I’d been out of work for about three months when I got a call from the program director at a popular FM rock station located in a northeastern college town. He’d just listened to my audition tape (a three minute hodgepodge of my on-air banter and newscasts from the past couple of years) and wanted to meet for an interview. He needed a news anchor (a female) who would also play the foil to the DJ on the morning show.
I needed the job and wanted a position at a rock station. I had been working at stations that specialized in “adult contemporary” music. It was the dullest radio format since Muzak, featuring such “artists” as Peter Cetera, Michael Bolton, and (gag) Celine Dion. I didn’t personally have to play this schlock since I worked in the news department but I was subjected to it on an hourly basis. That is until new owners arrived and, three weeks later, fired the entire on-air staff.* It was just as well. I was ready for a change.
*The Number One Survival Rule of Radio: When new owners tell you they don’t plan on making any changes, start looking for another job.
So I told the p.d.—Russ Myers—I looked forward to driving up and meeting him for the interview. He didn’t waste any time, asking me to be there on Friday. This was Wednesday.
“Don’t worry about a hotel room, Pat. We’ll have it all taken care of by the time you get here Friday. How’s early afternoon? You can sit in during my air shift.”
Well, this sure didn’t give me much time to get ready but I figured I’d better move on it. Morning show gigs (the most listened-to time of day) were hard to come by. I told Russ I’d be there.
“Great! That is super, Pat, just super!”
He certainly sounded excited. This might be good news; I could have a job! Added bonus—I would be working in the same town where my best girlfriend lived. Yes! It was time to start packing.
Friday morning. I’ve loaded up the car and chosen my outfit carefully. A simple white cotton shirt with a black skirt and fitted sweater. A bit conservative for a rock station but I wanted to exude professionalism. The night before I’d come home from some last-minute shopping to a message from Russ. He wanted me to know he’d been re-listening to my tape and really “dug” my on-air interaction with the morning DJ. It was “flirty and kinda sassy.Can’t wait to meet you.” Hmmm.
It was a four hour drive with plenty of time to ruminate. I repeatedly listened to a copy of the tape I had sent Russ. Was my exchange with the DJ really “flirty?” My job had required me to engage in small talk with the DJ after I read the news. We had been kidding around about a new poll that had come out in the USA Today which listed the worst pick-up lines of all time. When he tried a few of them on me, I joked that they were lame. That was the extent of my “flirty and sassy” repartee but Russ had honed in on it not even mentioning my news delivery.
At 1:00 P.M. I pulled into the station’s parking lot and tried to smooth the wrinkles from my skirt. On the drive, I had forced down a peanut butter sandwich. My mouth was dry and I was out of water. Ready or not, I headed towards the front door.
“Well, hi there,” the receptionist said, waving me in.” “Russ wants you to go on into the studio. It’s down the hall to the right,” she pointed and sent me on my way.
Finding the studio wasn’t hard; I just followed the blast of Aerosmith. When I arrived at the door, the on-air light flashed and Russ identified the station—WMCP, rockin’ the Northeast—and went to a commercial. I opened the door and walked inside. Russ, a fortyish guy with a Budweiser gut, turned to greet me. When I introduced myself, his face fell.
I caught on immediately. I should have known by his last phone call. Russ wasn’t expecting me. He was expecting Heather Locklear or some comparable giggling blonde of the era. I was a good looking redhead but no beach bunny.
“Well, Pat,” said Russ, looking like someone who had just learned he had terminal cancer. “I planned a little surprise gift for you. I was going to send you down the coast to cover Spring Break next week. I thought that might be fun for you.”
Are you kidding me? Wander around the beach and watch the dudes and babes get drunk? It didn’t sound fun. It sounded awful.
“I, uh, can’t start that soon. It will take me a couple of weeks to get ready to move.”
Russ was apparently not amused. “I’m on the air. Go on out and meet Jesse. He starts on Monday. We’ll just have to figure out what to do since you can’t start then.”
Now if I’d been older and more experienced, I would have hightailed it out of there at that point. But I had my pride and I’d given my word that I would meet the general manager. I wanted to be professional even if this jerk was being anything but.
I wandered into the break room to meet Jesse.
“Oh, yeah, how ya doin’?” Jesse, wearing rumpled jeans and a face to match, looked like he had just woken up from a thirty year nap. God only knows how, but we ended up in a discussion about politics. “Yeah,” Jesse said. “They just elected a lady mayor here.” Shaking his head in disgust, he went on to tell me he was sleeping on a mattress in his van until his furniture arrived from Detroit. I wanted to go home.
“There’s the g.m.,” whispered Jesse.
“Hi, Pat. I’m Michael.” The general manager extended his hand. “Let’s talk.”
Home would have to wait.
Forty five minutes later, I was back at the receptionist’s desk. I needed to go to the hotel and freshen up before retuning to the station, this time for a joint meeting with Russ and Michael.
“Yes, sweetie? Call me Kitty.”
“Hi, uh, Kitty. Could I get the name of the hotel where I’m staying? And directions?”
“Directions? I don’t follow you, hon.”
“To the hotel. Where I’m supposed to stay. Russ said you would make the arrangements.”
“Oh.” Kitty looked at me. “Oh, my.”
“I need a place to stay for the night. I was assured that this would be taken care of!”
(Calm. Keep calm.)
Kitty responded by bolting from her chair and running down the hall toward Michael’s office.
Jesse ambled into the lobby. “Where’s Kitty?” I told him she went to see about getting me a hotel room.
“Wow,” he said.” That’s going to be kind of hard to do on a Friday. There’s a game this weekend.”
I needed a drink.
After showering and changing at the Motel 6 across the highway from WMCP, I returned to the station. It was after 5:00 so, as instructed, I walked around to the back and knocked directly on the studio door.
“Just a minute,” yelled Russ, still agitated that I had shattered his wet dream of hiring a Heather Locklear lookalike.
“Hi, Russ,” I said when he opened the door. “How are—“
“Go on into Mike’s office. I’ll meet you there.”
While we waited for Russ to join us, Michael (aka Mike) and I politely made small talk. He had already explained what my duties would be should I accept the job: Copy writing, news anchoring, producing the weekend public affairs show. Nothing I hadn’t done before.
Finally, Russ came in and plunked down in a chair on my right. Making zero eye contact with me, he looked at Mike and gestured in my direction. “What are we going to do about this?”
About this? I had encountered sexism before but had never been described as a this.
I don’t remember much of what Michael said afterwards. Something about the three of us meeting at Barnacle Joe’s for oysters and beer to discuss salary. See you there in an hour.
When I got back to the hotel room, I poured a glass of Chardonnay. I was supposed to visit my old friend Sandy around 9:00 P.M after my dinner with Russ and Michael. I sipped the cold wine and mulled over my situation. I couldn’t bear the idea of sitting across from those men, watching them knock back oysters while they discussed how much money they weren’t willing to pay me. Russ’s brand of sexism—describing me to his boss as a “this” when I was sitting right next to him–felt not just appalling but dehumanizing.
I called Sandy to tell her I’d be early.
Michael didn’t sound surprised when I told him I had decided against taking the job, although he did ask why.
“It just doesn’t feel right,” I said. (No, actually it felt downright litigious and no doubt would have been had I been dumb enough to accept a job in that work environment.)
Twenty years later, I wonder what happened to Russ Myers. Did he ever realize that it’s not okay to treat women—people—like that? I hope so.
But I doubt it.