Armageddon and survival on the radio

By Will Sandberg |

Twenty seconds… my first live read on the radio.

I’m in a cold room with very little light. Next to me sits a stranger. He seems like a kid, maybe four or five years younger than I am. It’s his first day as well, and he is supposed to train me. A stack of CDs separates us. The only thing that eases the tension in the room is that we are both aware of just how nervous the other is. Fear can be a great motivator.

I tightly clench the manila note card that holds my lines. I repeat them over and over again in my head, silently mouthing out each tricky word. Reminding myself where I need to pause. Ten seconds. I’m mentally preparing, reassuring myself with little pieces of advice. “Take it easy. It’s your first time doing this. No one is going to expect much out of you. Read it with enthusiasm. Don’t be too loud, but don’t be too quiet.” I watch the seconds click down. Five … Four … Pull the microphone towards my face. Three … Two … Adjust my levels. One …

Let me explain what I’m doing here. Radio was always there for me when I was younger. I could listen to anything, political talk, classical, sports, jazz, everything … except christian. I was that weird kid you see walking around wearing ear buds. The volume always turned up just a little too high. Not having any siblings to talk to is what I equate with having to surround myself with the noise of a radio. It started to get bad. There were a few years where I couldn’t fall asleep unless I was listening to something.

My parents were the same way. Any Sunday morning I could find Mom in the kitchen cooking and getting weekly advice from “The Garden Rebel.” I found this strange, because you could count on only half a hand the amount of times she had been in a garden. Dad was quiet, rarely showing emotion. He worked two jobs and had to commute to Connecticut from Long Island. He would take me to school so we could spend some time together.

Dad was a Howard Stern addict. Living in New York it becomes a rite of passage. Each morning we would sit there and listen to Stern, it broke the silence of an early morning. Some of the jokes were beyond me, but often I could follow his lead on when to laugh. We would pull-up at the school’s drop-off line and Dad would turn down the volume. He made sure none of the parents heard the filth he was letting me listen to. “Don’t tell anyone that I let you hear this,” he would remind me. “I know,” I would always tell him.

But back to the start … you’re probably wondering how my first time on air went. Had the hours I had spent listening to my favorite talk personalities rubbed off? Had I become an instant natural? Well … No. I was terrible. I locked up, badly. I had the enthusiasm in my voice of Eyeore from Winnie the Pooh mixed with the monotone levels of Ben Stein taking attendance in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

“I don’t know how you do it, but you have the ability to sound like you’re on a (bleepin’) Quaalude 24/7,” is a direct quote from my station manager.

I’ve gotten better. I didn’t care how badly I sucked in the beginning — it was a rush. We often lack the ability to try new things because we are afraid of failing. Mentally we’ve just invested too much into it. I went out on a limb to do something that I wanted to do despite consequences. Too few people take these risks. Take steps out of the comfort zone. But I’m a better person because of it.

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