A BEHIND THE SCENES ENCORE BLOG
The one and ONLY time I was drunk on the air
(DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DID!)
By Bob Burnham
As some of you know, part of my radio career was spent on the air.
A certain station that still exists in Ann Arbor was my hang-out in the late 1970s and 1980s. I was among the last of the ‘music’ jocks before the station evolved into an all-talk format.
For most of my time there, I worked the 6-10 nighttime shift Monday through Friday, and was the Production Director during the day. It was a great job with average pay but money has never been my real motivation in this business anyway.
The jock who followed me, who went by the name of Dave Dugan, was my partner in crime, although HE was the one who always got in trouble, and ultimately, he lost his job over his “extra-curricular” activities. But he was an incredibly talented guy, and we worked on a lot of Production projects together, including one that was a recurring comedy skit relentlessly poking harmless fun at the afternoon drive guy
(Fred Heller, where ever you are, you were a great talent as well, no matter how many times you strangled yourself on headphone cords in our skits).
Anyway, Dave was friends with all the waitresses at the local Ann Arbor eatery and pub called The Red Bull. If it’s still there, I hope it is still as great a place it was over 25 years ago!
Depending on my workload at the station, I would often grab a quick McDonalds meal, but if I had more time, Dave might drag me to the Red Bull. Actually, he never dragged me. I always went willingly, and we didn’t go THAT many times.
Anybody who knows me from my band playing and more recent broadcast activities knows that I rarely drink adult beverages. In fact, I will specifically order a “pitcher of water” at some gigs where I’m playing (unless as I say, it’s going really GOOD, or really BAD, I might nurse a rum & Coke or two).
I was the same back then, too. But Dave must have caught me in a rare moment. As we ate our lunch, he encouraged me to try a kamikaze, which has a very high alcohol content, but tastes a lot like lemonade or limeade. In other words, they go down like water.
I don’t remember what the topic of conversation was, but it must have been awfully interesting, and we ordered more kamikazes…and more…. and more…. and more. At least I did. The interesting thing is that it did go down like lemonade, and it was incredibly tasty. The scary part is they seemed like they were doing nothing to my brain cells.
Dave had driven and it was only a few miles back to the station, and I don’t think he had any more than 1-2 of these tasty drinks.
I polished off 4-5 of those things. I felt completely in control, until I stood up. Let me assure you, I was GONE from that point on!
So we made it back to the car and the station. Vaguely I realized I had to be on the air in less than a half hour.
I had to remind myself DON’T SWEAR, play lots of music and public service announcements. The commercial load was also particularly heavy my first hour, then it lightened up after that. That was the norm and I was used to it. It was a very busy log, but I actually had enough experience to pull it off.
I DON’T recommend anyone attempting this because it may be the last show you ever do in your career. But I was always willing to live on the edge back then.
I stayed late after the show (as I often did) to finish some production that needed to be on air the next morning. By the time I headed home, the effects of the alcohol were largely gone, but the next day, I remembered almost NOTHING of what went on during that show. Did I put any callers on the air? Don’t know. I apparently did not miss a single spot including the live ones, met all the network breaks, etc.
I was talking to our News Director at the station the next day. He had heard that Dave and I “had a few” the previous afternoon and he had heard my show.
It is likely that he tuned in specifically to hear the fun!
Anyway, “Mr. News Director” didn’t notice much difference
(apparently I was NOT slurring words too noticeably).
We did have a contest called “Easy Street,” which was basically a 30 second live read a few times an hour. His only comment was that I “did a FIVE MINUTE ‘Easy Street’ spiel!”
Of course, I remember NOTHING of that! The whole airshift was a blur.
I just know when you work in radio for a while at a busy station, you think on your feet. Show prep is important, but knowing how to be a “host” and keep the show moving, completely off the top of your head – is something I did know how to do, because otherwise you DIDN’T EVEN GET HIRED back then.
I had listened to (and been hired by) the best in the business. If the equipment malfunctioned, we knew how to IMMEDIATELY jump in and often the listener never even knew.
In my drunken stupor (don’t ask me how), I STILL (allegedly) managed a professional demeanor because doing my job was second nature. I could “wing it” skipping show prep, because I constantly listened to other stations, read newspapers (including supermarket rags) and there was ALWAYS something to talk about. I especially knew the music inside and out, and if I wanted, could hit the post on every single song without even looking at timers.
I had a “spiel” and a “schtick” that was a little different from the way I am in person, but (apparently) I could also operate on “auto-pilot”, and almost no one was the wiser.
I got through an airshift undetected completely smashed and oblivious to my surroundings because radio was – and still is – my passion.
I’m not particularly proud of those moments. That was in fact, the ONLY time I was ever on the air intoxicated on an FCC licensed station, but it is one of many amusing times I lived through.
At the time, Art Versnick was our Program Director, who has since been in broadcast management for several years in Ohio. Overall, Art was a really good guy to work for.
Thank you Art, for not finding out about my “kamikaze” incident, but especially for putting up with and encouraging my creative whims during those years.
Yet another drunken moment engineers would appreciate, that did NOT involve me:
A good friend would be at the transmitter twisting dials, completely and hopelessly drunk. “I can tune the plates no matter how drunk I am!” he would brag…and the tubes inside would be going through various shades of orangey red. He knew if he blew them, it would be money straight out of his pocket… but he never did.
R.I.P. Tom Fitzek.
The lesson here is to have as much fun as possible, but do as I say, not as I did!
(don’t be a jerk, use at your own risk, and never drive or operate heavy machinery after consuming this stuff)
Serve in: Old fashond glass
Alcohol (as typically mixed): 27%
1-3 ounces vodka
1 ounce triple sec
1 ounce lime juice