Why I Got Fired as a Volunteer from an NPR Satellite

Imagine this large enough to fit in a shoebox & there you have it!

"I was once fired from a local public radio station," I bragged one night to a friend.

"How can you get fired? Isn't that free volunteer work?"

"Precisely. I had three radio shows going on at the same time and the motherfucking general manager fired me."

My friend gave me the look. "What the hell did you do to get fired from a non-paying job?"

I shrugged, "Fuck knows." Oh, I knew precisely what I did: rock the boat.

WFUCK, the NPR satellite and community radio known for generating power from locally-grown sheep methane, requested volunteers. The General Manager, having made his mark in anything but radio and media, greeted me. "You'd be perfect as a radio announcer."

The General Manager knew a lot about radio and announcers, this being his first job in radio. I think his decision had something to do with me being a novelist and giving a little acclaim to the station.

Taken aback, I said, "Well, I can shriek in four octaves." Newly struggling with my neurological deafness, all I wanted to do was sit in a sound booth and do mailings.

So, they trained me. I sat next to a lovely woman who pointed out which eight buttons to press on the panel, how to read the weather, local news and public announcements in the 30 second to 1 minute 30 second allotments. There were also other things relating to FCC rules and regulations.

Now, you may wonder, dear Readers, how a neurologically deaf woman can function as a radio broadcaster. It's quite simple. First off, it doesn't require hearing! The broadcasts are intake feeds from NPR and it's all about the seconds. I watched the digital clock like a hawk for my announcements. I don't need to hear myself to speak, a sad fact for many people. Unlike the non-hearing impaired volunteers who daydreamed during the emissions, I never missed going on and off mic. At the same time, I monitored the equipment to make sure the transmitter didn't come down, a common occurrence. And I got to wear those blessed headphones which only trapped the sounds in my head.

After three sessions in a two week period, she stated, "I never saw anybody who learned so fast. It usually takes three months."

Ding. That should've been a clue right there.

I was given the early Sunday morning shift from 6am to 9:30am. Which meant I had to wake up at crack of dawn to make my way there by 5:30 am. Once I arrived, in the pitch dark winter early morning with no outside light to find my way in a remote location known for UFO visitations, I had to rev up the entire building before switching from overnight auto broadcast to live feeds.

The building itself was older than my cottage and tilted towards Mecca. The equipment inside looked as if it went through hell: everything was beaten, old, dingy and obsolete. Including the furniture, walls, floors and volunteers.

The moment I spoke on air, the phones rang at the station. People loved my voice which sounds so much better on radio than in reality. They said it was calming. At 6am, I still was asleep. By the end of my shift, I was awake as was my  shrillness. In a matter of two weeks, I had two new shows and interviewed people from their stores, in the public library and on the street, spending countless days there.

Inasmuch as I wanted to learn how to edit my work, I couldn't. Besides my deafness, the equipment and operating systems were obsolete and practically nonfunctional. Instead, I relied on the long-term volunteers who spent 30 years apiece assisting at this local radio station.

That should've been another DING!

One early evening, the producer was in the process of editing my work. He just finished an interview that was timed to go on air in minutes. He added a peppy soundtrack for the background music and voila! it was up.

What he managed to do was flip flop the interview with the background music. Listeners got a heavy dose of 1970's German disco. It took only seconds for the phones to ring.

The woman in the sound booth, another veteran of the local public radio freaked out. "WTF is going on?"

The producer ran in. "Yank it off the air!"

"How do I do that?"

I walked into the sound booth to watch 60 aggregate years of experience at work: four hands slamming down on every button on the deck.

"What're you doing?" I asked.

"We're trying to turn this off."

"Oh," I said and leaned over to flip a switch.

They stopped to stare at me. I turned on the live mic switch and nodded to the broadcaster. Meanwhile, the producer scrambled to get a dvd to play. "Tell them 'Romantic Music'!"

"We apologize for the transmission problem and, in the interval, will play a little romantic music for this Sunday evening."

He popped the dvd in and the overhead speakers blasted with Klezmer music.

"Romantic?" I asked.

If four eyes could stab me to death, they would've. Meanwhile, the phones rang off the hooks.

The broadcaster wailed, "What should I do?"

The producer pulled the DVD out and replaced it with another one.

This time with African chants.

I couldn't take it anymore. I snuck out and during my 50 minute drive back home, pulled over at least five times, doubled over. I had the radio chimed into WFUCK. Experienced hands as they were, they forgot to turn the mic off. Even through my deafness I could hear the cadence of their shrieks and shouts over the music.

Quality programming at its finest.

I burnt my bridges when I complained about people smoking pot in the master control both. I entered the radio station at 5:30 Sunday morning and almost swooned from the rancid rank odor of marijuana. I'm sure it would've smelt a lot better in other environments, but in this dirty, old, skanky building, it smelt like burnt shit with a tinge of sheep methane.

In the dead of winter, I opened up the closed and locked window in the Music Library, an adjoining closet to the sound booth. It was either gagging from inhaling stale pot or freezing to death gagging on sheep methane from the 10 below zero temperature. I opted for freezing to death on sheep methane.

When I sat down at the board in the master control booth, I was greeted with half a joint resting in front of me. Which someone extinguished on the board.

I was pissed. Don't get me wrong: it wasn't the smoking pot issue, it was the smoking issue. Despite the age of the equipment, it cost a fortune. Monies from grants and local community donations. A very impoverished community. Moreover, I didn't appreciate being put in a position where I had to notify the General Manager. The bottom line is that I didn't want to be responsible for damaged property or blamed for such. I know my luck. And, as a newbie, I knew that fingers would be pointed in my direction. Can you tell I was down this road before?

This episode also triggered my anger about my stolen hat a few days' prior. Accidentally left it in the sound booth, it disappeared, never to return. I put up posters and nothing happened.

March 2012 at an ungodly hour live from WFUCK
I sent the radio station's Assistant Manager, a geeky kid, the following email:

 This is a matter of grave concern. When I got into the building this morning, it reeked of marijuana. I found the remains of the marijuana joint on the master control room counter which I showed to XXX XXXX. He remarked, "This is not the first time this has happened." Also, my hat was stolen.

It took two seconds for the response email:

Hi Maura- We were in contact with those involved, made it clear this was unacceptable behavior at the radio station, and we were assured this would never happen again. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

At the same time, the General Manager shot off this email:

We will, of course, follow up, with Saturday night folks to see that it doesn't happen again.
I don't think anyone from this radio station would have taken your hat. But since the doors are open when someone is here it's hard to account for visitors.
Thanks for making us aware of the situation.


Oh boy. They knew the 'culprits.' Evidently, this was never an issue until I brought it up.

The following Sunday morning, the window was left open in the Music Library. It was fucking 15 below 0 both INSIDE and OUTSIDE.

To top it off, that morning the computers sounded as if they were going to explode. It was such a cacophony that several times I had to leave the master control room because it triggered my hyperacusis to new heights. I went to sit down on one of the broken couches flanking the sound booths. Insult to injury, I sat on a pile of ashes! Probably the people involved smoked pot and then opened the music library window to air the fucking building prior to my arrival.

Mind, you, I'm doing this FOR FREE! 

At this stage, I knew the nonsense would continue and only get worse. The motherfuckers weren't going to stop smoking pot on FCC regulated premises. And someone had stolen my hat which I accidentally left there. So, I shot out this email:

I don't want to belabor the point, however, the window in the music library room was wide open this morning & XXX XXXX noticed ashes on the bench in Studio B. I don't want to be put in the position where I'm raking the ashes of the studio early in the morning.

Please note that the noise from the computers in the music library is very strange & loud.

Then, I received the following response from the big gekko, the General Manager:

The window in the music library is usually left open as a safety precaution to keep the equipment in there cool. That is not at all out-of-the-ordinary. If it is a problem just close the door between the music library and Master Control. The computers in the library perform quite a number of different functions for the station and consequently may make a variety of noises. Again, with the door closed this shouldn't be a problem.
I checked with XXX XXXX and he said they were not ashes but unburnt flecks of (perhaps) tobacco. These could come from a variety of sources since we have volunteers and guests who smoke, and loose pieces of tobacco are found wherever smokers are found. Were you somehow inconvenienced by them? I'm not following you here.
There seems to be an edge to your note, as if you are looking to find things there some problem I need to know about?

I wasn't going to dispute the fact that the window was rarely left open. Nor the bogus tobacco pieces that the other volunteer backpedaled about. I knew there and then I crossed a line. For how dare I, a new volunteer, point out these things which no one ever spoke about?

In other words, yours truly did what she customarily does: Rock the boat.

When I saw the General Manager the following day, he made light of the situation and pooh-poohed me. 

Self-righteously, he said, "You're making such a big fuss out of smoking pot."

No doubt, he figured I wasn't cool despite being a novelist.

"WHAT THE HELL?" I screamed. "It's not about drugs. I'm talking about SMOKING in the master control room. We're not allowed to bring in fluids. So, why smoking? In case you weren't aware, ALL of the equipment is in there."

Eyeing me with distrust, he sniffed, "Oh. Right. Smoking's a no-no."


The General Manager, a rainmaker, emailed the volunteers photos of the brand new building the radio station acquired with amassed donations over the years from this local community. Located in another state, 60 miles away from the current local station, the new building was only 10 miles from his house. I gather he didn't like commuting.

The new WFUCK station had state-of-the art everything. Brand new!

"Visionary," I told him and the snake preened.

With animation, a group of volunteers discussed the new building. They've been around for the most part thirty years and would gratefully suck the General Manager's cock in a heartbeat to maintain their highly coveted volunteer positions.

What makes the entire situation deplorable is that these idiots are supposedly accomplished teachers (which explains the sub-par quality of education today), pilots, businessmen and women. Individually, I can tolerate them. But they're a collective hive mind and will tear their eyes out from the sockets to ingratiate themselves to the General Manager.

It felt like high school all over again with mean girls.

"It'll be a subordinate station," they insisted. "This will continue to be the primary station."

"Who you kidding?" I said. "Once they get the FCC license, this building will be closed and the radio will operate from there. Unless you want to commute 60 miles each way, I doubt there'll be a need for any volunteers from here."

The woman who fucked up that Sunday evening broadcast wailed, "But this is a methane-powered transmission station fueled by the local sheep! That's what distinguishes us from the other community-based radio stations!"

I laughed. "So fucking what. They abandoned this community already." That was true. They stopped local programming and local news and events, picked up by another radio station, in favor of that of the next state. "It no longer matters. It's the new community that counts. We don't."

She sneered. "What do you know?"

I smiled. "I analyzed companies for 30 years on Wall Street. Not a single penny donated over the past five years since the General Manager came on board has been invested here. This place is a shithole." With my usual tact and diplomacy, I added, "You gotta be a moron not to see the writing on the wall."

5pm the following evening, the General Manager phoned me.

"You're fired!"

I burst out in laughter. "You can't fire a volunteer!"

"I spoke to the Board and they agreed we don't want you any more. I heard things about what you said."

"So you phoned me to let me know you listen to idle gossip?"

"Uhm. No. We don't want you here anymore."

I laughed and hung up.

So, the stupid fucker sent me this email:

I'm sorry that you chose to hang up on me just now. So that things are clear I think I should repeat what I just told you on the phone.
WFUCK feels that is is best to end your relationship with the station as a volunteer at this time. We ask that you not return to station property without advance permission from me.
Thank you for your efforts on the station's behalf. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

I couldn't refrain! First, the fucker phones me and says the word, "Fired" for a non-paying volunteer job! What was he doing, masturbating with a lizard tied to his microdick? Secondly, to sneak in a last word via an email!

WTF! Is this how a NPR satellite operates?

Let me clarify that I did not hang up on you. I was under the impression that there was not much more to say. Besides, my agent was phoning on the other line, and given the circumstance, I prioritize my time to those people and situations that advance me, not undermine me. I find it interesting that you just couldn't refrain from adding the statement of "not returning to the station property without advance permission from me" to your email. Throckmorton, how petty. I, at least, do not listen to idle gossip and conclude business arrangements based on that. I find this entire situation distasteful and a poor reflection of wfuck. 

Good luck in your future endeavors. 

I want to get a little perspective. It's okay to smoke pot in a master control booth of a NPR satellite regulated by the FCC, but it's not okay to complain about it. And, it's okay to use local community-generated funds to open a brand new station in another state, but it's not okay to talk about that.

I just needed a little clarity here.

A little postscript:

During the recent donation campaign held in our community, there was a bit of a backlash. Everyone wanted to know why WFUCK expected us to donate money when all the local news and community events and programming is dedicated to the neighboring state.

It seems that the imminent move has been delayed. 

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That'a quite a scandal, really. I bet the local donors will be pissed off. This GM should be totally exposed, you should let LOTS of local media know about it. Good for you!