So where were we? Oh yeah – seeing off our former TV weather guy with a bang. He was leaving us anyway, so we gave him a memorable sendoff that no one watching at home would ever have known about.
Now the race was on to replace him. Our typically spendthrift manager and owner had a super spiffy idea: let’s not hire anyone new. Let’s just use the people who are already working here and not pay them any extra for suddenly being on-air talent.
That included me.
Now, the reason it included me was that I had, in the station’s past, already been on-air talent. In a whole series of misadventures I’ll go into at some later date, once I can bring myself to withstand the embarrassment, I had been the host of little “come adopt these pets from the Sebastian County Humane Society!” segments shown during kids’ programming. I had a pith helmet and I was called Explorer Earl. It was a gig that I gave up at a later date simply because I had too much to do. Everyone at that station did, because the modus operandi was “Don’t hire new people – have the existing people do more, more, more!”
This included the role of on-air talent. As much as I gave our erstwhile weatherman grief for his rushing-in-at-the-last-minute-while-someone-else-got-his-show-ready-for-him routine, I wouldn’t want to be in front of a camera. You ever see me in front of a camera? No. I’m the guy behind the camera. You can’t break the lens with your fugliness if it can’t see you. And I’d already had my fill of three little words at the grocery store and the gas station from what had seemed like an impossibly consequential little gig.
Those three words were “Hey, Explorer Earl!!” I can’t imagine being someone whose face is up on the screen for more than 30 seconds a day.
I tried very hard to sabotage my chances of seriously being considered as new weather talent from the word go. I did this for many reasons, not the least of which was the realization that I, too, would have to race in at the last minute and fart out a little weathercast – but I’d be in the worst position to do so, because there wasn’t an Earl to get my show ready for me. (The station’s cloning budget, at the time, was almost nothing.)
I still remember my audition tape. I grimaced through the whole thing, and I distinctly remember saying that this warm front would “splooge out over the lower midwest, getting us all wet.” (Go on, go look it up at Urban Dictionary. I’ll wait. Warning: NSFW.)
The management chuckled and overlooked it. I was wearing a nice shirt. I’d look good and sound good. I was an old radio guy. I was one of their best folks. I wouldn’t let them down.
Oh, like hell.
I mysteriously forgot the whole thing about cutting my hair. At the time, I had hair down almost to the small of my back, frequently tied off in a ponytail. I also continued my habit, from high school, of wearing impossibly bright clothes, frequently with blinding colors and patterns that didn’t so much clash as they actually fought entire rear guard actions amongst themselves. I also had a sleeveless denim jacket bearing every Star Trek combadge that they’d made up to that point. Now, at my present age, I look back at this improbable combination and I see someone who was basically still a kid, daring the world to look past the external and see what was on the inside, and hey world, if you don’t want to look past that, screw you. It was a visual challenge to any and all – a very real assault on the senses. As for the jacket and the Trekkie accessories… I also didn’t care at the time that one was expected to sort of dial that stuff back a bit to integrate into society. It will, no doubt, stun you to learn that I was amazingly single at this juncture. I couldn’t have gotten laid at the “free sample” table at a hookers’ convention.
For my first scheduled weekend appearance as a weatherdweeb, I showed up in a predominantly blue Hawaiian shirt and aggressively non-matching Bermuda shorts. Whoops! Forgot it was my first air shift. I was just dressing like I normally do for board op duties.
Not to worry, our engineer said, we’ll make this work somehow. He drove to the station and completely nullified my sabotage attempt by actually getting this outfit to key. The whole point of wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt in front of a blue wall was that, basically, my torso would vanish and I’d be a disembodied head atop a riot of floating flowers with a Rapunzel-esque ponytail, delivering the weather – surely that was unacceptable for air.
Except that just enough tweaking-of-settings was done to make the shirt stand out enough from the blue background. Sadly, my torso was visible. Even more sadly, so was the rest of me.
Indeed, I went out on the air dressed that way… and nothing was said by management. Clearly the contest was now a matter of seeing who would blink first.
If my mode of dress didn’t convince them to make this my only post-Explorer-Earl foray on the air, my performance damn well should have. Completely flummoxed by my inability to escape from the weather gig, I found myself in front of a camera, looking directly into the air monitor waiting for myself to pop up, and promptly said: “gguuhhhhh.” I’m sure my predecessor was watching and laughing his ass off.
I grudgingly wore better outfits, usually polo shirts, but kept the hair, although it was tied back and usually tucked into the back of my shirt.
One evening we had a winter storm moving in that was shaping up to be a doozy. The station manager called and said he wanted me to do a cut-in to programming to explain this to the folks at home. Because all the other stations had done one. “Look dear, the long-haired fat guy who sleeps on the bench outside the TV station just walked in front of the camera to tell us what the other stations already told us!” Yeah, I’m just gonna hit the button to put the camera up, and then run about 150 feet to get in front of that camera, real slick! (I arrived at a more elegant solution: I programmed the automation system to put the camera on-air at X o’clock, and I was out there waiting to see myself pop up and not look surprised.) As there was no producer on hand to switch graphics for me, I then proceeded to do a deadly-boring cut-in standing in front of a single graphic with nothing to cut away to. The microphone wasn’t wireless, so I couldn’t exactly step out of the camera shot, walk into the control room and switch graphics myself.
My salvation turned out to be stupidly simple: a shift change took me off the weekends. Problem solved. The weekend weathercasts gradually vanished, and eventually the notion of doing little five-minute weather quickies dissolved altogether, dying far too late for anyone’s tastes who had to be in front of that camera.
And that is why I’ve tried never to give any on-air talent at any of my later destinations a bunch of crap. They’re dealing with a big enough plate of crap as it is. They want to walk into the store and buy something to eat, and someone they’ve never met wants to give his opinion on last night’s news. Yay local celebrity? I’m a behind the scenes guy, through and through, and never want to be on-air talent again.
If nothing else, I now know better than to sit still for that kind of demotion.