I’ve been broadcasting in one form or another for nearly 20 years and if there’s one thing that I know it’s that everyone in this industry tells stories about WKRP like they worked there.
“Remember when Johnny Fever locked me in the bathroom stall?” Enough already. You never worked with Howard Hesseman! I may actually be the only radio guy over 30 who didn’t watch the blessed show. Although I do understand the allure, because the era of broadcast it depicts was a time of renegade hijinks that have been largely sucked dry by tight formatting and bland radio ga-ga. But I do have my own broadcasting good ole days, growing up as a smart-mouthed kid in Brantford with more guts than sense.
The politically correct Christian side of me might qualify it as destiny, but I always say that I fell ass-backwards into broadcasting. It all started one drunken high school evening, as many stories do, while watching one of my favorite shows on Rogers Cable called Barbershop Talk. It was bizarre, charming and delightful local TV. Al Cooper (who is still an actual barber) on a barbershop set hosting local ne’er-do-wells in barber chairs, shooting the breeze about daily jibber jabber. I HAD to get in on this action. I called the show that night and said, “Hey Al… I do impressions. Wanna hear them?” Clearly an offer too enticing to pass up, he agreed as I rattled off my standard routine of Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon and George Bush (the first one). Al liked it and I became a regular on the show as a High School Comedian. Why did they call me that? Cuz that’s what I told them I was. I once even played Barney Fife in an Andy Griffith Show remake episode. Surreal.
After that, they gave me my own half hour comedy talk-show called The Dave Carrol Show. My first episode broke copyright laws because I thought that the ingredients of Frontenac eggnog were funny to read. As it turns out, this is a frustrating thing for a high school punk to do to a station manager. I walked around in my underwear in the old Eatons Mall, frolicking in the fountain for the camera until being removed. I even convinced my friend to be in a segment called Craft Minute with Phil where he sat in his boxer shorts spread-eagle (a near wardrobe malfunction) while making a popsicle stick raft. One day I was at the Brantford Smoke hockey game, and a man came up to me with a bleeding eye, having shut a car door on his own face. Peering through the stream of blood he excitedly yelled, “Hey! You’re Dave Carrol! Wow! Do you have a kleenex?”
I knew I needed to be on radio too. My friend, now a well-known motivational speaker, being part-native had scored himself an hour of airtime on CKRX late on a Sunday Night. He told me I could co-host the show, where he’d spin 90s hip hop and I’d bring my arsenault of characters for fake interviews. But I’d have to pretend to be native. Please forgive my high school self for saying yes. Ya see, the girls all listened and laughed.
I went to Niagara College to learn the trade for real. By that I mean disciplining myself to make it through newscasts while having a pressed ham on the glass in front of me. I realized the secret-celebrity-world broadcasting let you into the day I covered an event where I peed at a urinal beside Polka King Walter Ostenek, and had my camera guy catch Eddie Shack in mid-fall down a winding staircase.
Out of college, I got to host a coast-to-coast, all-night television call-in show on CTSTV. It was TV that doesn’t really exist in the real world: 2.5 hours LIVE commercial-free. Along with my brother, we fielded questions like: “How do I make myrrh so I can bathe in it like Queen Esther?” My friend Sam was our call-screener (or The Screenenator as our luminous flaming graphic showed) and routinely put the most colorful calls to the top of our list. On my brother’s final show I crammed a Boston Cream Donut into his face. Bet that hadn’t been done on CTS before… or since.
I got to help start CFWC, Brantford’s Christian radio station, from the ground up. That meant doing eight jobs for the salary of one high school Blockbuster Video employee. But it was a blast. I sang my own intro to my morning show, which was followed by my newscast, which faded into the ads written and voiced by me. I would routinely have character conversations with myself on the air, often as Mr. Gus Mcgillicutty who was a janitor from the deep south who just loved to go sweepin’ de gym. It was wildcat, freestyle, fun radio.
Broadcasting has been my vocation for almost 15 years. It has afforded this creative wingnut the space to speak into the air and, more importantly, into people’s lives. But it used to be more fun, and more effective too. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, shortsightedness and tightened economic restrictions have turned something that long had the COOL factor into something that is often not.
I don’t think it has to stay that way. There are ways to make money and still give room for personality, exploration and fun. Mediums will change, as will cultures of communication. Not even WKRP is sacred. That day is gone. But it would behoove broadcasters to think back to WHY they listened to the radio in their bedroom as a kid, as we create the future.