Radio Rick Myers, 1976
When DJs take on a subject, their train of thought often jumps the tracks. One of us radio guys read an article that breast-feeding could improve the neuromuscular system involved in speech. All that suckling activity is just darned good, healthy exercise. That article morphed down into the lower levels of disc jockey humor. “Hey, DJ guy, you’ve got a great voice, but imagine where you’d be if your momma breast fed you. You’d probably be in New York City by now…” I wasn’t breast-fed and I’m not in New York. That’s my excuse.
With that in mind, this February 21st, I came upon an “Ask the Doctor” column. A woman wondered if it was all right to continue breast-feeding her twenty-six month old son. I misread the column, thinking for a second it read “twenty-six year-old son.” I did a quick double take, and talked about my goof later on the air. All was fine, as I summed up the story with “But if there were to be a woman out there somewhere breast feeding a twenty-six year old son, I’d be happy to put myself up for adoption.” It was just one punch line out of many, and I forgot all about it—until those letters started coming in.
Negative letters usually are addressed to the boss; favorable ones come to the disc jockey. I wish it were the other way around. The first paragraph of the first letter read:
“I am surprised that you would let a disc jockey profane himself on prime time public radio by making gross mockery of such a sacred subject as breast feeding babies….” The closing sentence had some holy wrath with it: “In my opinion this man should be ‘adopted’ as he wishes—only by a mental facility!”
Another letter decided to embellish what I said: “And he wondered what it would be like for a 26-year-old to be breast fed and he could go about volunteering to be adopted and breast-fed by that young mother.”
That was more than what I said! I closed by saying I wondered if I could put myself up for adoption. This listener added to the punch line. In radio, that’s called “talking past the punch line.” The writer watered down what I said just to make sure it didn’t even remotely sound clever. When it comes to humor I need all the help I can get. As fellow disc jockey, J. Michael Stevens, once said, “Rick, to call you a wit is only half right.”
Radio stations do get letters! Most are complimentary. The critical ones seem to be written to release tensions. The writer just feels better with, “I told them a thing or two.” My Program Director, Larry Maher, likes to say some people listen with one hand on the Bible, and with the other hand on a note pad ready to dash off a letter of protest.
Most protest letters come when the listeners are given the chance to be “righteously indignant.” At the letter’s heart lies the assertion the disc jockey was insensitive. One winter day, I made the comment, “It’s December 7th, and every year on this day, the Navy goes out and bombs Pearl Bailey.” In came a letter:
“How dare one of your disc jockeys make fun of Pearl Bailey, a woman who is such a great entertainer, she is practically an American Institution…”
Oh, come on now! Just because you don’t get the joke, don’t take it out on me. (Note: Pearl Bailey was a great entertainer, passing away in 1990. The Navy never sought revenge.)
I’m not alone on these incoming slings and arrows; many DJs are Writers’ Wrath Recipients. One foggy morning, Terry Nelson made the comment, “be careful out there, folks; it’s foggier than a pervert’s breath.” In came a letter:
“…How dare you people! I was in the car with my son when your disc jockey talked about a pervert, and my 10-year old asked, ‘Daddy, what’s a pervert?’ I was all embarrassed and didn’t know what to say. Parenting is hard enough without idiots who think they have the right to ruin my day!! Well, thanks; you succeeded!!”
You’re welcome. Another time, Ron Posey started his show with “I got a letter here, let’s see what it says (then the sound of the envelope being opened). Ron then reads, “It’s addressed to All the Virgins of the World. It says, “Thanks for nothing!” Let’s not even get started on those letters.
One brutally cold day, I mentioned that it was “colder than a Mother-in-Law’s love.” Those incoming letters were pretty much universal, along the lines of “I laughed at what you said, but, I want you to know that MY MOTHER-IN-LAW is a VERY NICE PERSON!!” The letters all had that common theme. I guess mothers-in-law have their own union, and they’re headquartered in Modesto.
So keep those cards and letters coming! They let us know that at the microphone’s other end are living, breathing people. Letters keep us on our toes. DJs really strive to never cross the line. We just like to get close.
I’ve learned threes things about listener letters: 1) they are certain to continue. Therefore, 2) It’s better to limit any controversial comments for when the boss is on vacation, because 3) when he’s away, he’s put me in charge of the mail.