Sunday, March 26, 2006

Radio Daze, Part the Second

I've had a wonderful evening - but this wasn't it. ~Groucho Marx
One of the most interesting times I had working at WRUW-FM came during a break in classes called “Intersession.” I don't know who thought this up, but as students, most of us thought the idea was perfectly brilliant. First semester classes and finals would finish before Christmas holiday. The second semester wouldn't start until February. The six weeks in between, called the Intersession, was a time when the student could: a) go earn some money to help pay for the next semester, b) earn some extra credit if a professor would sponsor a project, or c) stay on campus and goof around. I opted for b and c.
I got a professor to back a simple research project that involved just creating an annotated bibliography. That's where you don't have to read the books. Just list them and summarize the cover notes. This kind of project, which got me an easy A, is not a thing to be sneezed at.
For the goofing around, those of us who worked at the station who stayed on campus got together and proposed to run the station on a regular broadcast schedule. Normally, we had a different type of music on every night: rock one night, jazz another, blues another, jug band music on yet another. Most programs were two hours long. As you can imagine, some formats fared better than others (even the guy who played jug band music hated it). We proposed to do free-form programming, mixing jazz, rock, and blues (no jug bands) in four-hour program blocks, which fulfilled our egos. On Sundays, we'd fulfill our artsy requirement with classical music, taped dramas, and, oh yes, an avant-garde sort of show by Ron.
Ron, you may recall, was part of the partnership that had created our “War of the Worlds” production. His friend Paul had gone on to real life (sort of; he was running a movie theater that showed only old classic films), so Ron was soloing.
Somewhat to our surprise, the faculty adviser for the station went for the idea. Monday through Thursday, three programmers did shows each day. Friday and Saturday I did jazz, thanks to being a nerd in high standing (meaning I didn't get many dates). On Sundays, I engineered in the afternoon and early evening.
I wasn't supposed to engineer Ron's show, but the guy who had the assignment was new to the station and had trouble setting up the oddball things Ron wanted (sound effect tracks, echo effects, and the like; this was the good ole days of patch cables). Besides, he didn't like Ron's eclectic brand of programming. So, at Ron's request, I started engineering his show. Which is how I ended up performing a sketch that contained one of the worst jokes in history.
I wrote not long ago about supposedly having the funniest joke of all time in my subconscious, according to my wife. I've never been able to conjure up any of that joke. But Ron's is burned into my brain. How typical of life.
Ron came in one day and asked if we had a sound effect of a heart beat. Yes we did. Could I set up on an endless loop so it would play constantly during a sketch? No problem. Then he handed me a list that started out with surgical instruments and asked me if I wanted to participate in a doctor sketch. Well, that seemed harmless enough, so I agreed. Then he told me the punchline.
I begged him to let me out of it. But, no one else being around, and Ron being desperate to do this dumb routine, I acquiesced. I have been afflicted by this joke ever since. Therefore, in an effort to purge myself of this lame bit, I am going to foist it on you, dear readers (I know you're out there, I can hear you breathing).
It begins with the heartbeat thump-thumping in the background.
Surgeon (me): Scalpel (thump-thump)
Nurse (Ron): Scalpel (smacks something into my hand)
S: Clamp (thump-thump)
N: Clamp (smack)
After about four or five of these, they get silly.
S: Freemis (thump-thump)
N: Freemis (smack)
S: Flagstaff (thump-thump)
N: Arizona (smack)
At this point in the sketch, I have to say that I’m hungry, having skipped lunch to do this operation. Ron, ever the stickler for realism, had told me to take a bite of some bread he had brought to sound like I was eating a sandwich. Well, we'd been going for several minutes, so my mouth had gotten rather dry. You ever try to swallow a piece of bread with no saliva in your mouth?
After suitable choking, we come to the big moment:
S: Suture
N: Suture? Are you sure?
A comedic (we hoped) argument ensues, concluding with:
S: Listen. If I say I want a suture, I want a suture!
N: Ok. Suture yourself.
May God have mercy on my soul.

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