Just forget the words and sing along

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Off Mic Podcast: What I Should Have Said

The French call it "L'espirit de l'escalier."  It's that moment when you're leaving a party/meeting/gathering of some sort, and on your way out, you finally think of the perfect witty retort/comeback/thing you should have said.

And ever since I did the Off Mic Podcast a few weeks ago, I've been consumed by l'espirit de l'escalier. 

The Off Mic Podcast is a new podcast an old classmate of mine from NAIT launched.  In it, he interviews some of the best and brightest working in radio today.  I kind of hoped he'd get to me someday...I just didn't think it would be the eleventh episode.  I thought it'd take him a lot longer to get to the bottom of the barrel. It's embedded below, if you want to hear it.

Having been listening to it since episode 1, I figured I was prepared when I sat with Drew to do it.  I was a little taken aback when the first thing he wanted to talk about was my days in college radio, and the fact that I went to university first to get a Bachelor of Science. It's generally the first thing I'm asked in job interviews, too.   I occasionally find the questions frustrating, but I've accepted a long time ago that, to a lot of radio folks, the fact that I have a degree in physics and mathematics is the most interesting part of my story.  The question always comes up, "Why are you working in radio with such an eduction?"  I do find it funny.  In a society that purports to loathe doing math and brags to their high school math teachers about having forgotten and never needed to use anything they were taught, the answer "Because being on the radio is more fun that doing math" fails to satisfy. 

So after the interview, I started thinking I should try a different approach.  The question:  why do you want to work in radio when  you have a degree in physics and math?

Well, being on the radio was always my childhood dream.  When I was 10 years old and saw the movie Good Morning Vietnam, I knew that's what I wanted to be when I grew up.  When I got to college, the first thing I did was volunteer for the college radio station.  I figured that would be a good way to get this dream out of my system, before settling down into a real job and a grown-up career.  But something funny happened.  Working in college radio didn't make the dream go away...it made the dream stronger.  After graduation, when you spend your time working the variety of minimum wage jobs figuring out what to do next with your life, the dream of being on the radio was always there. 

During those years of minimum wage jobs, I'd occasionally head back to the ol' university to visit my friends who hadn't graduated yet.  And whenever I arrived, my first request was always to visit the station.  If no one was in the station, I'd hop behind the mic and do an impromptu show.  It was during one of these impromptu shows that one of my friends looked at me and said, "You really do love this, don't you?" 

That's when it clicked for me.  That's when I realized that it was time to just go for it, and try to make a living at it, or give it up completely and go that grown up job.

So I decided to go for it.  And here I am. 

Another thing that I never got to talk about during the interview...the story that I really wanted to tell...was my adventure with Sonic 102.9.  Because after a year of pounding the pavement and looking for that first radio job, that's what finally broke me though. 

So when I was looking for my first radio job, it was very early in the history of Edmonton's Sonic 102.9.  And Sonic decided to have open auditions for a news guy to be part of the morning show.  It was to be a whole American Idol-style contest where they whittle down a bunch of hopefuls to that one lucky person who got to become a part of Sonic's morning show.   After hearing about the contest, and actually seeing it posted on several media job websites, I figured it was just as good as any other job I'd been applying for, so I decided to go for it. 

The open audition part was happening at Edmonton's Southgate Mall, so I headed down there, and got into the really, really, long line.  It was a tad embarrassing.  This being Sonic's early days, they'd also hired a lot of my fellow NAIT graduates to fill out their promotions department.  They'd recognize me in the line, come over to say hi, and we'd chat about their gainful employment and how I was still looking for work.  One even accused me of already having a job and being sent down there to spy for the competition.  But no.  I was just another of the hundred hopefuls, dreaming of radio stardom. 

Several hours later, I was at the front of the line, and I was handed my news script.  My old news training kicked in, and I grabbed a pen out of my pocket and began frantically rewriting the script to more suit my style.  I remember it was one serious news story, and three silly news stories.  I left the serious one untouched.  I rewrote two of the three silly news stories to have better punchlines.  I didn't get a chance to rewrite the third, because that's when the reporter for CTV Edmonton shoved a TV camera in my face and started interviewing me about why I was auditioning today.  If I remember right, I told him how I was a recent NAIT grad looking for his first radio job, "and this is as good as any other job that's turned me down."

That's when they called me up, and it was time for my audition.  Hands down, my most stressful job interview ever.   In front of me is the panel of three judges.  To my right is one of my former NAIT classmates, employed at Sonic as a producer, and running the recording equipment to record my audition.  And to my left is the CTV Edmonton videographer, filming me for the 6PM news. 

I go for it.  I do the serious news story.   Respectful nods all around.

The first silly news story.  My new punchline gets a big laugh.

The second silly news story.  My new punchline gets a bigger laugh.

The third silly news story.  The one I didn't get to rewrite.  I do it as scripted, and it falls flat.  I quickly ad-lib a new punchline, and it kills.  One of the judges says, "Well, I think we're unanimous here," and I got my silver ticket saying I'd made it to Hollywood.

A few weeks later, I'm in the semi-finals, and I'm joining Mr. Garner Andrews on the Sonic morning show to do the news.  Sadly, didn't make it past the semi-finals.  I should have taken my cues from that sample news cast at the open auditions.  The sample news cast had a strong focus on silly news stories.  The cast I put together and read that day had a focus on serious news stories.  And the general criticism I got from Garner Andrews and the other judges was "not funny enough." 

I specifically remember one of the judges - a reporter from the Edmonton Sun - picking apart one of my stories.  This was the fall of 2005, when the Ralph Bucks were about to be sent out.  But, there was a hiccup in the program, and the news that day was the Ralph Bucks were being delayed from In-time-for-Christmas 2005 to Spring 2006.  Mr. Sun reporter wanted to know why I didn't take that opportunity to take a few jabs at Klein.  Seeing as to how the Sun is one of the biggest pro-PC papers in the province, I found it odd and ironic that a Sun reporter was giving me the gears for not making making of Klein and the PCs. 

So, a few months later, I was back at NAIT.  I'll forever be grateful to the teachers at NAIT as, during that year of job searching, they were always letting me sneak in after hours to use the equipment to recut my demo and such.  And such evenings always began in my old teachers' offices, asking for job leads and advice.

One of those nights, one of my old teachers said, "I find it strange that you haven't gotten any response to any applications for news jobs, seeing as to how well you did on Sonic."

That's when I told my teacher that I hadn't been applying for news jobs, as I really didn't have any desire to do news.  My teacher looked at me like I was the biggest idiot on the planet.  "Mark," he explained to me.  "Every other radio station in Edmonton was turned to Sonic during that contest.  Every news director in Edmonton heard you.  And you impressed some of them.  You have to get a news demo out NOW, while your name is still top-of-mind." 

So, that night, I put together a news demo, starting applying for news jobs, and within a month, I was interviewing for the news position in Athabasca.  The rest is history. 

In the podcast, Drew did cut something out.  He originally asked me about the origins of the name "Chaos in a Box," and how I came to use it for my online stuff.  I don't blame Drew for cutting it...I didn't tell the story very well.  So let me attempt to tell it well.

Chaos in a Box was the name of my college radio show back in the day.  When it was time to name my show, I had just read a newspaper article about an outfit in Vancouver called "Brewery in a Box," which sold you everything you needed to start your own microbrewery in a box.  Of course, "the box" was a huge-ass shipping crate, but it gave them a cute and media-friendly name for their business.  So I had the phrase "In a Box" rattling around in my head.  And since my music tastes were rather varied (back in college, I was deeply into both country AND techno), I knew the music choices on my show would be pure chaos.  Chaos in a Box. 

So, when graduation came, and I no longer had my college radio show, and I grew desperate for a creative outlet, I turned to the Internet and started blogging.  When I was looking for a name for my blog, my friends said, "Dude, isn't it obvious?  Chaos in a Box.  That is too good a name to stop using."  So I've claimed it as my online brand ever since. 

And that's about everything I wish I'd said on the Off Mic Podcast.  L'espirit de l'escalier has left me.  One again, thank you to Drew Dalby for inviting me on the show.  You can check out the Off Mic Podcast at its official website.  You can also subscribe in iTunes.  And you can follow Drew on Twitter @Dalby.  The Off Mic Podcast has its own Twitter @OffMicPodcast.

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