Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Tribute To The People At 106.3 Talk FM

106.3 Talk FM radio is gone now. With the flip of a frequency switch at around 11 Friday morning, a year-and-a-half’s worth of work disappeared, and the experiment in Talk FM radio in Albuquerque was replaced by a Spanish music station. The station’s Web Site was disabled, so even cyberspace forgot about it. The people who had worked so hard to make a go of the station were out of jobs.

I had the privilege, the thrill and the joy of working there for a year as the morning newsman with Larry Ahrens, and as the co-host of The Drive, the afternoon show with Lee Logan.

106.3 Talk FM was one of those rare places where people have a blast doing their jobs. It wasn’t work, it wasn’t a grind; it was pure fun. I’ve quit journalism jobs in the past because they stopped being fun. New editors and management change things put strange rules in place and pretty much relegate people to mental cubicles. It wasn’t that way at 106.3. It was a small, privately-owned upstart that was cutting a new path and that had no preconceived notions of what a talk station should be. Rules were made on the run, new things were tried, and people were allowed to stretch themselves. People with no previous experience in radio were given the opportunity to try it. As a result, careers were started. Young people were taught skills they didn’t previously have, and they were allowed to develop budding talents that will bring them joy and earn them money for the rest of their lives. The station gave people a chance; it gave them a break, and that is incredibly good and wonderful.

You won’t read, in news stories of the station’s demise, about most of the people who made the station work. So here’s a little about them:

Lee Logan came in as the Program Director in January 2006. He had the job of trying to fix what had been a poorly-executed startup. A self-described radio gypsy who has worked in more than a dozen radio markets, Lee brought discipline, structure and strategic thinking to the station. He worked long and tirelessly to make it go. He was there at seven in the morning and still there at seven at night. He brought balance and class to the station. He is a rare person who hides nothing and never bullshits. He is honest, gentle and firm. He is at ease with 19-year-olds and 51-year-olds. He treats people as people, and always with respect. He and his wife immersed themselves in Albuquerque and New Mexico. He is a treasure, and I hope he stays here.

Nikki Courtney is Lee’s wife. She has worked at a dozen radio stations. She did the morning news with passion tempered by a smooth delivery and a penchant for balance. She also produced the afternoon show, lining up guests for Lee and me to interview. She smokes, swears, gets angry and lives news, politics and current events. You won’t find any news person more knowledgeable than Nikki.

Jessica Owens, now Jessica Montoya. My God! What a woman! Jessica was a technical producer, or board operator. Before the station flipped to the talk format it was a hip-hop music station and Jessica was a co-host of the morning show. She’s beautiful, irreverent, funny, smart, energetic, enthusiastic, talented, fearless, self-assured, unpretentious and just incredible. In many ways, she was the heart and soul of the station. In an era of political correctness in the workplace, Jessica broke all the rules, and we’re all better off that she did. She breezed into the place laughing and smiling—always, always. You could actually sense when Jessica was in the building. Her laughter, enthusiasm, charm, love of radio and competence were infectious. She made work what it should be: fun.

Skip LaCombe, a technical producer and all around talent. Funny, nutty, irreverent, impulsive, smart and another joy to be around. He did voiceovers and commercials for the station. Another young person who inspired me. He and Jessica and Debra West (who I’ll mention next) would impulsively break into song, start dancing, set their hands on fire, act goofy, laugh like maniacs, break every rule that ever existed and breathe life, enthusiasm and fun into the station. A building is just bricks, wires, drywall and windows. Depending on who is in it, it can become a dour, awful place, or it can be a place of vibrancy, hope, excitement and fun. Skippy, Jessica and Debra filled the place with excitement and fun. Skippy smokes. Oh, he stopped for a few days, or maybe a week or so, but he started up again.

Debra West, a college kid who has probably launched a career because of the opportunity the station gave her. She was a board operator, did commercials and co-hosted The Directors Cut, a wildly funny and irreverent show about movies. She took the time to patiently teach me how to use equipment that I had never seen before and to properly record newscasts.

Peter St. Cyr. He was the producer of Larry Ahrens’ show. He put his reporting skills and his extensive list of contacts to work to line up an amazing array of guests for Larry’s show. He had also lined up a broadcast for Larry from the White House. That broadcast will never take place, because the station was killed before it could happen. Peter knew, it seemed, everyone in town. He worked tons more hours than they ever paid him for.

Eric. I don’t know his last name. He came in at six in the evening to work the board. He worked at General Mills during the day and brought us bags of cereal. He made sure with his hand signals that I was always on time with the news.

Larry Ahrens was the gentleman in person that he was on the air. He had a shrewd sense of irony that people sometimes miss. His quick observations and comments during the newscasts had me busting out laughing. He’s the guy who called me to go work there. I’m eternally grateful that he did.

Diane Anderson and Mark Mathis entertained us all with their on-air squabbling. It was fun to listen to Jessica set Mark straight, which she did at every possible opportunity.

Chris Jackson and Phil Sisneros. They had a great show before being canned earlier this year. They bashed everybody, including people at the station, and had a blast doing it.

I got into newspaper reporting years ago because it was different than other professions. It welcomed nonconformists, kids in adult bodies, drunks, malcontents, attitude criminals, smokers, nuts, iconoclasts, people with anger management problems and anyone else who despised rules, laughed at and told cruel, insensitive jokes, hated authority and didn’t take themselves too seriously. As long as you could type and stay sober long enough to finish a few stories, you had a job. It wasn’t factory, office, government or sales work, and for that we were all grateful.

Over the years, though, it changed. Group think, political correctness and a fun-killing seriousness set in. Individualism, creativity, anger and rebelliousness gave way to conformity; natural friendships and easy camaraderie to workshops on team play and sensitivity; and spontaneous, drunken outings with colleagues to planned "fun" events. We were all free, we were told, to think exactly as management did. And you were damned if you didn’t go to the gym and juice every day.

I miss the drunks, the smokers, the rebels, the individuals, the attitude criminals, the immature goofs, the flirtatious babes and the insensitive jokesters. They made life rich, strange, painful, fun and wonderful.

I got part of that back for a year at 106.3 Talk FM thanks to Lee, Nikki, Jessica, Skippy, Debra, Peter, Eric, Larry, Diane, Mark and Chris and Phil.

Thank you for the opportunity and the fun. I will miss you all.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Skip LaCombe said...

Dennis,

It was a pleasure working with you. Thank you for the sendoff. We all had a lot of fun and who knows, maybe we can do it again. Keep in touch Dennis

*plays laugh track*

he he I knew I'd make you laugh

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Bigfoot said...

Wow. Downer for sure. Thanks for doing it all at least for a little while. If you are all as handsome/pretty as Dennis maybe you can get a TV gig going? Ill watch for it....And stop laughing. I'm serious.

4:13 PM  

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