A crushing blow, then several unexpected Thanksgiving treats
It was Thanksgiving week 1996, a Wednesday afternoon around 2:30 to be exact. I was the 24-year-old manager of the brand new radio station in Perham, and I was ready for a nice, long holiday weekend after signing on the station for the first time just three months before. It had been a whirlwind. I was tired, and had a cold.
It was around that time that a delivery truck driver, also likely in a big hurry to finish work and start the holiday, backed up a little too fast and carelessly. The truck carved up the station's satellite dish like it was a Thanksgiving turkey.
The satellite dish to a small radio station is like a heart is to the human body: you can live without it, but only for a few seconds. For a few hours a day, tiny stations are live and local. The rest of the time, some DJ in Miami or Toronto or in our case, Denver, plays the music and beams it over a satellite to the station. That programming accounted for about 21 of the station's 24 hours per day at that point, and satellite DJ was scheduled to be on the air from Wednesday afternoon until Monday morning, when I returned.
Then, crunch. The lifeline was severed.
We had even thought of the possibility of a car or truck hitting our satellite dish, and had built a concrete barricade in front of it. The problem was, the boxed delivery truck, while backing up, cleared our barricade, and, as I said, crunch.
As you might expect, it's really hard to get specialized satellite parts on Thanksgiving Day. It's even harder to find a delivery service to get them to Perham. It's harder still to get an engineer to put down his hard-earned turkey leg and fly to Perham.
Thus started the longest continuous radio shift of my life, spanning from that Wednesday afternoon straight through to Saturday morning. It was brutal, playing tunes back-to-back in some sick Johnny Fever hell. (It's a "WKRP in Cincinnati"
reference, for you young people. Look it up on Wikipedia or something.)
I pulled out every trick known to DJs. I played a long song and ran to my apartment (only a block away, thankfully) for a change of clothes. I grabbed my alarm clock, too, and played some 15-minute sequences of songs, setting my alarm for 14 minutes and hoping I'd be lucid enough to press "play" on the CD player when the alarm roused me. I used every song I knew of that radio announcers usually reserve for when nature calls -- and presses the number two, so to speak.
By Thanksgiving night, I was downright miserable. I almost never complained about my life on the air as a rule -- because really, who wants to listen to that? -- but frustration got the better of me at one point and I allowed myself a 10-second whine on the air about missing out on my mom's Thanksgiving dinner. I thought nothing of it, and went back to the alarm clock routine.
Then there was a knock on the studio window. A smiling woman had brought me a Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey, stuffing, potatoes, that green-bean thing I like. My mood brightened. I laughed and thanked and thanked and laughed, until she left me to return to her family.
Then there was another knock, and another foil-covered plate. Then another. And another. And another. Soon the studio looked more like an all-you-can-eat buffet than a radio station.
I felt a little guilty, but I was also completely stuffed, and sleep set in.
Sure, it only came in 14-minute increments, but I slept like a baby until the engineer arrived and got us back up and running.
I wish I could say it was the worst experience ever, but I have to admit, it was one of the best.
I'm thankful to this day. The food is gone, but the great spirit of small-town community has stayed with me ever since.