I loved walking to the radio station. WHKW FM was located in the basement of the Student Union, yet its signal reached across the southern tier of New York. Walking to the station,
listening to Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks herself, I got into the mood. Sometimes looking over my show notes with my headphones blaring, or just listening to the music itself, I visualized myself making the same waves as the best singers and artists of the classic rock era. While I had a talk show, I always felt, if my words could move the people as performers did in the rock halls, then I had what it took to be a radio star.
County Speak, the title itself, was based on George Orwell’s “New Speak” and his general elaboration of how governments use propaganda and language to subvert their messages. The show itself was very much a propaganda tool of mine. While I intended the content of the show, at least at first, to discuss about meaningful things, such as public policy and Medicaid reform, the show was just another mechanism to keep Dorothea’s mind firmly focused on me and my affairs on campus. This show ultimately became a giant mechanism, a fulcrum, to continue the ebb and flow of my voice overseas, when Dorothea went to London. There, across the Atlantic Ocean, she could still tune in via the Internet and listen to me expound on social policy.
I had on a number of high profile guests for the southern tier, and New York state. Everyone from members of the state assembly and congressional representations, to local politicians, such as the Deputy Mayor, helped me truly capture the political nature and cross-section of upstate New York politics. This was the heyday for County Speak, when I was able to plan and organize the show ahead of time. As the semester unfolded, however, less and less planning went into show before it aired. That was when the flavor, and content, shifted.
Taking Royal county transit to school from my friend’s house where I was hanging out and traveling back to campus not more than an hour before the show aired, left little time for preparation. With no high profile guests, I turned to the population of the bus stop for content. That was when I met Ms. Ethel Bennita Hill. I knew, just by eyeballing her and noticing her unsteady gait, that she had a problem. I introduced myself and explained I was a radio host on campus. Knowing instinctively there was more to her story than just her unsteady gait, I asked her if I could learn a little bit more about her. After uncovering her long history of involuntary psychiatric hospitalizations and history of psychosis, I asked her if it was possible for me to interview her on the show. I thought I could tie it in to Medicaid reform or link it to some other political angle.
When the bus pulled into the University Union for us to disembark, Ethel began to cry uncontrollably and very bizarrely. “AHHHHH!,” she cried out to passersby on campus. People began to look concerned by the time she stopped her crying episode. “What was that?!,” I asked. Ethel revealed that she suffered from unpredictable fits of vertigo which can be extremely frightening for both the observer and the sufferer. I realized this entire plan was a bad idea, so. I slowed the pace down for Ethel with show preparation and took her for dinner on campus.
She seemed to enjoy herself during dinner, so I decided that if I just adopted a calm pace for the show, things would turn out alright. I was correct. Generally, the show was different, much different than previous airings, but not as off base and misinformed as what would come later.
Everything was falling apart on multiple fronts. I was moving quickly to plug up holes and recenter myself despite my personal dysfunction, but I just couldn’t pull it together in time. Every week I needed to come up with new material for my radio show, and every week I was decompensating further. In the spring semester, I had a new producer who was much less keen on my show content than the original producer.
It seemed as if she had an issue with everything. While the show clearly had issues, her no-stop interruptions during the show and her disclaimers were distracting. During the spring, I had fewer politicians on and more local citizens. That season Crossing Guard Jimmy made his first appearance on the show. He was a local crossing guard with intellectual impairments who spoke brazenly about whatever he wanted to touch on, totally unfiltered.
It was my belief that this sort of radical turn would suffice until I got my act together. I could play off the show’s dysfunction to disguise the evolution of my own personal madness. My friends listened to the show less and less. That was also difficult to accept, as they had recorded it and incorporated it into their Friday evening activities during its heyday. So, I put less effort into the broadcast. Of course, people were listening, but not the people I wanted to hear me speak.
My voice was becoming less powerful. My influence even less. Ultimately, I lost control over my guests and my capacity to exercise judgment over juicy and totally unscripted airtime. This all played out very sadly for me. Mcdaggot had volunteered to join me for the broadcast of what we would later learn was my last show. We were eating in the cafeteria prior to air. I knew I needed guests, so I asked a few Sodexo workers, the same people I had bashed in my article “Eating Off the Floor,” to join me on the radio.
The interview was bumpy, and I found myself uncertain how to proceed as it unfolded. Eventually, I looked at Mcdaggot, who gestured toward me. “Read this,” he said, and handed me a slip of paper that suggested I ask the two guests if they had ever been beaten as children. I did just that, not thinking. The guests went on and answered in the affirmative, and it got dark for a few moments in the studio. That was before my producer said, “This show is over, you’re off the air.” A few moments later, I was walked out of the station and received an email shortly after saying due to inappropriate content, the show was officially canceled.
I sat still outside the station shrugging. Not knowing what to do next, I thought, there aren’t enough drugs in the world to soothe my sadness right now.