Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I've Got Those Vaughn Meader Blues

I haven’t written too much about my impending job loss lately. Partly because it’s too damned depressing and partly because there’s so little information to write about. That’s one of the most frustrating things about this situation: there’s no real reliable information being disseminated. There’s nothing to go on but anonymous rumors and attempts to look for subtle clues in an attempt to guess what’s going on.

Some of the latest developments: more of my longtime co-workers have been let go. The once-bustling station is slowly becoming a much quieter and lonelier place. It’s a strange feeling when people you’ve worked with for years and years are no longer around.

Another development is the radical change in the WFUM broadcast schedule. Since we’re currently operating without a budget, we can no longer afford full PBS membership and had to go to what’s called “PDP” status. What that means, essentially, is we can no longer air the full PBS schedule and we are forced to air only a few PBS programs and those must be on a delayed basis. The biggest casualty is we were forced to stop airing the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. And the phones lit up! I joked with my wife that I’d sure hate to be the guy who had to answer THOSE phone calls! (Of course I WAS that guy!) The viewers, mostly older folks, it seemed, were quite upset that the Newshour was no longer on our station. When I explained the situation, most of the callers, though still upset with the change, at least were understanding of our situation and didn’t take it out on me personally. Most. A few callers, though, were very upset and proceeded to take it out on me personally, calling me every name in the book. (I once believed the stereotype that “little old ladies” tended to avoid foul language. Not any more! It’s a strange feeling being berated by an elderly-sounding woman in terms that would make a drill sergeant blush!) Of course, what really sucked was essentially being blamed by these folks for something I would have given anything to prevent. I sure as hell didn’t want to shut down WFUM! Not only do I like being employed, but I actually believe all that idealistic stuff about serving the public and providing information and quality programming.
At least a few of the calls I got were sympathetic, though, which made the overall experience at least somewhat less painful. Like the gentleman who thanked us for our years of service to the community and who said he would miss us. Although I wish the circumstances were different, it’s still good to know that some people noticed what we were trying to do and that it made a positive impact on them.

As for me personally, my last day currently is scheduled to be September 30th “subject to possible extension”. In other words, more uncertainty. I know I’ll be losing my job, but I don’t even know for sure when my last day will be. At least I’ll last past my 20th anniversary as a full-time employee on August 28th, which will be some small consolation.

The rumor mill, meanwhile, is working overtime. I don’t know what to make of these rumors since they are often anonymous and of uncertain veracity. Thing is, officially, we’re hearing nothing, so the rumors are all we have.

One rumor is another Michigan PBS station will be taking us over and will simply pass their signal through the WFUM transmitter. Another rumor is that other Michigan PBS station will partner with Mott and Kettering to continue a local public broadcasting presence in Flint. But these are simply rumors floating about and there’s no certainty at all about any of it.

And given this uncertainty, I’m still busily trying to find a job elsewhere. I’ve been searching diligently since April. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and excellent references. I’ve sent out I-dunno-how-many applications to various places, but I haven’t even gotten as far as an interview yet. This sucks.

Which brings me back to the title of this screed. I do indeed feel like Vaughn Meader… at least how he felt after November 22, 1963.

If you don’t know who Vaughn Meader was, (and I suspect that may be most of you) that’s kind of the point. Vaughn Meader was a comedian who produced a record album called “The First Family” back in 1962, the year I was born. The album, which poked fun at the Kennedy family, soon became the fastest selling album in history, selling 7.5 million copies in just a few months. Meader was suddenly in demand and was making decent money. The album won a Grammy and he was doing quite well.

Then came November 22, 1963.

What happened next was best summed up by comedian Lenny Bruce, who, at the beginning of a live performance shortly after the assassination, simply shook his head and exclaimed “Vaughn Meader is SCREWED!”

And career-wise, he WAS screwed. A planned Christmas sequel to the First Family album was scrapped. Existing albums were pulled from the shelves. Pre-taped television appearances were not only cancelled, but the videotapes containing them were actually destroyed to prevent them from ever being aired. A nation in mourning over President Kennedy was in no mood to laugh. Meader’s career was over just as suddenly as JFK’s life.

And that’s why I’m beginning to think I know how he felt. Meader had found something he enjoyed...something he was good at. Once that was gone, he never really knew what to do. In my months of job searching, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe working at a PBS station is the only damned thing I know how to do. Maybe I’m one of those idiot savants who excels at one thing but is clueless when it comes to anything else.

I keep trying to tell myself it’s just the soft job market and that I’ll eventually find something out there I can do. I think if I could at least get an interview, I’d have a shot at a job. But I’m not even getting that far! I guess I’m fortunate that I’ll at least have a job for a few more weeks, but it kinda sucks not being able to find anything else at all!

As for Vaughn Meader, he eventually descended into drug use and worked various odd jobs before finally achieving modest local success as a bluegrass singer in his native Maine. He died in 2004.

As for me, I can’t afford a drug habit, can’t play the mandolin and have never been to Maine. I suspect, therefore, my future will be different. But what that future will be, who knows. If you hear any anonymous rumors about what I may be doing in the future, feel free to let me know.

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