Thursday, September 22, 2011

And Speaking Of The Magic Of Radio...

... I won a radio contest once.

It happened back on Sept 10, 1979 - a full 32 years ago this month.

I was living in Toledo at the time and - for some reason I can't now begin to recall - listening to WCWA AM when the DJ asked a trivia question.

I can't exactly recall what the question was now, but it was something along the lines of "In what movie did Groucho Marx say 'I'd horse-whip you if I had a horse'?"

I knew the answer.

I thought everybody did.

When the DJ repeated the question a few minutes later, I was surprised. I couldn't believe he hadn't been flooded with right answers.

I decided to call before the rest of the world woke up and seized this golden opportunity to talk to a real live radio personality.

Before I knew it, I'd won!

It was a pretty brief conversation. The DJ asked the question. I gave the right answer. He said it was right and asked how I knew it. I said I'd always been a fan of the Marx Brothers.

And that was pretty much that.

Except for the fact that I mispronounced my name.

Probably both first and last.

Which was painfully obvious to me when he played a tape of our conversation on the air a few minutes later.

The important thing is, I'd won!

Which meant that I was entitled to the promised prize: The record album of my choice.

When the DJ had first announced that that's what was at stake, I'd thought they would just ask me what I wanted and then quickly mail it out.

Of course that's not what they had in mind.

After I won, I discovered that I'd have to go down to the station to pick it up.

This took away a lot of my excitement at having won.

The station was downtown. I'd have to ride a bus for an hour to get there, and then ride a bus for another hour to get home.

It took me 9 days to finally decide to do this.

The WCWA radio station operated out of the WTOL-TV building at the corner of Huron and Jackson in those days. It was a building I was very familiar with since the bus that I took downtown on a regular basis for much of my life went right by it. In fact, that bus went by it two different ways, the in-bound route taking me down Huron and the out-bound route taking me up Jackson.

The main doors faced Jackson - you can see them on the left side of this vintage picture:

Those bricked-up doors puzzled me for decades. It was only recently that I learned that the building had originally been the home of the Toledo News-Bee newspaper - which ceased publication way back in 1938. I guess the operators of modern media require better security than old-time newspapers did. Or maybe the old doors were just drafty - I really don't know.

What I do know is that security was being provided by a young black woman behind a desk the day I entered the small but impressively modern lobby to claim my prize.

I think someone once defined surrealism as a sewing machine meeting an umbrella on an operating table. Although my memory is a bit foggy at this point, my sense is that this woman looked at me as if I was a dirty, old umbrella being plopped on her private operating table.

And I perceived her to be a highly dubious sewing machine that would rather be napping.

Fortunately, the moment passed (as moments tend to do). I explained what I was there for, I sounded convincing enough that she actually placed a call to the WCWA people, and I was soon on my way up a narrow set of stairs to the actual world headquarters of WCWA.

Which turned out to be a very small, very poorly decorated office in which a disorganized white girl made a polite attempt to figure out what contest I might be talking about.

I don't think she ever did figure it out. Instead, I think she rather quickly concluded it was easier to accept my story and give me what I wanted.

Pleased with her easy acquiescence, I anxiously waited for her to ask me which one of the millions of record albums they had in their collection that I'd like to take home.

Instead, she presented me with a small cardboard box in which maybe 10 albums sat like so many baked potatoes from last week's feast and told me to help myself.

I went through the albums several times. Most I'd never heard of. The rest I had just about zero interest in.

And my options only seemed to get worse the more times I pawed through them.

I finally settled on the Atlantic Rhythm Section's Underdog LP. It contained their remake of "Spooky" - a song that I remembered somewhat fondly from the 1960s.

I'm told that "Underdog" charted as high as #26 on the Billboard album charts in 1979. I guess that means *someone* must have liked it.

After playing it once, I myself let it gather dust on my shelf.

Eventually, I got rid of it - maybe at a garage sale, maybe behind an abandoned gas station in the dead of night.

All of which taught me the valuable lesson that sometimes it's better to lose than to win.

Thank you, AM radio! Although it's a lesson I've re-learned many times since, I'm very glad that my first time was with magical you.

1 comment:

  1. I have a story like that. In my story I said my name was Ann Onymous and the radio station was on my paper route, but I'd never been inside. There was no security. Just the deejay. He gave me a record he wanted to get rid of. Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. My college roommate loved the album, even tho it was advertised as a "Rotten Record" for the giveaway.
    The question I answered right came from page one of the sports section of that day's newspaper, which I had seen. It was about a tennis player named Peaches Bartkowicz. Her married name was Krotch or something like it. The deejay just wanted to hear somebody say Peaches Bartkowicz Krotch on the radio.
    I don't know what became of the album. Maybe my roommate got it when we parted. I sure didn't want it. I remember the roommate used to like quoting the lines about "His nephew, Axel," and saying it all dramatically. I should say the album was sort of a musical dramatization of Verne's book--emphasis on drama with Wakeman's over-the-top organ music backing up the the London Symphony Orchestra backing up the narration.
    Like you, it taught me not to call the deejay any more.