loose board operator." You can understand that.

But a disc jockey can go only so long without speaking, and that's when the trouble begins. It lasts 90 minutes, all of it captured on tape by the thoughtful KKUR staff, and the result is a catalogue of cardinal radio sins.

* YOU FAIL TO WATCH YOUR S. On the air, Caryl asks you to pull the microphone closer. You do, saying "it's close now," in a low, slow voice you imagine to be amusing. Your delivery, however, sends the soft sound of the letter 'S' hissing through countless stereo speakers. "Watch the sibilance on your 'S,' " counsels Caryl, too late.

* YOU FAIL TO SPEAK. Caryl announces a promotional event at a used-car lot, and concludes by asking if you'll be there. You, however, are staring at the dial on the console, thinking about outer space. On the air, a beat of silence.

"Uh, uh, uh," says Caryl helpfully, mocking you.

"Uh," you respond cleverly. Then you mutter something about reluctance. Caryl takes over, and instructs you to hit a button. That, you can do.

* YOU REMEMBER TO SPEAK, BUT EXPERIENCE TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. Caryl has it worked out for you to introduce some ads, and cues you by saying, "At this point, we're going to stop for commercials again."

A pause, and then you start talking. But on the studio monitors, the pause malingers and multiplies. Dead air, the dread plague of the radio industry.

"The first thing you have to do," offers Caryl, "is turn on your microphone. . . . Push that 'On' button there." Thanks.

* YOU LIE TO THE LISTENERS. Here's your chance to handle an entire weather update yourself. You peruse the forecast, accept Caryl's ever-energetic introduction, and opt for a minimalist approach.

"It's partly cloudly," you say. "Any questions, call the station."

A triumph, you think. You have sabotaged the station. Calls will pour in. Instead, Caryl swoops in from your left.

"Look out the window," she says. "Look out the window right now. Does that look partly cloudy to you?"

Outside, a crystalline blue sky hangs, unblemished by clouds. The phones lie silent. You stumble ahead to forecast a high in the high 60s or low 70s. Caryl points to the thermometer on the file cabinet. Seventy-six degrees, right now.

"That teaches you a lesson about the National Weather Service, doesn't it?" Caryl says.

"Mmmmm," you say.

* YOU ARE TIRESOME. In deliberate, even tones, you tell listeners they're listening to KKUR, 105.5 FM. You're trying to be droll.

Caryl interrupts. "Get a little more emotional about it," she commands. "Sound happy! Be more up!"

"I'm more reluctant than I am up," you say.

"You sound sad," she says, "like you're not having a good time . . . . "

You interrupt her and continue dully and defiantly, in your best papal homily speech pattern. This, you're thinking, must really be very amusing.

"The hottest hits and the best classics. Coming up next hour"--it seems to have been an hour already--"at least 50 minutes of music, including Madonna, Rod Stewart, Gloria Estefan and a classic from the Eagles. That is all."

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