John Corson's Blog

for November 10, 2020

In A Radio Studio Overnight

Back in the late Summer of 1987, I was about to make a transition from a full-time pastor position to a bi-vocational pastorate which would require me to work full-time in a so-called secular venue. The church I was about to accept could only pay me for part-time work. I left the South Norfolk Church of Christ in November of that year, but had already taken a job at Christian radio station WXRI.

WXRI was part of a radio-TV combo owned by the Christian Broadcast Network (yes, CBN) which was owned and operated by Pat Robertson, (yes, THE Pat Robertson). The TV station was located on the first floor of a two-story building which stood in front Scotts Creek that emptied into the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, VA. The TV call letters were WYAH (the YAH were formed from the first three letters to God's Hebrew name, traditionally known as YAHWEH). The radio call letters WXRI came from the first three letters of the Greek name "Christ." The radio station occupied half of the second floor and was rather small as radio station space standards went.

Well, enough of that insignificant clap-trap. Suffice it to say, the atmosphere was somewhat religious, although most of the so-called religious folks had moved over to the headquarters at the Christian Broadcast Network University, now known as Regent University in Virginia Beach.

I had my first day (or rather night) on WXRI on Sunday Night (Monday Morning), August 31st. I was on the air from Midnight to 6am. Going in each night, Sunday thru Thursday to do my show which consisted of playing contemporary Christian music from such artists as Amy Grant, Scott Wesley Brown, Mylon LeFevre, Petra, White Heart, Rich Mullins, Chris Christian, Michael Card, Michael W.Smith and others. Call it my introduction to something other than rock, country and classical. I worked there for nearly nineteen months, leaving only because Pat Robertson had put the station up for sale and everyone was losing their jobs.

You see, Pat put the station on the air in late 1962 and used it to air religious programming, such as preaching, teaching and testimony programming. This continued until the early 70's when the format changed to Christian gospel music, and then on to Contemporary Christian by 1980. It was quite popular and we had constant ratings with a 4 share ranking us in the top 10 of over 25 other stations in the market. They made a little money, although not enough to afford a large staff or give a decent wage to the announcers.

So Pat decides to run for the Republican nomination for President in 1988. He had eight other opponents in the race including Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Howard Baker, Paul Laxalt and, of course the eventual winner and President, George H. W. Bush. Pat won four primaries that year, but spent a whopping $237.9 million dollars - lot's of bucks back in those days. When he dropped out of the race on May 16 he had $29.7 million cash on hand, but the bills kept mounting for pay off and he came up short. So, he decides to sell WXRI (and three years later he would sell WYAH). In January, 1989, the sale went through and a company from Ohio which owned three other stations (in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana) took over in mid-May. When the sale of the Christian owned station was announced and the company taking over that had other stations all with a heavy metal, punk rock format (complete with bands like Megadeth, Anthrax and other bands promoting Satanism), it was news indeed. We didn't know for sure if heavy metal was going to be new genre but for Pat Robertson to sell this station to this company and the possibility for a format going in the opposite direction made it on to the 6 o'clock news. I was one of the interviewees as I had just been laid off and they wanted to know what I thought of the sale. I only said that I questioned the judgment of the owners about their faith that it would have to be this way to pay of the debts of a failed Presidential campaign. If I had not already been laid off, I would have surely been fired. You see, I was the last one hired so I would become the first one fired in the casualty of the wind down.

Back to my short time there. I did the overnight program. When you jock the overnight shift there are few, if any, commercials, promos for other shows came about once an hour. Basically all the programming went like this: two songs, back selling the artists and then the next two songs, back selling, two more songs and so on. The back selling usually happened over the intro of the first of the next two songs. With a few weeks, it became a mindless endeavor.

I would sit with three flood lights on dimmer switches beaming down over the console. Yes, I would turn them down to about 15%. The only other lights through the station were the two exit signs (one behind me through the window leading to the doors out of the station and into a hallway) and one near the back at a hallway where the sales, business manager, program directors and traffic offices were. Sometimes, the little lights from the consoles in the unoccupied news room and production studios would dimly help illuminate the hallway to the bathrooms. I kept it mostly dark and I drank a lot of coffee.

Perhaps the most pleasant time there were the two Thanksgiving to New Year's seasons I spent when we changed the format to all Christmas, all the time. There were about 25 tapes with anywhere from 30 to 45 songs on each that we rotated through over and over again. We'd start at 3 am Thanksgiving morning and ran it through noon New Year's Day. Yes it was all Christmas music for the week FOLLOWING Christmas. We had literally a hundred plus sponsors as we even ran a commercial or two overnight, but the mornings, mid-day and afternoon drive times were loaded with "spots" (a jock term for commercials) and even the evening shift had at least eight to ten per hour. We had the monopoly on Christmas music in our market until WXRI went off the air and within five years four other stations had picked up the mantra. During this time we shot up to the second most listened to station and had anywhere from a 10 to 14 share!

Our General Manager was Bob Johnson, a sixty-five year old good friend of Pat Robertson's and a very business minded individual. He knew how to keep the books from going into the red. After I had been there one year, the station's Business Manager, a very nice lady named Martha (I forgot her last name, but I always referred to her as Ms. Martha) had gone to Mr. Johnson to remind him that it was time for my evaluation and if found favorable, a raise. Knowing that the station may end up being sold (this was five months before the announcement) he simply told her a raise was not going to happen. When Ms. Martha asked why, he kept Pat's secret of a pending sale and merely said, John agreed to work for $5.00 per hour and until the minimum wage goes over $5.00, he will stay at that rate. It was only $3.35 in 1988 and it would be eight years later before the minimum wage would go to $5.15. That would be a hell of a long time to wait for a raise. Rest assured I would not wait that long.

I had already started looking for a more permanent jock venture and within ten days of my firing, I found it at WTAR and WLTY in Norfolk. I stayed with my part-time church through the process and lost little income.

I have no real foul taste in my mouth over the almost year and a half at WXRI. I just couldn't get over Pat selling it over Presidential campaign debts. I found a real irony over Pat running and at the same time another Reverend was running on the Democrat ticket. Neither Pat nor Jesse Jackson had anything in common. Their beliefs were almost in total opposite directions. Jesse ran on a social welfare, income redistribution, progressive gospel plank and Pat ran on a socially conservative, anti-abortion plank. Whatever Pat favored Jesse didn't. Whatever Jesse favored, Pat didn't. The only real difference in their approach to "identity politics" was that Pat didn't dare address issues that would touch on or offend African-Americans. Jesse did care if he offended white folks as he often talked about religious heresy being dressed up in the Republican Party's grasp on groups like the Moral Majority and CBN. Two reverends, two different beliefs. Which one was the right one? If either.

And then, just like that, Pat drops out. This happened following two scandals of evangelical televangelists which, all together, made it look like a bad year for Christians. Yes, I am talking about Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Their falls from grace came just five weeks apart in February and March. Pat and Jesse implying their religion was the right one, then, in May Pat drops out, Jesse goes away in June and whalla! You can't trust preachers anymore!

Now these three events did not affect me personally, but I do remember that the end of the church's influence on society was beginning to unfold right before the public. Trust in the church waned big time and, along with the 90's and early 2000's sex-scandals in the Catholic Church, why this brought about the end of "Christian integrity" and we come into the Post-Christian era.

In that little studio from midnight until 6am I was given a little solace and a good amount of time to meditate and be alone with God and my thoughts - all while my kids and wife were home fast asleep. I would get home in time to see the boys off for school and the wife off to work. I would sleep while they were gone and awake in time for the boys to get off the school bus. Then I would spend the afternoon and evenings with them - that is, when they were not pre-occupied with the other kids in the neighborhood.

I don't want to repeat that over night thing again. I rather enjoy going to bed at a normal hour. I just miss being a radio announcer though. it was fun and I enjoy playing music. As I have said elsewhere, my radio career ended on September 14, 2004 when I was terminated again. This time over not being of the politically correct gender. I will go into that another time as I don't want to stew over politics today - and I do mean that 2004 was totally political and had to do with receiving Federal Funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I hate to say it but I will never more will I "do" radio again. You know that old adage "Never say Never again"? I hope I will one day get another gig in radio, but I am too old to look for one and too tired to care.

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Blogs are about the blogger. It's as if he or she merely toots their own horns about the things they do, say and love.

My life is boring. I read, I watch Glenn Beck and Mark Levin. I listen to Andrew Wilkow. I engage in some conversation with those who are willing to listen (they being masochistic and enjoy killing themselves with my banter).

I plan on just laying out the things that bother me and the things I love. Nothing in-between. I hope you find whatever I put here amusing.