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Chapter One

     The On Air light glows red. I've played a bunch of songs I don't like, and a few songs I used to like but got sick of. The playlist dictates that I'm supposed to put on "Brandy" by Looking Glass, the first band I think of when I hear the term "one hit wonder." An okay song, but I'm not in the mood. Time for something deeper. I lean into the mic. "He moved away, he changed his name, and he changed his religion. But we still love him. Cat Stevens, 'Oh Very Young.'" Straying from the playlist is radio treason, but no one will say anything. I mean, they might say something, but they won't do anything. They won't fire me. I'm Eric Storm. I have the highest-rated classic rock radio show in Boston.
     I sit back and enjoy it, the childish rebellion almost making up for having to start my shift with "Turn to Stone" then "Behind Blue Eyes." Both great songs, but stylistically, miles apart. Twenty-five years ago radio stations trusted DJs to make their own selections, and we could have fun with the music; play songs that meant something together, or all had a day of the week in the title, or a color, or a body part, or the word "crazy" or "man." Once I invited people to call in with their least favorite song, and if I had it, I played it. What a blast, the lines were busy all night! But when I got home, Ma said Making fun of those singers isn't nice, what if they were listening, how would they feel?
     The Cat Stevens song ends, and I try to keep the scorn out of my voice as I introduce corporate-approved "Babe." It drives me crazy that of all the fantastic material by Styx, this is the only song we ever play. What about "Angry Young Man?" Classic 70s lyrics that promoted introspection, not this sentimental bullshit! If I was in charge, I'd play "Angry Young Man" by Styx, then "Angry Young Man" by Billie Joel. But of course, I'm not in charge.
      "'Babe' by Styx," I tell my listeners again when it ends, "here on WROQ." A few commercials and a brief weather report—cold and windy, temps in the teens. How much money do weathermen, pardon me, meteorologists, make? Any moron can look at a thermometer. Thank God only fifteen minutes left of my shift! I'll stop and get a slice of pizza on my way home, even though Ma tells me that too much fat in my diet will raise my numbers. What numbers? She's not sure. Numbers that are supposed to be low!
     As I'm headed out, my Program Director motions me into his office. "Eric!" he says, "'Oh Very Young' isn't on the playlist!"
      "Gee, Bob. You sure?" I don't know why I'm being sarcastic. He's a good boss; competent and reasonable. I'm invited to all his barbecues, and he and his wife Janine were really supportive during my divorce. But he's just a kid in his mid-thirties. When he started working at WROQ eight years ago it was the first time I ever had a boss who was younger than me, but since then my transition from youth to middle age has been rapid and unrelenting. Seems like one day you're looking up to people–sports figures, politicians, movie stars—the next, they're all born the decade after you.
      "You know the rules." He speaks slowly, as if I'm mentally challenged: "We. Play. The songs. On. The playlist."
     I speak slowly too. "The. Play. List. Sucks."
     Frustrated, he waves it in my face. I know he's just doing his job—this is how radio stations work now—so I'm not mad at him. "Sorry, Bob. Won't happen again."
      "When have I heard that before? I'm serious this time, Eric." He drops the Boss Bob demeanor, and suddenly he's Barbecue Bob. "I'm not supposed to say anything, but they're not happy upstairs."
      "Screw them!" Upstairs, like Heaven, is an exclusive club for people in charge of other people's destinies. The carpeting is rich magenta, and every office has a bathroom and a refrigerator. These are the guys who drink bottled water on their way to the gym, and their suits are custom made. Yacht owners.
     Unimpressed, he lowers his voice. "I'm breaking every single rule by telling you this, but they're meeting right now to discuss what should be done with you."
     Done with me? "Shit." Ma will freak when I tell her. So play the Brandy Glass song already! she'll say. Maybe she's right, maybe I should stick to the rules.

Robin Stratton © 2016-2020