I can clearly remember being called into the station owner’s office after a show and being told that the station was letting me go as a cost-cutting measure. It felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach.
Yes, I knew there was a recession affecting the entire country and, yes, I knew that revenues at the radio station where I worked as a morning personality were down. It was obvious. We were playing fewer commercials.
Yet it still hadn’t occurred to me that I could lose my job. I was indispensable! The listeners loved me (didn’t they?). My two male co-workers and I had terrific on-air chemistry. We engaged in lively banter every morning about hot topics, current affairs, and celebrity gossip in a way that entertained our listeners and kept the phone lines lighting up with people who wanted to join in the fun. I also did voiceovers for commercials, went out on remote broadcasts, emceed local events and manned a station booth at every arts & crafts fair, barbecue competition and random community festival during every weekend of the summer. I never had a summer weekend completely free — didn’t that dedication count for something?
I was indispensible – or so I thought.
Those excruciating five minutes in the station owner’s office threw my whole world off kilter. The owner told me the company would continue my health insurance through the end of the month – as if that was very generous on his part. The end of the month was five days away.
I packed up the things in my desk and drove home, trying not to think the worst, but it was difficult not to. The economy was in a nose dive. I was in an industry that had been shrinking for some time. When I started in radio, there were lots of on-air positions. Syndicated shows eliminated a lot of them. So did voice tracking, in which one radio personality can be heard in markets in different parts of the country, simply by recording their on-air bits. Salaries (for all but the top, very famous djs) had shrunk.
Part of me should have been kind of happy at being fired, because on some level, I was miserable. I’d returned to Michigan for family reasons, and taken this small market job because it was what was available at the time. As a big fish in a small pond, the operations manager resented the hell out of me, because I’d worked in larger markets than he had. He also felt that as a woman, my role on the morning show should be…small (my co-workers and the listeners disagreed with this). We’d had many meetings where he excoriated me and my on-air performance. I learned later why he always seemed so dissatisfied during them. He was trying to make me cry and I wouldn’t cooperate. The station’s news director told me that the ops manager advised him to make the female reporters working under him cry. That way, he’d know he had them in hand. The fact that I failed to cry when the ops manager was criticizing me must have frustrated him a great deal. Too bad.
Additionally, my alarm went off every weekday morning at 3:30 a.m. I struggled to fall asleep early enough each night to get enough sleep, but it was impossible. I was in a constant state of sleep deprivation, which affected my social life and everything else. There were lots of things I wanted to do, but I didn’t have the energy to accomplish much. I love acting in local theatre, for instance, but the thought of staying up past 9 p.m. for rehearsals and shows was not appealing. (At right is a picture of me in costume for “The Lights Were Warm and Coloured” – a show I did after I was out of radio.)
And most of all, I desperately wanted to be a writer. I was a writer; I’ve written for years, but my output was not what it should have been. I was rarely clear-headed enough — once the caffeine-fueled buzz of the morning show wore off — to work on the projects that I was passionate about. They simmered on the back burner, sometimes for so long that they evaporated completely.
But back to the job loss. I polished my resume and sent it around, but there were few openings. I did get an interview at one local station, which was looking for a woman for the morning show it was putting together. I could tell as soon as I walked into the room that the program director wasn’t interested in me. Something shifted in his expression. When I walked out – after a brief, perfunctory interview – and saw the next candidate, waiting for her interview, I realized why: I was too old. I’d aged out of radio. She was much younger, more representative of the demos the station was trying to attract.
I did grieve for a long time for radio, and concocted a little fantasy in my head in which some station would seek me out – without my even having applied for a job – and offer me an amazing, highly paid position.
The reality was, my unemployment was running out. I am not married, so I did not have the safety net of another salary. I know losing a job is traumatic for just about everyone, but I have to think that married people must feel some security in knowing there’s still at least one job supporting the household. I faced the prospect of losing my house (where would I live?). Unemployment was helping, but it wasn’t covering all my bills, and I was rapidly running through my savings. The future seemed terrifying.
I enrolled in a program through the state called, “No Worker Left Behind.” Through it, jobless people could get tuition in order to train for a new career. It wasn’t easy; you had to jump through a lot of hoops, research career choices, potential salaries, length of schooling needed, and put all of the information together into a proposal which had to be evaluated and approved by the program administrators. Many of those who signed up for the program did not complete it.
I remember sitting in the back of the first class and having the man in front of me turn around and say, “No one’s ever going to hire people our age.”
I made sure not to sit near him again. That kind of negativity I didn’t need.
NEXT: A whole new direction.