Friday, July 16, 2010

Fleeting Expletives Are Now OK (Friday Media Rant)

In nearly 40 years of broadcasting, I’ve made more than my fair share of boneheaded mistakes; thankfully, the number diminished each year, as experience made me more cautious and judicious. I have never dropped the F-bomb. But my worst moment was far worse than dropping the F-bomb on the air. It was back in the early 80’s, when I should have known better, and it was so bad that I tendered my resignation the minute the big boss walked in the front door of the radio station.

My on-air partner and I did a morning show on the company’s FM station, and we also taped news and sports reports for airing on our AM station. While the rock was rolling on the FM station, we’d tape a four-minute report for the AM station. You had to keep your wits about you and operated on a very tight schedule.

As we were taping one of those news/sports breaks for the AM station, I was delivering a story about a man who had burned to death in a horrible car wreck. Just as I got to the part about how he was trapped in the burning car, my partner passed gas. It was VERY loud, and threw me off my game. I started chuckling, knowing that this tape was a bust, and that we’d have to do it over. My partner, realizing the same thing, said “how bad was he burned? As bad as my a** is right now?”

I tossed the tape aside, put in a new tape, and we started over. Then, because time was tight, we had to get ready to do a “break” on the FM station. The DJ from the AM station came into our studio, grabbed the news/sports tape while my partner and I were on the FM station, and went back to his studio.

You can probably guess what happened. He grabbed the wrong tape…the one that I should have erased immediately. He started it playing, and then went off to get a cup of coffee during his four-minute break.

Moments later, my partner and I noticed that all ten phone lines were lit up with callers. We still didn’t have a clue. Suddenly, the AM station disc jockey stepped back into his studio, picked up a call, and then looked over into our studio. I’ve never seen a look quite like the one that was on his face.

Realizing what had happened, I set the FM station to play 3 songs in a row, and then went into the AM studio and made a stammering on-air apology. When the boss came in, I met him at the door and offered my resignation. He said “your apology saved you – it was the best recovery I’ve ever heard”. Thankfully, nearly all the callers to the station felt the same way.

I still have the tape of the horrible gaffe…it made the rounds among broadcasters for years…but no tape of the apology exists. I have nearly no recollection of what I said. I was scared, knew my job was over – if not my career – but I knew that the man who died in the horrible wreck was a local guy, and that his family was going to hear about our huge mistake. The man’s wife, who heard about it from friends, called me later that morning to say she understood. At no time in my life have I felt lower than I did that wintry morning.

I probably have some of the details of this story wrong because of the intense emotion; but it taught me a lesson never forgotten.

So now if some unlucky broadcaster accidentally drops the F-bomb on the air, the station won’t get fined. But no law or rule will ever prevent a boneheaded mistake like I made 30 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. To paraphrase the great 18th century lexicographer Samuel Johnson, "When a man knows he is to be concentrates his mind wonderfully."