My short career as Chris Winston - Overnight Disk Jockey

After college, or maybe it was during, I had a job for about a year or so as an overnight DJ at an adult contemporary AM radio station in Southern Virginia. Actually, it wasn't just an AM station. It was, and still is, AM stereo which, at the time, had been struggling to gain a foothold ever since that pesky FM came along. The signal actually sounded pretty good if you had an AM stereo receiver and you avoided driving under overpasses... or during the rain. Or at night.


World’s Best Tobacco Market.

Though I also heard, World’s Best Textile Mill.

I spun easy listening adult contemporary hits from 10 pm to 6 am and had a very small but loyal following of mental ward inmates, the elderly and insomniacs. You'd be surprised to know there are so many people who call in at 3 am to request songs or comment on current events. I know I was! Not only were there the regulars... there were fans! I had actual fans! I had a guy call in most every night to predict the air quality index for the next day. At first I thought he was a 70's era prank caller who'd ring just to breathe heavy into my ear hoping that did it for me but during our relationship I learned he suffered from an assortment of breathing related issues and probably lived in an iron lung. Often, he would call to request the "Air that I Breathe" by The Hollies on what he hoped would be a good Air Quality Index day.

He'd cough it into the phone, "It's gonna be a good day, Winston. Could you play our song?"

He wanted to meet up once. I declined.

I assumed the on-air persona of Chris Winston because I thought Chris Stork sounded too much like Chris-Dork. It was college - things like that bother you at that age. Actually, you never get over being called Chris Dork as a kid. Also, remember... this was the South. I wanted a name that fit in. Chris Winston I hoped would remind people of Winston-cup Racing or Winston cigarettes. I figured people would trust me. Like Tom Brokaw. Personally, I liked Winston as in John Winston Lennon but no one ever called to say, "Play some Beatles, Winston. Wink Wink. But nothing with Oko!"

Another regular was the "Bob Dylan guy". Nope, he didn't call to request Bob Dylan as you'd imagine. Oh… he hated Dylan and called to tell me so every time I played something off of "Highway 61 Revisited". Often, on long quiet nights at the Stereo AM WBTM, when nothing fun was coming over the raw news feeds and old Bette Midler tracks weren't cheering me up, I'd play a Dylan tune and stare at the phone like a kid after meeting the girl of his dreams at the roller skating rink. (Ps... this never happened to me. Not just the girl of my dreams part - the girl part. I was the kid who couple skated with his Aunt when she forced me away from the arcade so I could get some exercise.)

But, the Bob Dylan guy. I'd play a tune and he would call to tell me how he wrote that song and sent it to Bob "when he was still going by Robert Allen Zimmerman! That traitor!" Apparently my fan was a poet and sent most of his stuff in letters to Dylan. "Once Zimmerman arranged to meet me to talk about my papers." He told me this often. Actually, he told me this every time he called. This is how every call started. “Once, we were to meet.” I forget the song he'd quote most often but he pulled it apart during every call to explain to me the clues about how Dylan was talking directly to him. "See, he's telling me when and where to meet him. I went, he never showed. Traitor! I think he got cold feet! Thought I'd demand money for my songs! I'd give him those songs. Well then. Not now. When we meet, he's gonna pay me. Traitor!"

So, on long, lonely nights... I'd play a Dylan tune to send the call out to my fan. I'd aim that bat signal at the asylum that surely existed within our coverage map. Although this was the mid 90's, most of the tracks we played were digital so we could line up the songs in a cue using a touch screen. You could drop in a Public Service Announcement or a Promo for a Church bake sale or the weekend swap meet into the mix or even record your voice as a track plugging the upcoming songs. I'd play a game where I'd do the math backwards between when I wanted my recorded voice to play and the current time so I'd get the time spot on during my interlude. "It's 3:37 and 25 seconds in the morning and up next is a classic from Bette Midler." I'd say this even though it was recorded hours before. I'd line up a number of songs and few recordings of myself and take a break to walk around the station or use the restroom. The audio board we used in the booth had faders for all the various inputs including several raw news feeds for breaking news or the news we'd play at the top of the hour.

Once, I had lined up a half hour of long songs and a few PSA's and went out to sit in the early morning Virginia air. During a 7 minute and 37 second Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" I starting to hear faint voices under the the orchestral center of the song. The voices were about tornados and destruction and people losing their homes. I listened in and tried to clear the early morning fog from my mind and thought, "I've never heard this part of the song before." When I heard the ABC news slug and the countdown for the 30 second version of the sound bite I realized I had left one of the faders up and it was bleeding out over the air and under the Moody Blues. Luckily, it was 3:37 in the morning and those listening probably enjoyed the confusion... or were confused already.

This was just one of many errors I made during my career as an overnight DJ. I once played Elvis' "Pretty Paper" in June not realized it was a Christmas tune. I ended it with, "Let me be the first to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas."

I retired from that job having never gained the fame I hoped would come with the job. I never even had a fan run into me on the street and beg for my autograph. The closest I came was once I had a lady on the other end of the drive-thru machine at a biscuit restaurant (named BiscuitVille, of course) say I sounded familiar.

When I pulled up I asked if her she recognized my voice yet?

She said "no". I gave her my best AM stereo DJ voice and told her my stage name but it still didn't ring a bell.

Maybe Chris Dork would have been more memorable?

I never got many Gold Medals - But I used to make them.

medalI once quit a job without giving two weeks notice. I quit after my lunch break. The boss wasn’t surprised at all. I think she even wondered why it took so long like it was a bet amongst the bosses. Each day that went by with me still on the line was another nickel in the jar.I worked at a trophy factory in Tampa and made the medals people wear around their neck after winning track meets and what not. For some reason we made lots of medals for the PBA - "The Police Benevolent Association" and I thought that if I ever got pulled over I could use this as a conversation starter. I was on an assembly line and would be given scalding hot medals from out of the mold and was to sand down the edges on a steel-brush sander until they were smooth and round. Like when Christmas cookies come out with bits that cooked under the Santa mold. My job was to remove those bits with spinning bristles of steel. These were very hot cookies and shards of lead would fly off everywhere. Along the line there were several of us with varied levels of sanders in front of us. The first would sand off the rough edges with each in the line making the edges smoother until the last in line had a very fine sander that polished the final product. Although each on the line spoke a different language... I was the only one who could communicate with any of them. On Tuesdays, it was my day to control the radio - I got news from the outside this way. We were in a hot windowless room. Often while sanding the medals I would secretly sharpen a screwdriver into a fine point to make a shiv for the day I broke free. I would tuck it under my lab coat when one of the bosses walked by. We had to wear lab coats to keep the shards of medal off our clothes. Once, I had my coat open and got it caught in the sander when I took a big old "look how many medallions I’ve completed" stretch. The sander instantly pulled me up to the machine and was sanding my already hairless chest until the Korean guy next to me turned off the power to my machine. He gave me a pat on the back as if to say, "This is why we keep our coats buttoned you little jackass who plays stupid music on Tuesday." The next day, the “No accidents in 300 days" sign changed to "No accidents in 1 day". So, I quit one day when I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t even have to use my weapon.