Su Lum: Slumming
May 23, 2012
Apologies to KAJX for misspelling its call letters as KJAX throughout last week’s column. I had emailed a correction, but I guess it didn’t get there in time. My bad for not sticking to its new name, Aspen Public Radio – I’m sorry. I love K*A*J*X, Aspen Public Radio, APR.
Speaking of radio stations, my penultimate job, before a winter with Skico and then the rest of my life with The Aspen Times, was ad copywriter at KBYR in Anchorage, Alaska.
KBYR was owned by Chester Gordon, who used to own The Steamboat Pilot in Steamboat Springs and was both cheap and kindhearted. Chester had just started an FM station devoted to classical music, which was run by my husband, Burt, in a tiny building in the backyard.
My little office was down a narrow hallway where I was all by myself with a typewriter, which suited me well. They had three or four salespeople who would give me instructions, such as how long the ad was to run or whether it was a 30- or 60-second spot, and I’d have to come up with ad copy for merchandise and services I knew nothing about.
A few long-running ads were taped with various sound effects, but by and large they were read aloud by the disc jockey, necessitating the phonetic spelling of any word that the DJ might possibly mispronounce, which, of course, depended entirely on who was on the air at the time. By default, I learned to keep it simple.
The Coke machine was in my office, so I was privy to all the latest gossip, bitchings and rumors, and the teletype machine was in my office, so I got to see the keys going like a player piano saying that Kennedy had been shot and all of the many military bases in Alaska were on full alert (“NOT FOR BROADCAST”).
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It was a good job. Always busy, different every day, lots of energy, short tempers, many practical jokes (usually played on the DJ while on the air, hoping for a laugh or scream) and a high degree of camaraderie despite all.
In the spring of 1964, we were shaken out of our shoes and our wits by the Great Alaskan Earthquake, a 9.5 that lasted for five long minutes and brought 12,000 aftershocks over the next three months.
All advertising on the radio came to a screeching halt, and the staff worked for nothing, but our enterprising ad manager had an idea. He went around to the stores that hadn’t been destroyed and offered to run ads for them on KBYR at no charge.
“If Anchorage gets on its feet, you can pay us later,” he told the owners who were sweeping up the debris of disgorged shelves. “If not, you don’t owe us anything.”
It was a little economic miracle. People heard the ads and began creeping out of their swaying homes, little by little, and then more and more places reopened and advertised, and soon people were downtown shopping and telling their earthquake stories.
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