Archive for ‘ March, 2010 ’

Weather announcements and youthful indiscretions

Something I’ve found wonderfully amusing is that ever since Dad got on the email bandwagon in the mid 1990s, we Vangs (and in-laws) have received email nearly every weekday and often on the weekends that opens, invariably, with a weather report. Dad’s a farmer’s son, which probably has something to do with the obsession, and if not, then living in Grafton, ND for a few years and hearing all the farmers complain about the weather no matter what it was probably would have done the job. 
I find the Butte, MT weather reports particularly amusing since they often serve as a reminder to me that I’m probably experiencing some kind of weather, too. Left to my own devices, I could probably go weeks without noticing it. Other than deciding whether to grab a rain coat or a fleece vest before heading outside with the dogs, I’m clueless on the subject. It’s sunny and warm today, but I can’t for the life of me remember what yesterday was like. Did it hail? Or was that Tuesday? I have no idea. 
In my defense, SF Bay Area weather is considerably more boring than most places. I cracked up the day I was listening to KQED, the NPR affiliate station, and one of my favorite announcers said, “Weather today–mid 60s by the bay, warmer inland, with light breezes; warming to 70s midday, warmer inland, with cooler temperatures expected in the evening and lows in the 50s overnight. [Beat. Beat.] Gee, that’s a surprise. [Beat. Beat.] Traffic this morning is…”
It reminded me of something from my salad days…
One of the stranger-looking lines on my resume notes that I was an announcer at KFJM-FM, the University of North Dakota’s NPR affiliate station, the summer after college. 
We were required by law or by farm country morality or something to announce the weather several times an hour no matter what. You’d stop by the wire service machine and tear off a four-inch strip from the never-ending trivia printout spilling out of that thing, park it on your rack in the booth, and read off the usual bits at the prescribed times. Although it was only occasionally an interesting topic (I have an amusing story about the tornado warning emergency that I had to deal with the day I was also simultaneously running AM and FM, whose stations were on opposite ends of the building), it was a BIG DEAL and could not be skipped, ever. Unfortunately, I often forgot to grab the latest weather wire before heading back into the booth, since they were so damned boring, so on more than a few occasions, I actually just dug the hour-old strip out from under my pile of album covers and CD hoojies (technical term) and invented slight changes from whatever the weather used to be. I was shameless. As far as I know, my invented barometric pressures and wind speeds never hurt anybody, and my temperature guesses were probably within the margin of error of the actual readings and forecasts anyway. But my dad is probably still deeply disappointed by my ethical lapses in this area–if he even knew about them until now, that is.
He knows now. I hope he can cope. 
Perhaps I’m being cocky, but I don’t think the FCC is going to read this and revoke my license for it.
I was grateful for the weather wire a few times, though. Several times a month, you’re required by the FCC to do a test of the Emergency Broadcast System (that awful beeping thing with the stupid “this is a test, this is only a test” patter). Because KFJM operated both FM and AM stations, but only one of those stations had EBS hardware, you needed to take control of both stations to do the tests or actual EBS events. So that it’s somewhat graceful, you’d do these at very specific times with an agreed cue (“Time now, 2:14”) so that the AM station could plan its programming and announcements just so, so that your taking control from the FM booth could sound seamless. Meanwhile, on the FM side, I’d have to play my program down to the minute, also. 
Unfortunately, it turns out that the printed band-timings on LPs are frequently incorrect, and not by just a little bit. More than once I’d have a piece bottom out on me quite a bit ahead of schedule, and I’d have to vamp to fill the extra minute or three until the EBS break-in, or the satellite feed at the top of the hour, or whatever. There’s only so much detail you can read off about the piece we’ve just heard and the upcoming programming, and throwing in promo carts (those brief pre-recorded spots where Noah Adams invites you to listen to All Things Considered, blah blah blah) is surprisingly tricky and not something you generally want to have to do on the fly, and especially not when you’ve patched your board over to the EBS, and that channel just happens to be the channel that normally is used for the weird 8-track-tape-style thingy that plays the promo carts and would have to be repatched on the fly, too. 
So, when you suddenly find yourself with an entire minute to kill, nothing left to say about the music past or future, and way too many knobs and switches to deal with to play a cart while also trying to say something reasonable into the microphone, you do the only thing you can do: you read off the current and predicted temperatures, wind speeds, directions, barometric pressures and whether they’re rising or falling for every damned town in the entire upper Red River Valley, and you try not to slash your wrists. 
And you wonder how many farmers’ days you’ve just made. 
Is there anybody out there reading this now who would actually have cared? Anybody? Please use that  Comment button!