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by George Lester
George Lester
The thought of becoming a radio announcer had never entered my mind.

As long as I could remember, my ambition was to be a professional singer. It didn't really matter whether it was pop or country, I just wanted to get up before huge crowds and knock their socks off. It would have helped a lot if I had even a tiny inkling how to go about achieving my goal. I didn't. In fact, I still don't.

I went around pushing my wares any place I could find an audience. I had this foolish dream that someone would hear me and come rushing up to the stage with a contract for me to sign. After years of doing this my dream never came true. I had to accept the fact that this was is not a very effective way to break into the business.

It finally occurred to me that perhaps I should try to get a larger audience by singing on the radio. Back in those days Top 40, all-music-all-day radio stations were almost unheard of.. Most broadcasters had what they called "Block Programming". There was a a huge board on the wall with each hour of the day blocked off into 30 minute segments. The program director would chalk in the names of each show and keep them up to date as changes were made. In that era broadcasting was a hodge podge of diverse programming. You might hear a local citizen who dropped by to play waltzes on the piano followed by 30 minutes of gardening hints followed by "Uncle Jimmy's Banjo Tricks". A variety of performers paraded through the station each day.

Most programs were sponsored, but a few went "sustaining" which meant that they hadn't found any advertisers yet for that segment.. The unsponsored time was usually filled with recorded music. I offered to fill the time by singing instead . I didn't get paid anything but I reasoned that with the much greater audience I would rapidly become famous and sought after.

After my radio show on the weekend I couldn't wait to get to my day job on Monday morning to see how my fellow workers would react to my newly found celebrity status. I had been telling everyone I knew all about my program; what time, where on the dial etc. It seems that almost everyone had a thousand reasons why they didn't get to hear it. If my own close friends didn't listen I wondered who would. Never the less, I kept at it week after week.

When my job brought me to new city I sought another facility in order to start all over again. I dropped by the local station to chat with the program director about singing on his station. He commented that I had a pretty good speaking voice for radio and he wanted to know if I ever thought of going in that direction. It caught me by surprise and I was flattered but my ambition was to be the next Eddy Arnold, not a radio announcer.

When I was in the service in World War Two I was kidded so much about my East Texas accent that I decided I had to try to tone it down a bit out of self defense. Each time someone teased me about my twangy way of talking I would do my best to rid myself of this handicap. After three years of practice I guess I had changed my speech patterns quite a bit. When I got out of the service and came back home my friends and relatives said I was talking like a "Yankee". I guess most of the "Gladewater" had left my speech by that time.

After thinking the offer over a few days I dropped back in the radio station and asked if he would consider letting me work part time so I could keep my regular job. He agreed and my career in broadcasting began.

Anyone who has ever worked in radio will never forget that first day on the air. For days I sat and watched a seasoned professional work the controls and do the announcing. Then came the day for me go it alone.. When I sat down at the console it was very much like the first time I flew and airplane solo. I felt so deserted when I saw that empty seat where the flight instructor had been sitting.

When the previous announcer left, the door clicking behind him echoed like the sound of doom throughout the control room. I was now flying solo. I made every mistake possible that day and probably invented a few new ones. I figured this would be my first and last day as a radio announcer but management was patient and let me gradually get the feel of it. It wasn't long before I became comfortable and starting to enjoy this new experience.

My regular job was mentally and physically demanding. I worked the swing shift, from 4 P.M. to midnight, and I came to work dead tired from getting up early and spending a day at the radio station.

After a few weeks I had lost 25 pounds and looked like a ghost. I knew something had to give. It was apparent that I had to decide which direction to go from there. Doing both jobs indefinitely was out of the question. I chose to devote my full time to radio. It seemed fun and glamorous when I was working only part time. I had no idea what it would be like when I didn't have another job to fall back on. Little did I know that it was to be a 40 year roller coaster ride with no stops.

To be continued.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

October 19, 2006 column
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