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by George Lester
George Lester

"You don't work for me. You work with me." The station owner/manager corrected one of the announcers. That's the way things got started at the new radio station in West Monroe, Louisiana. I gave a silent "Amen" and I think everyone else did that day. Things just kept getting better and better. From day one the esprit d’ corps at the facility was the highest I had ever witnessed. The program director had the same great attitude. He shared the same theory I have always subscribed to. The best way to have a great radio station(or any business) is to hire the right kind of people in the first place and then let them do their jobs.

Later in my career the opposite seemed to be the norm with most radio stations I worked for. They would scout around the country and hire people away from other stations because they like the way they sounded. Then they would put them through their own meat grinder, squeeze them and mold them until they no longer sounded the way they did before. After the metamorphosis if the announcer failed in the ratings they would fire him and go out and look for more poor suckers.

Only a short time earlier I had moved across the river to West Monroe so the radio station was only a few blocks from my garage apartment. I figured that was a good omen and it seemed to prove true. I had requested the sign on shift and my wish was granted. I have always been a morning person. Getting up at four or five o’clock has never been a problem for me. I could hop out of bed and be wide awake in minutes and ready to face the day with a smile. My energy level was at its peak during those hours and I just simply enjoyed waking the people up and watching the sunrise through the control room window. The morning drive shift has traditionally drawn the largest audience in radio. That is one of the reasons they are usually the most sought after and the highest paid announcers. That was where I wanted to be.

One of my most bazaar experiences happened shortly after I assumed my morning duties. The program director had supplied me with a key for the front door because I would be the one opening up each morning. Being the cautious person I always have been, I took nothing for granted so I tried the key to make sure it worked. It did. I hopped out of bed one morning, had a quick breakfast and a cup of coffee then jumped on my bicycle and peddled to work. I ran briskly up the stairs, placed my key in the lock and turned it. The door wouldn’t budge. I tried several times. No success at all.

I always arrived at work with plenty of time to spare so I sat down on the steps and contemplated what to do next.. Then I remembered that the back window to the control room was never locked because we liked to open it for fresh air now and then. I walked around to the back of the building and looked for a way to climb to the second floor. As luck would have it, there was a power pole with spike steps driven into it. I climbed up the pole, stepped onto the shelter covering the sidewalk, walked across it and then opened the control room window and crawled through. I fired up the radio station and got on the air in plenty of time.

When the program director came in that morning I told him about the problem. He showed me another lock toward the bottom of the door that no one had told me about and it had never been locked before. The same key worked in both locks. If I had known I could have avoided my early morning adventure. However, looking back I think I really enjoyed it.

That morning Cousin Ed came in to the control room to tell that the cops were looking for a cat burglar who was seen climbing a telephone pole to get into the building and he looked a lot like me. It was great to have him back. We were having a lot of fun again and our listeners seemed to be doing the same.

It wasn’t long before I had my “live” show up and running during the lunch hour with the new sound of country music. I thought it worked even better than the rock and roll format I had previously used. From the ratings taken later it proved to have a much larger audience also. I called it “The Spunky Flat Frolics” after my old stomping grounds where I grew up near Marlin, Texas. I hadn’t had so much fun in the all the years I had been in radio.

We were what was called a “day timer” like the one back in De Soto Parrish. We had to sign off at sunset to protect the clear channel station who had a long standing priority of the frequency we were using. I kept this in mind when I got permission to do a Saturday afternoon country variety show with real live musicians and singers. It was all done in a parking lot on a flat bed trailer right across the street from the radio station. No matter where you go in this great country there is an abundance of local talent whether it be Texas or Iowa. All you have to do is get the word out and as they said in movie, “If You Build It They Will Come.” And come they did. Our proud little radio station was making a big splash in the market and people were taking notice.

All the employees were like a big happy family. We hung out together away from the station as well. There wasn’t one bad apple in the bunch. Try to find that situation in most work places today. For the first time in years I was looking forward to coming to work each day.

One morning a tall dark gentleman came into the radio station and asked for one of the other announcers. I told him that he would be in shortly if he would care to wait. We had a pleasant conversation between my live announcements as I went on with my radio chores. In a few minutes the announcer he had come to see made his entrance. He rushed up to his visitor and greeted him with a broad smile. Then he introduced the man to me. He was D.J. Fontana, the newly added drummer in Elvis Presley’s band. He was from the area and had just dropped by to see his old friend. I was really impressed by his casual air and his lack of self importance. Drummers all over the country would have killed for his job.

Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana
Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana
Photo courtesy rockabillyhall.com
© George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir

June 30, 2007 column

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