Sunday, August 28, 2011

If anyone hates me, I'll be at Jiffy Lube

I was walking through a mall recently and there was a radio station doing a remote. The disc jockey was in the corner of this store, sitting in front of a microphone, the station’s call letters on a big sign above his head. All of the music, commercials, everything else was back at the station. So it was just this poor schmoe, pleading for listeners to stop on by. Of course, that’s when he was on the air. Most of the time he was not. A song or spot or promo was playing so it was just a poor schmoe sitting alone under a sign. It’s like when you give your kid a “time out”. A few shoppers crossed back and forth but no one paid attention. I passed by and a arctic breeze went right up my sphincter.

In an ideal world remotes would lure more people into the store (for which the station receives a healthy fee up front). It’s kinda like when Jiffy Lube has a grand opening and schedules Greasy the Clown to make a guest appearance so bring all the kids.

Also, the broadcast is supposed to sound more fun to the listeners because it’s unpredictable, the D.J. can interview folks who are there, it’s a big party.

Yeah. Right.

Most of the time no one shows up and the ones who do don’t give a shit. The disc-jockey (thinking it’s a rare chance to be a big celebrity) is pretty much reduced to that crazy guy with a pinwheel hat who talks to himself on the subway.

I’ve gotten roped into a number of these remotes during my checkered radio career. Frequently (i.e. 90% of the time) the equipment doesn’t work, it sounds awful, there’s loud feedback, headphones that don’t work, I never know when my mic is actually on so over songs you hear me saying, “Hello? Is this crap working?” “When I get back to the station I’m going to kill Lenny for setting this damn thing up.” Weather is occasionally an issue. I’ve done outdoor remotes in the rain (“If you’re coming folks would one of you please bring an umbrella?”), the heat, and mostly the wind. All of my commercial copy gets blown onto a freeway.

Usually I’ll have prizes to give away. But they’re always weenie, and I sound so pathetic begging people to drive twenty miles to get free station bumper stickers and kitchen magnets.

The few stragglers that do stop by usually say, “Who are you again?” or tell me how much they hate me or my station. And then they still ask for one of the prizes. “You want this fucking kitchen magnet? Bend over. How about a station ballpoint pen? Let me give you one of those, too.”

I’ve done them in hardware stores, tuxedo rental shops, record stores, a Denny’s, and an exclusive country club. That was fun, telling the thirty-five people in Los Angeles who were even eligible to come on by.

One time when the Dodgers were on XTRA 1150 I co-hosted a pre-game show from a tire store in Torrance. But since it was a day game from the east and we were on west coast time, the show started at 8:00. The store wasn’t even open until 10:00. We sat there alone in the parking lot.

And later that same year we did our broadcast from a car dealership in Anaheim, again set up in the parking lot. The dealer also happened to have his gardener there that day. All the listeners heard for a half an hour was a deafeningly loud leaf blower.

On the other hand -- at least they're LIVE.

They're local. They're unpredictable. All the things that radio used to be before networks, syndicated shows, voice tracking, satellites, simulcasting, and automation took over. Give me a leaf blower over Sean Hannity any day... although that has nothing to do with my views on remotes.


dgwphotography said...

Ken - the next time you see him, ask Dave Sims about the time a bird used him for target practice during a live remote outside Yankee Stadium...

Tom said...

I dreaded remotes when I was in radio. There's nothing worse than being the schlub at a county fair carrying a wireless mic looking to get people to come over and say hi and enter a contest, while you look like the twit who's talking to himself like his tinfoil hat blew away. Or sitting in a van at a toy drive in 30-degree temps at Christmastime at a Kmart.

I've done both things, and sucked at them because the overnight guy (which I was) was never taught how not to look like a feeb when going live on location. In small towns, like I was in, it's worse...because the people actually do turn up wanting a pen or a bumper sticker. And you have to talk to them, schmooze, act like you care when all you wanna do is go home and sleep.

I'm thrilled I can personally relate to an Emmy winner, finally: through blind and raging hatred of the live radio broadcast. Huzzah!

Tom Quigley said...

I'll take dead air over Sean Hannity any day -- or over Rush Limbaugh (hot air)....

Anonymous said...

Am I the only jock that actually liked remotes? This was extra money sent from up above, or at least the salesperson that liked you the most.

I was one of the few jocks at my station in Phoenix that was as outgoing at a remote as I was on the air. There were some that if you put them in front of 10 or 1,000 people wanted to back themselves into a corner and fade away.

If a remote was slow, I always felt guilt and would at least start to talk and make friends with the staff.

But here's a couple of instances of what can happen for the better at a slow remote.

I was at a jewelry store at a local mall for an hour on a weekday to sign people up for a cruise to the Carribean. The staff at the store silently slipped into the back to eat their lunch, have sex on the job....whatever. (Just kidding)

A few people actually DID come down to say hi and sign up. One was young couple just starting out that was getting married later that summer. So, what did I do? I started being inquisitive and asked enough questions for find out what they might be looking for. And, I sold them a fairly expensive wedding set. It was even more fun when I had to go into the back room to ask for help. The manager immediately offered me a job.

Another episode was sweet revenge.

I was at a waterbed store (It was the 80's) when I was wrapping up and the owner handed me my talent check. Immediately, one of his slimey delivery guys approached me and said, "You just made that much money, for what? Hey, Mr. Moneybags, the Super--The Big Game is next week. Join our football pool and give us a chance to get some of our money back." He basically painted me into a corner in front of their staff so I did. I bought 4 squares at five dollars a piece. He smirked like it was easy money and laughed as he walked off.

Well, guess what? Three of my squares hit or $100 a piece....Cha-Ching $300!

I came down that Monday was relentless. "Mr. Moneybags is here, c'mon cough it up". Did you ever think I was going to clean your clock? Boy, aren't you REALLY glad you had me sign up? This guy gave me the money but was ready to punch me at the same time....It was classic. He couldn't crawl into the back of the warehouse and into his delivery truck fast enough.

Revenge is sweet!

Dana King said...

At least you didn't have to cover the promotional Thanksgiving Turkey drop for WKRP.

Talia Shirred said...

Classic promos at Dana noted, the turkey drop - as well as the broadcast from the stereo shop that got robbed.

It's a beautiful day for a ball game, for a ball game, today! The M's have scored 2 runs (2 games) vs. Chicago, shutout once. Is it a return to normalcy or can we expect another aberrant offensive explosion as we saw in Cleveland?

Mary Stella said...

I wasn't on-air talent but as the promotions manager, I had to go to most of the remotes. One year at the county fair, we had several jocks out sick and so much other stuff going on that I ended up doing the reports on the pig races, pie-eating contests, and various other activities. Fun enough until the gargantuan rain storms rolled in.

The most fun I ever had on a remote was when we loaded the marti unit in my car, stuck the antennae on the roof and the disc jockey (a good friend) and I cruised up and down the Jersey Shore during a walk-a-thon. It was a fine, sunny day with lots of good-looking guys running around.

Least fun -- a remote on the boardwalk when the crowd acted like the T-shirts we were giving away were woven from 24K gold thread. I've never received so much abuse over giveaways that cost $3.50

Chris said...

Here's one for friday: In The Comeback, all those guys following Lisa Kudrow around with cameras and mics appear in many shots, because the premise is that it's a reality show. Do they have to get paid as extras and if so, how does it work?

YEKIMI said...

Ah yes, those thankless remotes. In the 80s, had to do one at a waterpark which caters mostly to the younger set. And our station...we had an oldies format which most younger people wouldn't be caught dead listening to. Not one single person came over to say hi, pick up the freebies, anything. Management didn't care as long as THEY didn't have to do it. If they wanted people to stop by they should have done a remote from a nursing home or senior citizens center. I told the guy that came in after me that if we wanted to get people interested in the station, we should leave all the equipment plugged in and chuck it in the kid-filled pool. We would have at least made it on the news and the waterpark would have got the attention they so desperately wanted.

Rob Hoffmann said...

The station I do production for (after 7 years of weekends ended last year) did a furniture store remote yesterday.

While we were in a hurricane-related state of emergency (we're in Richmond, VA)...

While the rain bands were coming through...

While our primary transmitter was off the air because of a hurricane-related power issue...

Meaning that it was heard on-site (because our Internet stream stayed up) and on our very weak simulcast stick.

I heard there were almost no customers in the store. Imagine that.

And we don't do the remotes live anymore... the jock prerecords the drops the day before... :)

@IFeedUrTV said...

Ah, remotes. That necessary (to some) evil of radio. I set up about 100 of them for an AM station over a few years. To the station at 7 to load the gear in MY CAR, get the remote set up by 9, on the air from 10 to just before 1...and then get back and stow the gear in the station's basement so I could be on the air from 1 to signoff, which, in Summer, was as late as 8:30. Yeah. Long day. Even longer when things didn't work out right. As in:

New Burger King opens. It's uphill from the station, so we need access to the Marti repeater across from the BK to bounce the signal from us back down to the station (Martis are line-of-sight transmitters). Welp, the building the Marti repeater was in was locked come remote time, and only the station owner had the key. He didn't know we were doing a remote that day. Strike one.

Strike two, we'd just bought a KD Canopy - one of those tents that folds into a long square tube - and even PRACTICED the art of opening and closing it beforehand. The sales guy and I try to open it that morning and...oh, SNAP! We broke one of the metal poles. So strike two: no canopy.

In the spirit of planning ahead, I'd supposedly charged all THREE batteries for our bagphone the night before (this was about 10 years ago, when they actually USED bagphones). Sure enough, first one I tried - dead. Second - dead. Third - yup. So talent is seething at me over having to do the remote on a digital cellphone, but the remote got done, people came out (if only for the keychains), and Murphy's Law was fully adhered to.

Chris said...

Here's another one for friday: you said that sometimes networks will screw up the episode order to air the best episodes first, can that mess with a show's ratings?

On Perfect Couples for example, they aired them almost in reverse and the show got canceled, isn't it supposed to get better episode after episode, as they shoot it and write it and as people become confortable with the characters? I watched them in the right order and that's how it seemed to me.

Jeff said...

This is Exhibit A in why I decided against going into broadcasting.

Jonah D said...


Hi Ken,
Thank you for taking the time to create such a wonderful blog. I thoroughly enjoy your writing style.

I have two questions for you:
1) I recently watched the series finale for Frasier and during the episode, as Frasier was delivering his farewell speech, the camera pans to a large number of people standing behind him watching from the hallway. Besides the main characters that were present (Niles, Daphne, Martin etc), who were the other people? Were you among the crowd?

2) From time to time, I notice that the movie posters from two separate movies look exactly the same with the only difference being the actors faces (such as the movie posters for The Breakfast Club vs. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II). Isn't this some type of copyright infringement?


HogsAteMySister said...

I love TV live crosses, but only when a drunk wanders up and hits on the Barby Newscaster. Never ceases to amuse me.

Mike Barer said...

WKRP did a great send-up on that. Johnny Fever was doing a remote from a stereo shop and he was "radio-jacked" by a disgruntled out of work DJ. The result were real funny.

Chip said...

In 1989 or 1990 I was working at a restaurant during the day and one of the big Chicago stations did a Valentine's Day remote brunch from our location.

As I recall, it was one of the biggest February snowfalls on record in Chicago. Half the staff didn't show up, let alone any listeners.

To make matters worse, the on-air guys were rivals of my favorites on another station. It was difficult to not slip laxatives into their coffee.

WV: "gandeat" - what you say once you've eaten so much that your mouth is numb ... "I gandeat any more."


How about: Gandeat - Gandalf's less famous twin brother. Known best for trying to carve his girlfriend's initials in a tree that turned out to be an Ent.

KathyZY said...

We still do tons of live remotes and the uusal goes wrong. A remote at a car lot. No one wants to talk, they have construction going on inside, its raining and I have nothing to give away. Did 4 hours in our station truck in the parking lot, reading the newspaper ad over the radio. But, it SOUNDED fun!

Mike Barer said...

Your post reminds me a little of the New Year's Eve parties at the Space Needle. It looks real fun on TV, but if you are ever there it makes the Library look vibrant. KING 5 has a reporter there in front of the camera and when the camera goes on, everyone cheers and waves at the camera. When the camera goes off, you are with your friends, hanging out with crappy hors d'ovres and overpriced watered down drinks.
It's cool to do once, but you'll never want to do it again.

Cap'n Bob said...

I worked at a shop, in a cluster of other artsy, craftsy shops, and we pooled our money to hire a dj from a local top 40 station. It wasn't a disaster, but I don't think it brough in much trade.

And Jiffy Lube is a ripoff.

Anonymous said...

Wow Ken, how many remotes have I done just like that. It can be pretty sad, and for some reason, even though you're only on a couple of times an hour, the exact moment you put the headphones on and start to do your break someone will walk right up to you and start asking questions. It can be a painfully long shift at remotes like the one you wrote about.

Oh and my favorite was the guy who walked up & interrupted me on the air to ask why we were there and did I know where the nearest mens room was. Honestly, you can't make this stuff up.

Bryan Simmons