COUNTY AGENT GUY
Radio has always been an integral part of my life, much in the same way that having a steering wheel is an integral part of driving a car. In both cases, things simply wouldn’t be the same without it.
The radio that sat on our kitchen table when I was a kid was blue-green and about the size of a breadbox. An overheated tube had melted a hole in its plastic case, allowing an eerie glow and the aroma of hot electronics to escape.
I asked dad how the radio worked and he said that a miniature man lived inside. If I looked closely, Dad said, I could see the tiny guy in his tiny cowboy hat.
The fib was so detailed, it had to be true. I peered into the radio through its blowhole and imagined that I could see the Lilliputian announcer.
Radio became ever-more important in my teens. Radio kept me abreast of highbrow cultural developments, by which I mean the American Top 40.
Without radio, I would have never heard “Chick-A-Boom” by Daddy Dewdrop.
I listened to the radio while milking cows, driving the tractor and when I tried to create a romantic atmosphere in my car while “parking” with a date. I learned that “Chick-A-Boom” is not the best choice for the latter situation.
Radio is a powerful medium, which is why I was nervous as a goose in a featherbed factory when my book’s publisher signed me up for a national radio tour.
The words “national radio tour” might evoke a mental image of jetting around in a Gulfstream and visiting far-flung radio stations. This image would be erroneous.
A radio tour, I learned, is done from one’s home, using one’s landline phone. So much for sipping mimosas at 35,000 feet.
The tour was set to begin at 6:45 a.m. Getting up that early wasn’t a problem. Thanks to extreme apprehension, I was wide-eyed as an over-caffeinated lemur by 4 a.m.
“Who am I to be on the radio?” I asked myself as the digital alarm clock ticked down the minutes. “I often have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. Will I be able to talk and think at the same time?”
A fellow named Peter was to phone me shortly before air time. The appointed minute came … and went. Panic rising in my throat, I dialed his emergency number.
“We couldn’t get past your telemarketer blocker,” said Peter, sounding a bit miffed. “We’re running late, so this first one’s going to be a cold start.”
I was about to ask what he meant by “cold start” when I heard an announcer guy on the other end say, “And we’re live on the air with Jerry Nelson, author of the new book, ‘Dear County Agent Guy.’ Good morning, Jerry!”
Yikes! I felt like a landlubber who’d been heaved into the deep end and told, “There you go. Swim!”
I floundered about best as I could until the 10 minutes were over. There was a click and I heard Peter say, “OK, good. The next interview will begin shortly. Stand by.”
And so it went all day. I spoke with folks from upstate New York to Florida, from the Shenandoah Valley to sunny California. I would like to say that it became less nerve-wracking as the day went on, but that would be a fib.
I constantly worried that I would belch or cough or sneeze on live radio.
I was concerned that our cat, Sparkles, would come to the door and demand to be petted by meowing loudly. Or that our dog, Sandy, might decide that this would be an opportune time to yell at the barn swallows flitting around our farmstead.
I had just started chatting with a station in Kentucky when the line went dead. Instant terror! Do I hang up? Stay on the line? I opted to stay on the line and call Peter with my cell phone.
“I don’t know what happened just now,” he said. “But the problem isn’t on our end.”
This was probably true. I imagined that Peter was in a room that’s stuffed to the rafters with jillion-dollar, starship-like electronics. I glanced at my desktop phone, an el-cheapo model that we bought at Saver Sam’s for $19.95.
Sometimes I would hear background chatter as Peter and his crew orchestrated their behind-the-scenes magic.
I felt as if I were eavesdropping on the radio traffic of an Apollo mission. It was all too mind-blowing to contemplate for more than a minute.
By the end of the day my pipes were sore and I was frazzled. But I also had a heightened appreciation for that tiny guy who lives inside my radio.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at workman.com.
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