Thursday, November 7, 2013

More Heard It on the "X"

At three minutes to, the light in the announcer’s booth comes on and I can see that Billy Bays, one of the station’s afternoon announcers, has come in. He greets us and then he and Raoul do a quick check and he smiles and gives me a thumbs-up. They’ve got about a dozen different announcers doing shifts at the station. They’re all bright, sunny guys, and everything they say always has an exclamation point attached.

“Thirty seconds,” says Raoul.

I nod and begin quickly playing the melody to the opening instrumental, which is a rolling medley of Sunshine Trails and Happy in the Saddle. When we go on the air, he’ll have me playing in the background and then, once Billy Bays finishes doing his thing, he’ll switch that mike off and bring me up to full.

“Ten seconds.”

Billy Bays and I both nod. Then Raoul holds up his hand for five, four, three... Then the on-the-air light comes on and he points to Billy Bays, who immediately starts speaking: “The Royal Consolidated Chemical Corporation of Chicago, Illinois, is proud to present The Peruna Program! Featuring America’s favorite singing cowboy, Slim Gatlinburg! Take it away, Slim!”
My strumming gets fiercer, as Billy Bays' booth light goes out. I let it go on another thirty seconds or so, then I start talking while I continue to pick and strum.

“Howdy there, friends and neighbors, this is Slim Gatlinburg, your saddle pal, host and good neighbor along the way. Golly, I’m glad you’ve come by my campfire to visit, because we got a really swell program ready for you today, some songs I know you’ll really like. Now here’s an old favorite of mine, My Oklahoma Home.”

When it’s springtime on the prairie, 
And the sagebrush is beginning to flower 
That’s when I’m riding back to my Oklahoma home 
Where the trees sing in the breeze 
And the Sooner Sun starting to tower 
‘Cause that’s where this cowboy’s sweetheart is waiting 
And soon we’ll be celebrating 
On my Indian pony I’m riding 
Over the prairie we’ll be gliding 
Back to my Oklahoma home.

Now I do the chorus. Needless to say, this is something I wouldn’t be caught dead playing in a saloon. But I’ll sing it on street corners when the audience tends toward families and maiden aunts and kids who go to sleep each night needing to believe cowboys all drink soda pop and carry banjos while they’re riding the range. It’s for people who don’t ever think about dustbowls and hungry, thirsty cattle and skies that are always gray. Now the second verse.

When it’s springtime on the prairie
And we’re riding along the trail
Watching the gray white dove above me
And hearing the peeping quail
That’s when my heart is laughing,
And I know it won’t be long
‘till she’s riding her pony beside me,
back in my Oklahoma home.

By now, it’s like a big chunk of my brain has stepped outside for a smoke. The problem with singing in a broadcast studio is there isn’t anyone in the audience to fix on. I try singing to Raoul, but, being an engineer, he’s not hearing any music, only sound levels and interference. Suddenly I start wondering again what the hell I said or did that got him all pissed off so much. All I did was ask about that guy. Is the reason I never heard about him that everyone is so scared of him they don’t even mention his name?

I do another song, one about rolling wagon wheels, followed by one about campfires and shooting stars. And the whole time I’m singing it, I’m thinking about the way Christine looked down her nose at me this morning when I was visiting the office. The nerve she has ordering me to provide song lists without bothering to say who’s asking for it. Those people all act like they’re doing me a big favor having me sing for them and that the five-dollar bill they give me after each show is a lot more than I’m worth, but I know it’s their way of keeping me on a short leash. If I wasn’t pulling mail, I’d be long gone. And if I wasn’t pulling a whole lot of mail, they wouldn’t have added the Good Neighbor Get Together to my workload.

I start to strum another song, but then I see Raoul waving for me to start my first commercial break. I take my left hand off the neck and take the first script from the stand.

“You know, folks, when you’re out riding the range, day after day, I can tell you, there’s nothing worse than having a sluggish system. Do you ever feel like that? Now, you’re probably just like me, most of the time strong and regular, but sometimes we all need a little help. That’s why I want you to try Peruna, with the absolute, positive understanding that it’ll restore you to a regular state or your money will be cheerfully refunded.

“Every day we get hundreds of letters from folks just like yourself who’ve been troubled by sluggishness and, after using Peruna, they’re right back to their old active selves. Peruna, the modern miracle medicine made by your friends at the Royal Consolidated Chemical Corporation of Chicago, Illinois. Just send two dollars to Peruna, care of this station, Del Rio, Texas. And please tell them Slim Gatlinburg sent you!”

And I look again at the clock, twenty minutes have gone by, which means I’ve still got an hour and forty minutes left.

“Now here’s one of my favorite songs. It’s called Under the Blue Wyoming Moon and it goes like this.”

oer the hills the doggies play 
And I’m happy in the saddle again!
 (Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle here).

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