Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tomorrow is canceled

Tonight's snow storm reminds of my days in radio.  When I first started working at a radio station, I was assigned to the 6pm to 2am shift on Saturdays and Sundays.  One Saturday I came to work in a snow storm.  Back then, snow accumulation was pretty much predicted after the storm ended.  It snowed all during my shift and I started getting calls about canceled church services the next day.  It got to be pretty busy, taking messages and then setting aside time to read them.  I felt I was doing a good thing, even if I didn't really know what I was doing.

2 o'clock came and, try as I might, I couldn't get out of the building.  All doors opened out and so much snow had fallen that all the doors were blocked.  I didn't know what else to do, so I slept on the couch for a couple of hours until the phone started ringing and ringing and ringing.  I was not allowed to turn on the transmitter, but the Sunday morning guy couldn't get out of his driveway and the chief engineer was also stranded.  The chief talked me through turning on the transmitter.  And then the reading began.  I think I read the name of every church in eastern Lancaster County.

Sundays were sold to churches.  They paid for 15, 30, or 60 minutes and the time was theirs.  They did their own recordings and the quality of the recordings was amazingly awful.  Schools started calling with cancellations for Monday.  Fortunately, there were no commercials on Sundays.  To the church-going public, it seemed like a very altruistic thing to do.  From management's perspective, they were already raking in the dough from the church tapes.  I read as many cancellations as I could between sermons.

By noon, I was pretty much exhausted, starving, and hoarse.  Several of my co-workers called in to give me encouragement and good reviews.  I'd never had to do Sunday mornings before.  At noon was a scheduled newscast, so I spent part of the morning trying to put that together.  Naturally, most of the news was about the blizzard.  I did not fall asleep on the air, despite the sermons, and I felt like a one-person staff keeping the community up-to-date.  At some point, the police and highways folks called reports on roads that were open but with the request to please stay home unless travel was absolutely necessary.

Late in the afternoon I'd resigned myself to going until 2 Monday morning, because it seemed as if the world had stopped and no one was going anywhere.  The church tapes ended at 3, so I had to find "Sunday suitable" music to play to the AM station's sign-off.  I just finished an into to a song when the studio door burst open.  A snow-covered chief engineer stood in the doorway and told me to go home.  The program director was right behind him and he told me to go home, too.  And they thanked me for everything I did.  I reminded them that I was supposed to be on from 6 until 2.  The program director said that's why he was there.  The chief engineer cleaned out the parking lot and even cleaned off my car.  I felt very good about what I'd done...I felt that was what radio was all about, that I got thrown into it, and that I did it right.

So ever after for the next nearly 40 years when the forecast was for snow, I packed up a change of clothes, made sure I had food or money for vending machines, a blanket and I was set for doing public service.  At times it was just me, but after 1995, a newsman also came in, making things infinitely easier.  I would try to get some sleep until the regular evening announcer's shift ended and then took over, giving occasional cancellations each hour.  It became a husband didn't particularly like it, but he understood why I felt I had to be there.

The last time I did it was in a blizzard of Weather Channel proportions.  By then, we were 24 hours and the overnight programming was on satellite and computer.  The huge satellite dishes were at the bottom of a steep hill, steep enough to make you tired on a nice day.  The de-icing mechanism on the dishes couldn't keep up with the snow, so I had to go down the hill, get the broom with the incredible long handle, scrape off the snow so we could receive the feed, and then I'd trek up the hill.  I did it because the news guy took the phone calls.  The first time I did it, I was breathing very heavily by the time I got to the top of the hill.  It was a powdery show, so you didn't walk on it so much as through it, and pushing all that snow uphill was a trial.

The signal disappeared a second time and I went down to do the honors.  As I reached the top of the hill, the snowplow finished clearing the parking lot.  I could not get over the piles of snow.  In fact, I collapsed and I don't know how long it took me to get back up on my feet and negotiate my way back onto the parking lot and back into the building.

I thought maybe when I left radio I'd get a twinge when it started snowing, a nagging feeling that I should go into the station and help out with the snow emergency.  It's never happened.  As much as I felt I was providing a service to the community during a snow emergency, I don't miss it.  Best wishes to all those who have to work tonight, who may get snowed in and have to work a couple of shifts, I'm on your side, but I'm also at home.