An old photo brought up the memory.
I once was a teenaged radio traffic reporter… flying high above drive-time city traffic with live reports from from “Skyview 930” almost 30 years ago now.
Even then, the days of each station having their own helicopter were over, and it was a little-shared secret that there were three traffic reporters from different competing radio stations all in the same fixed-wing airplane, seeing the same backups at the same time, flying in a figure-eight pattern over the area highways.
In the days before DOT cameras and Google maps, watching traffic from that vantage point was invaluable in learning about how cars move– Especially when you’d fly over a trouble spot, and then you wouldn’t see it again for 20 minutes or so.
That’s probably why, off the top of my head, I can still give you a completely made-up morning or afternoon traffic report on the spot that’s going to be completely accurate— even if not specific and filled with lots of confident-sounding bet-hedging.
I learned a lot about talking off the top of my head and the way area traffic patterns work, but looking back, the best thing about that experience was the guidance, kindness, and encouragement from nearly every single person at the two sister AM news and FM music stations during what was my first on-air gig.
I was treated like everyone’s kid brother and the station mascot. Everyone was bursting at the seams to help me succeed and that feeling– and the confidence it built– certainly helped launch the rest of my career.
Sadly, the only true specific memory from those days involves the one person who wasn’t on the “Aww shucks, let’s help the kid” plan.
She thought she was on her way to becoming the female Howard Stern, I think– this woman who was personally a mess during the short time she was in town. To me, and other station underlings, she wasn’t very friendly, a bit of a diva, and wouldn’t even look at me (let alone talk to me) in the hallway.
So now I was doing traffic on her fancy FM show– no big deal. I’m 16, but a pro.
“An accident has the Kensington backed up…. and that has the main line slow back to William… The 190 might be your better bet heading downtown— no wait at either the Black Rock or Ogden tolls. this report brought to you by Builders Square… in Skyview 930, I’m Steve Cichon…”
That should have been the end of the report, but with her whiskey-soaked cigarette voice she tried to lay on the sultry at the end of one of my first reports– in what might have been the first words she ever directed at me.
“HeeeEEEEyy SteeeEEEeeeve, you know, you sound sexy,” said the nasty hag to the teenaged boy live on the radio.
I was 16 or 17 years old, and a little embarrassed– but more pissed. I knew my future was at the news station, was making a big effort to sound professional and journalistically trustworthy… and not just some kid.
By any measure, I know didn’t sound sexy. And she knew it. She was being mean to be funny— trying to throw off a kid on his first day for a laugh.
I can tell you for sure my terse and dismissive response, horrified, pissed, and embarrassed, jammed in the back seat of a tiny airplane with 50 pounds of equipment on my lap, wasn’t sexy.
“SteeeeEEEeeeeve, you sound seeeEEEEeeeexy.”
“Well, OK,” I said, “if you think an accident on the 33 is sexy. Thanks…” as I quickly clicked off the mic.
Hahaha. I’d have handled that differently today, but the way teenaged me handled it makes me smile to think about.
When I got back to the station, I complained to my boss about the woman– who at this point was already on her way to being fired. But with my heart in my throat, I told him what I said, too… concerned about being in trouble for “going off the script.”
Trying to keep his usual military bearing, my mentor and boss barely held back a big grin, telling me I handled things perfectly. I couldn’t have been sure then, but there’s no doubt there was delight in the fact that “the kid gave it to the witch” live on the radio.
This was exactly the kind of loving support I found over and over again from the radio family that is still so much a part of my heart.
Still, I carried shame about this incident for a long time— not happy with the way I handled myself. Even at this moment, nearly three decades later I’m second-guessing— but of course… there’s no good way for a kid to handle a small-hearted jerk.
More than anything, I guess I should thank her, because somewhere deep in the echoes of my mind, the incident reverberated every time I went off the script to tell some kid “great job” on the air.. even when listeners might have wondered if we’d been listening to the same report.
And there’s little doubt I felt some part of that sting as I’ve called out and bawled out dozens of people who’ve mistreated “lower-statused” co-workers through the years…
Things like “The guy’s doing the best he can— why don’t you worry about your own work.”
Now that’s sexy.