Monday, May 05, 2008

Where Jesus And Rerun Reach Out

The recent discussions about Pastor Jeremiah Wright, along with our watching of the PBS multi-part documentary Carrier with an episode about the faiths of those on board, reminded me of my time working at a Gospel radio station.

This was my first radio job, and it paid minimum wage, $5.15/hr. The station, then known as WJRO ("Where Jesus Reaches Out"), was located in a swamp on the north side of Glen Burnie. This was done on purpose, as the swamp helped propagate the signal further. The floor was musty and the carpet moldy. The equipment was ancient; I was surprised there was even a CD player and a minidisc player. There wasn't a computer in the place. But since so few people listened to this station, it was a good place to make rookie mistakes. LC would sometimes bring me dinner, such as on New Year's Eve and my birthday.

I enjoyed being there for about six months as an announcer/board operator/one who had to tell the preachers, "Your 15/30 minutes are up." They didn't have the greatest time management skills. The lady who bought an hour to play her music from 9 to 10 PM Monday nights often wouldn't show, so sometimes I'd mix in some of MY music, breaking format (ack!). The only pure Gospel song (if you could call it that) was "The Old Landmark" from the Blues Brothers soundtrack. I played that a few times. Some of my fellow board ops didn't bother showing up for their next shift either; in that case, I'd just load up the tape decks and go.

I grew to appreciate the urban Gospel culture. I may not have agreed with their theology, but their passion for the Lord could not be denied. I didn't experience any Jeremiah Wright types.

The methods the preachers could employ were somethinggggg-a. When they got on a rolllll-a, they could endddd-a . . . just about all their sentences like thisssss-a. (Turn to somebody and say, "He's ending his sentences!") I'm just observing it, not really mocking it.

I got an unexpected Brush With Greatness when, one evening, in walked Fred Berry, "Rerun" of What's Happening! fame. He was helping to promote a concert in town; he might have wanted to select a station which actually had listeners, but oh well. Fred was much thinner than in his role as Rerun, having contracted diabetes. But he still used his trademark "Hey HEY hey!" greeting both on air and off. I wound up playing some of the songs that would be featured, interspersed with comments from Fred and those appearing with him.

As the Wikipedia article above shows, Fred had been through a lot in the time since What's Happening!, having battled drug and alcohol addiction, gone through a number of wives, and dealt with his permanent identification as Rerun. But he seemed geniunely happy as a preacher, and I guess that was a useful outlet for all his energy.

I was sad when I heard only two years later that he was dead at the young age of 51, but I'm glad I got to meet him.