Saturday, April 8, 2006

Radio Daze, Part the Fourth

There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. ~Andre Gide
I didn't intend for this memoir to go on quite this long, but I couldn't write the previous piece without telling, as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story.”
When last we met, I was sitting on the grass in front of the student union reporting on how the riot was over and things had mellowed out. That didn't, however, mean that we had reached the end of all the stress.
After Kent State, college stations all over the country were broadcasting all the speeches on their campuses and sharing news. Even before the student union takeover (such as it was), we were already at our wits end, trying to cover speeches, identify whether rumors were true or false, and, oh yeah, broadcasting regular programming when we weren't doing remotes. We were stretched thin, to say the least. So, when a bunch of guys no one had ever seen before came in offering to help, David, our GM, accepted gratefully.
Yes, yes, I know. We were stupid. But, when one is wrapped up in idealism and enthusiasm, certain areas of the brain get drowned out. In this case, it was the “Danger, Will Robinson!” section of our brains that had shut down.
I should have gotten the hint when one of these guys fed me bad rumors the night before the Euclid Avenue sit-in while I was on the air. None of them checked out. I was really beginning to wonder who he and his friends were. I saw this guy again, at a speech session the evening of the sit-in, trying to stir up speakers, but not going to the mike himself. He didn't have much success, because student leaders and campus authorities kept the oratory civil. Besides, everyone was just getting worn out.
I returned to the station, and lo and behold, there was the instigator himself. I gave him a wide berth and went into the engineering booth to get some programmers set up for the overnight hours. Suddenly, our News Director and ace reporter, Paul (not the one who was Ron's programming partner) came in to the booth and closed the door. He was in a panic.
Those guys, he told me, are Weathermen. The Weathermen were the nut fringe of an already pretty nutty group, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Weathermen were into violence and destruction. To make matters worse, he said, David has been taken in by them, and all our lives might be in danger. So Paul had decided to get the Cleveland Police into the picture.
The thought of a police raid on the station didn't seem like the best solution to me. Since we had some idea of where they were staying, I thought we ought to wait until they left, then sic the cops on them. Paul wasn't so certain. He left saying he’d hold off for a while, but warned me to watch out for those guys and David.
No sooner had Paul left than into the booth comes David. He closed the door because he, too, was in a panic. Those guys, he whispered to me, are Weathermen.
Deja vu, all over again.
But David offered a new wrinkle, because in his version, our lives were in danger. These maniacs were going to burn down the building. Okay, now I'm ready for some reinforcements, like say, the U.S. Marines. I told David what Paul had said, especially about David being in cahoots with the Weathermen. David assured me that he was going to die with the rest of us. Somehow, that didn't seem comforting.
We both realized, though, that a police raid was really a bad idea now, because if these guys saw men in blue, they might be provoked to action. Just what that action was and how it was to occur was completely beyond us, but, by now, we weren't thinking quite as clearly as we might. David decided that calling the campus police might be enough to get these guys to move on. Then, we could sic the police on their hideout.
Since the engineering booth was glass on both sides, we decided to go into an office across the hall to call the campus cops. In the dark, because we didn't want to attract the attention of the Weathermen (I think we thought they had x-ray vision by this time), David made the call. It's kind of funny now to look back and remember just how much trouble David had in convincing them to send someone down to the station. He finally invented a story that they were carrying a large amount of dope. That did the trick. A bunch of radio geeks can get croaked for all they cared, but a chance for a drug bust was golden.
Of course, it ended anticlimactically. After an interminable wait in the dark, we heard a key in the door. As our lives flashed before our eyes, the campus chaplain stuck his head in the door and said, “What are you guys doing here in the dark?” The campus cop, figuring he was dealing with some nut cases, had brought a man of the cloth to calm our souls.
We poked our head out the door to find that the Weathermen had split, evidently concerned that David and I were up to something; they, apparently, were as scared of us as we were of them It took a while for David and I to appreciate the humor of the Weathermen being scared of David and me. They had talked one of our guys, a nice fellow named Turk, into driving them back to the house they were renting. When we realized some time later that Turk was missing, we got paranoid all over again, certain that Turk was in dreadful danger. Fortunately, about the time we had amassed the whole staff and were trying to figure out how to get him back, Turk walked in.
They had kept Turk at their house, talking about their coming violent revolution. Then they got seriously stoned. When they were all pretty much out of it, Turk strolled out and drove back.
I had been up for about 30 hours, so I staggered back to my dorm. My roommates, in an unusual show of compassion, told anyone who called that they had chained me to my bed until I got eight hours of sleep. What was weird was that everyone believed them. When I got back to the station that evening, each person I saw said, “So they finally untied you?”
There was a strange postscript to this whole story. A few years later, when I was a respectable married man and wage slave, I got a call one evening. It was Paul. He was still investigating those guys for an article, I think it was. By now, Watergate was started to unravel the Nixon presidency. Listening to the daily revelations, Paul had decided that those freaks weren't Weathermen, but some of Nixon's “Plumbers”, a dirty tricks crew that was the responsibility of Chuck Colson.
Weathermen. Plumbers. Hell, they're probably all Congressmen by now.

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