Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Radio Gaga

Once I'd arrived home from the Splendour adventure, I'd already decided I needed a change of scenery and lifestyle. My travelling buddy and I were putting the wheels in motion for a move up north...where the sun is shining and weather is fine!

At the time I was working as a Sales Rep for a photographic company and I'd stuck to my 5 year plan to get there. My working life to date had been centered around the photographic industry. I'd worked in a few labs & camera shops, plus my favourite job at Madame Tussauds as a photographer - I'd also done a bit of freelance work. The problem was that it was no longer satisfying me. Here I was, young and female, in an industry surrounded by older men. It wasn't the male dominance that bothered me, cause I can certainly kick it like a man, it was the realisation that that was it. I couldn't go much further... I mean, I could have worked another 10 years to become National Sales Manager but by this time sales had lost it spark.

I thought long and hard about what I'd like to do. I remembered back in my Uni days that I'd really loved sound production and that I'd always thought about working in radio, but thought either I wasn't good enough (bit of a theme throughout my life) or that it would too hard to break into... that's why photographics was so appealing to me. I bit the bullet and enrolled in a short course in radio in Melbourne. The guy running the course filled me with confidence... He thought I was the shit! I started to think to myself... "Hell yeah! I can totally do this!"

Started to look for jobs but was still seriously thinking about a move to Byron - especially because Micko and I were talking on the phone every night for about 3 hours. Went to check out a couple of stations and on my list was Colac - where I seriously considered moving - quite a change from Byron. Couldn't take the plunge so instead I looked forward to planning the well anticipate move north. If things were meant to be up there, they'd fall into place (a Mickosophy). Besides, on a trip up I'd met a good mate of Micko's who worked at the radio station I was hoping to get a gig with. He'd said he'd definitely keep an ear to the ground.

Mid December I went to my awesome work mates and told them I'd be leaving. I was more devasted than they were, I think. I was kind of distracted by future plans for the last few months with them and I wasn't really pulling my weight anymore. I'd become really disorganised (organisation was not my strong point in those days) and I knew I was letting them, and myself, down hanging around. I still didn't have a job lined up, but having such a strong background I knew that I'd find work in a camera store if not in radio.

I've always said that if you open yourself up to opportunity then it has the opportunity to knock. Coincidentally, the very next day I got a call from the radio station to come in for an interview! I booked a flight to Byron to arrive on Boxing Day and booked in an interview shortly after.

Sometimes, I think I should take the 'first impressions' rule a little more seriously! This station manager (we'll refer to him here on in as 'The Prick') was something else! He has a strong reputation for being the biggest prick in radio and I was forewarned by the radio school that working for him was a bad move. They were well right! Among his initial questions were "Are you planning on getting barefoot and pregnant?" and "What is behind your decision to move to Byron - do you have a drug problem?" I thought to myself... have you even glanced at my CV, prick? He gave off a really bad vibe and I was quite scared of him but, hey, I needed a job (and ideally one in radio) and he provided me with the opportunity.

Now I've worked in some strange workplaces and I thought I'd seen it all... Bad communication, bullying, politics, bad morale, etc etc etc. Hell, I'd even seen workplace blues come to blows! But I hadn't seen nothing yet! This place was the most backward of workplaces I'd ever come across! The Prick was an absolute tyrant, the office manager was totally unapproachable and reminded me of one of those typecast German sidekicks (an Australian version of Eva Braun - her nickname around the traps), and the staff - well most of them had been beaten down one too many times and had lost the will to fight - lovely people though.

In my time there ( and I use that term similarly to 'doing time') I saw and heard things that seemed totally preposterous!

Well start with Eva : I came back to my desk once to find my pen had disappeared. I had a look around for it, but it had definitely internally combusted or had gone walkabout. I approached 'Eva' and asked if I could please have a new pen as she was in charge of all stationary and consumables - including poo tickets and would ration these out as though living through the depression. She told me to bring the empty pen back, she would check that it really was empty and if so, she'd dispense a new one. I laughed and said 'Surely you're not serious?".... Oh, but she was! DEADLY serious!

Let me paint a quick picture of the work environment for you... My main place of residence was the 'copy room' - the creative hub of the station. On the wall hung a bunch of 'carts' (an old version of tapes that all the ads and promo's were initially recorded onto), our computers which ran Windows 95 had CRT screens propped up by a couple of early 90s yellow pages, and we had no access to internet or email - everything had to be faxed to clients and faxed back!

Another bizarre run in occurred because our chairs were placed on plastic mats. These prevented any wear and tear to the carpet and over time had become quite a hazard. They were ripped to shreds and each time we'd wheel over to the fax machine our chairs would almost topple over. In fact, anytime we moved in our chair we'd hit one of these plastic pot holes and were lucky to come out unscathed. I approached 'Eva' and told here that we either needed to get new mats or just throw them out. She said she'd talk to 'The Prick' and sort something out. The next day, she waltzes into our office, tells us to get up, and removes each wheel off the chair. She pronounces 'There, that will stop you rolling over the holes'. Job done!

And now to The Prick : A fun part of working on air was that you got to have regular appraisals with The Prick. This would involved taping part of your shows voice breaks and taking them in for some 'feedback'. His constructive criticism was always 'your shit'... My response was 'Okay, so what can I do to improve'... He'd say 'Be less shit!'

In radio it is common practice to set up 'Contra' deals - this basically means you provide advertising and they provide you with product to the value instead of sending them a bill. It is also common practice that the staff benefit from these deals every so often. Maybe a dinner out or tickets to a gig or movie, a free CD every now and then. Not in this case! One of our big and regular contra deals was with a local restaurant which he could be seen eating at, alone, every night of the week. Occasionally, he'd invite some clients to dinner to wow them with his hospitality. Shortly after they'd arrive he'd start on his rant about how is surrounded by peasants that he wouldn't piss on if they were on fire. Lazy C's who weren't worth the povo wage he paid.

He also took away our microwave without explanation. All the people who had bought leftovers had to eat them cold or go without as they were to scared to approach The Prick about it. At this point I'd had enough! I knew he hated the smell of anything 'exotic' (pretty much anything from anywhere but the restaurant he ate at each and every night) and I also new he thought papadums smelt like nerve gas. So, I decided to bring in a green curry and a stack of papadums. I waltzed into his office (and the staff hid around the corner to watch) and announced 'The microwaves gone and I brought in a frozen meal... I didn't realise. I'm just going to heat it up now'. I walked straight up to the microwave and chucked in my food. He said 'It better not stink like hippy food'. After zapping the meal, I left the microwave door open and high tailed it outta there. The room smelt like a big, dirty, day after Indian fart. Job done!

These day to day run ins with Eva and The Prick initially provided me with endless jokes and amusement, but eventually they became tiring and ridiculous. I started to build up resentment towards management (like everyone else) and had become scared to voice my opinion (like everyone else).

Now to my major head to head with The Prick! I'd been working in Copy and was really enjoying it, I was obviously doing a good job as we had to hire me a sidekick. These were great days! I had a mate to joke about the 'Axis of Evil' (our term of endearment for management), to off load on and to teach the art of copywriting. I was loving copy and had enrolled myself in a course at AFTRS, which I had to fund out of my own pocket cause the prick didn't believe in personal development or any furthering of skills... as quite obviously this results in staff becoming 'too big for their britches'.

It cost me an absolute packet but it was something I thought would really benefit me and the station so I did it. It was at this time that he 'let go' of another staff member he clashed with (one by one he was cleansing his station of 'useless pricks'). This meant that the drive announcer would be put on the AM station and I'd have to fill her spot. The problem was that this occurred while I was having a couple of days holiday and only found out when I returned to work to find someone sitting at my desk! I walked in the door and said to the girl sitting at my desk 'Hi, I'm Karly... I'm the copywriter', to which she replied 'I'm blah blah, and I'm the new copywriter'! All day, I tried to get in to see The Prick to ask him what the fuck was going on, but he avoided me completely. For almost a week I roamed the station not knowing what I was supposed to be doing.

Eventually, I managed to see The Prick and he informed me I was now the 'Drive Announcer'. I was pretty peeved especially as he knew I'd enrolled in this course. He told me, 'Well it's done now... I can sack the girl, but it will be on your head'. I couldn't do it to her and I was furious. I stormed out of the office and once out of sight started bawling my eyes out! How could I possibly make this girl loose her job because of me? I stewed on it for a few weeks and then I thought to myself... No! It's not on my head... It's his fucken mistake and he can fix it himself. I calmly strolled into his office and told him EXACTLY what I thought about him and once I'd finished my rant and stormed back out I saw him smiling.

From then on in, I was the golden child, I could do no wrong. The only problem was that he started paying out all the staff to me. I told him to do his own dirty work... that he was the General Manager and if he wanted the place to change, it had to start with him. He needed to communicate with staff and be more approachable. He said he couldn't do that because it's against OHS and he feared being slapped with another lawsuit (I think at this point there had been 3 or 4 against him). I told him that when OHS was introduced the term General Manager didn't become 'General' and if he kept going the way he was going he'd end up with another lawyer banging on his door. I then walked out, wrote my resignation and left.

After leaving, it took quite some time to adjust to life on the 'outside'. I realised what I'd always known, but had been beaten out of me by The Prick and his institution... I was worthwhile, had a very good set of skills and could do whatever I put my mind too! These days, it's all just a memory and although it was tough, it certainly was the kick in the arse I needed to get my shit together and have a crack at life. Now here I am, running a business in an area I love and I'm happy and loving life. Could I have done it without The Prick and Eva? I'm not so sure!

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