In early 1988, at the start of the spring semester, I was introduced to the school’s radio club. I hadn’t even known it existed until Chris and a few other guys in my class had commented on it. [Then again, aside from the student council, I barely noticed any other clubs in the school, as most of them didn’t appeal to me.] I asked if I could join late, and they were totally fine with that. It was run by one of the English teachers and tied in with the local AM radio station on the Athol-Orange border.
WCAT was run by a couple who’d owned it for a good few decades, and it was a local staple for years. They’d do live broadcasts of the high school football games and the annual canoe race, some local talk shows over the years, but for the most part by the late 80s, it was primarily a station that broadcast a satellite feed of some media conglomerate down south. The local commercials were recorded on looped cartridges — essentially the same kind of cartridge as an 8-track tape — with a loop of 40 or 70 seconds so we could play 30 or 60-second ads.
The radio club got to intern at the station, doing little things such as reading the school lunch menu for the week, recording that day’s weather message, or running the boards for a few hours. The mixing boards were old school then, still using the big fat volume pots (thick knobs about an inch and a half across), so the most we’d do was fade the local commercials in or out and do technical readings every hour or so. The station went off the air at sunset.
I’d join Chris on a few of his weekend shifts now and again. On Sundays they’d have a ‘swap meet’ show where people would call in with junk they’d like to sell or get rid of, or were looking for…very hokey small-town stuff, but it was good fun.
Let me tell you — it may sound like the most boring job in the world, being an on-air producer at a radio station, but to me? I was finally learning how it all worked.
And I loved it.
Granted, I already knew that the knowledge of radio that I was receiving here was already woefully out of date; Chris and I used to joke quite often about how the technology within this tiny building was more than likely older than the both of us put together. The record collection had turned over numerous times since the days my family used to listen to it in the 70s, always veering towards an older generation of listeners. Back when I was ten, I’d hear Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” or Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” playing over the radio at the local greasy spoon on the corner of Main and School Streets, but after a wave of old-timey shows (including a highly-regarded polka show, believe it or not), by the mid-80s the station had dropped down to a skeleton crew of maybe five or six people tops, and the music was a mix of Adult AOR and Lite Rock, all pumped in via satellite from Atlanta. The now disused record collection as of 1988 consisted of those leftover polka records and not much else.
We still enjoyed the job, however, because we were gaining experience. I already had big plans to get on the radio station of whatever college I ended up going to in a bit over a year, and this would help me get a foot in the door.
By that summer I’d signed up for the weekend shift as an actual employee there, radio license and all. My Dad would drive me over to the station and drop me off, picking me up when the station went off the air. Sundays were particularly quiet, as there weren’t all that many commercials that needed to be played; more often than not it was just me and my book bag with stuff to read and things to snack on. I remained at the station on the weekends (giving me enough hours that I didn’t really need to sign up for an after-school job) until the end of the year.
But what about the Vanishing Misfits gang? What would I do when they all left for college that September? I’ll be honest, I was trying my damnedest not to get all mopey about it. I’d sat through numerous high school graduations to know what it was like for all your best friends to head off in all directions. I’d prepared myself. I didn’t want to get all overemotional. That wasn’t me anymore. Besides — I wanted to move on, just like everyone else in the gang.
Late August, Saturday afternoon. One of my shifts at the radio station, a quiet one with not much else to do but read and use one of the wonky typewriters to work on writing. The gang had met and hung out at various points all through the summer, and we enjoyed every minute of it. A few of our friends were already heading out into the big bad world, preparing themselves for a major move to out-of-state colleges, spending time with their families. Our last meetup had taken place maybe a week or so previous, quite possibly one of our trips down to Northampton and Amherst. Spending time at Main Street Music, eating at Panda East, having a late night drink at Bonducci’s, standing out in the Amherst Common parking lot in the cool summer night breeze, laughing and joking and making plans.
Me, I was preparing myself for one last year in high school.
The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” came on the radio, and I think that’s about when it finally hit me.
The Best Year Ever was over and done.
No more hooting ‘Albatross!’ in the hallways when I saw one of the Misfits. No more corpsing in the library study halls and writing the Misfit books. No more jamming with Chris and Nathane until further notice. No more excited talk about new music and sharing albums and tapes over the weekends. No more road trips down to the Valley. No more fun conversations, no more games of Scrabble and Risk over at someone’s house. No more watching my dubs of 120 Minutes.
I was pretty much on my own for the next eight to ten months.
Back to Square One again.
I took to that rickety typewriter and started writing the darkest, moodiest words I could come up with at the moment. If I was going to feel like shit for the next year, I was going to bleed it all out in my writing. I’d make it a point to be more social, even people annoyed the hell out of me. I’d be damned if I was going to become a mopey loner again.