My former boss at WEBR Radio, Mike St. Peter, put out a note of interest on Facebook this morning. Seems he is going to be addressing some communications students soon, and wanted some stories about real world mistakes.
I can only hope that hiring me is not at the top of his list.
The stories come to mind quickly. Every day in the business was another potential landmine. It comes with the territory of live broadcasts.
I should pick on myself first. WEBR did the broadcasts of the Buffalo Bisons' games around 1980. I remember my college friend, Ben Walker, once telling me once about how he was driving somewhere in Washington, listening to the Senators. During the game, announcer Shelby Whitfield said, "Fly ball to center ... curving foul." Ben almost drove off the road laughing.
I was doing a game at War Memorial Stadium one Sunday. We had a very high broadcast location, looking right down on home plate. This was great for calling balls and strikes from above, but sometimes it was hard to tell where the ball was going based on its initial flight. Sure enough, I blurted out "line drive to center ... curving foul." I immediately thought of Whitfield. The lesson was, don't be too quick to describe the action; wait a beat and prevent problems from taking place.
I never did break up in laughter while on the air, but I came mighty, mighty close once. It was Thanksgiving, I believe, and there wasn't much going on except the NFL games and the Harvard Cup. Anchor Larry Hatzi was in the main studio, giving the news, and I had the sports duties. I put on a feature report and Larry found a cart that was labeled "bomb" on the front. He asked me what it was. "I made it up just in case I need to 'blow up' callers on my talk show," I answered. "I used to listen to a Boston talk show that did that, and liked the idea." I was too polite to use it, though.
Larry put the cart into the machine and turned the pot down so the sound wouldn't go out over the air. But he set the volume level as loud as it would go and hit play. It really did sound like a bomb had gone off in the studio; I think the news editor even ran in.
Larry started laughing hard, and I was ready to do so. But ... the taped report was ending, so I was due back on the air. I knew I'd never get through the last 90 seconds of the sportscast, so I just mumbled, "That's sports, I'm Budd Bailey." And then I fell helplessly over the table, convulsing with laughter. Larry wisely went to a promotional spot or three.
Writing had its hazards too. At one point, I was writing sports scripts for people who didn't know much about sports. The wrong typo could be, um, unintentionally funny. For example, I wrote a story about a tennis competition, part of the Grand Slam of tennis. Except, I mixed up one letter. So Cynthia Wallace read what I wrote - "The Grand Slaw of Tennis." She still brings it up in a good-natured way.
One time veteran anchorman John Gill was introducing me for a sportscast. He leaned into the microphone brightly and said, "And now with the sports, here's Bud Palmer." For you younger folks, Palmer was a former pro basketball player who made the switch into broadcasting in the 1950's through 1970's or so.
The usual rule on such matters is, don't call them to the listener's attention. Naturally, being young and relatively stupid, I came back immediately with this classic response: "WHO???????" John slapped his head, apologized on the air and got my name right.
One of our anchors, who shall remain nameless, wasn't particularly good on the ad-lib. He once made a mistake which has been made by several announcers over the years -- "Coming up later on Newsradio 970, Budd Bailey has a preview of the N-Double A-C-P basketball tournament." But the story that gets passed around the most involves a tease at 59 minutes after the hour. The next anchorman would give a few headlines, and throw it to the network news. But our anchor forgot the script that particular time. Thinking fast, he said, "In the next hour on Newsradio 970 ... um ... er ... frequent checks of the time and temperature." Bet that sent our ratings soaring for the following 60 minutes.
Oddly enough, even the engineering department wasn't immune from the disease. One time an engineer was working on some wires in the building. At the same time, an anchor went into this introduction: "Next, commentator Howard Ruff has some thoughts on the state of the American economy."
At that exact moment, the engineer crossed the wrong wires and somehow got on the air. And at that exact moment, the engineer let out a bad word in frustration, followed by "...a duck in the butt." Ruff's commentary then followed. One woman called the newsroom, saying, "I thought the opening by Mr. Ruff in his commentary was a little rude." Come to think of it, you'd think more people would have called.
There probably are more stories along these lines that would come to mind if I had taken more than 10 minutes of thought to recollect them. The point, kids, is that you can't do anything wrong that hasn't happened before. Mistakes take place, and you just have to learn from them. And then you learn to laugh at them later -- in some cases much later. But you will laugh.
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