To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
This last line from the poem Ulysses, by Lord Alfred Tennyson, is how I started the first part of my story of how I flamed out (or “phlegmed out” as the case may be) during my open audition held by radio station KMPC (710 AM) in Los Angeles (as previously written about here).
When last we left our hero (me) circa May of 1994, my grandmother had convinced me to go back to KMPC’s parking lot, where the audition was being held, return to the line, and try again.
This is where we pick up the story.
Thirty minutes later, after driving my grandmother back home and thanking her for the lunch, I was back in line on the baking asphalt parking lot of KMPC. I was once again among the angry huddled masses. Based on the length of the lions, hyenas, and vultures in front of me, I surmised that I had a good deal of time to plan out my minute audition to be a talk show host. In fact, it would not be until 6:30 in the evening when I was on the audition platform for my encore.
Yes, I had decided to jump from being an announcer to on-air talent. I may go down in flames a second time, but I would enjoy the scenery all the way down.
Based on what I had seen my first time under the audition tent and based on what I could pick up from conversations with my fellow linemates, I spent the next four hours and twenty-seven minutes crafting my monologue. I would be edgy. I would be controversial. I would be insulting to those who disagreed with me. I would keep it real. I would speak truth to power. I would be slightly less angry that all the other candidates, but I would be angry nonetheless.
I would also be really glad that I had gone to the bathroom at the mall prior to coming back to the station.
When I arrived at the registration desk, I gave my name as “Brian Mannor” substituting my last name for a character I had played in high school (as previously written about here). I also provided my parent’s address and phone number. After I was given my audition number (2,701) and ushered into the tent, I had to blink through the lights before I realized what I was looking at. Nearly ten and a half hours had passed, but the same sextet of judges were still there in their same chairs gazing at speaker after talker after pontificator after pundit. They looked haggard, tired, and bored. I was near the end of the group of thirty who had been shown into the audition space. As I watched a whole new crop of outraged, slightly-less-than-informed Southern Californians march across the stage, I was observing the judges who seemed more interested in their pencils and fingernails than listening to the seemingly interchangeable ranters.
I saw that my time in line crafting my sixty-second diatribe was wasted. I would have no chance of making an impression on these judges if I stuck to my game plan. I needed a new strategy and I had about three minutes to locate it, craft it, polish it, and put it on display.
The first minute was spent looking around the faded white fabric of the tent as my brain tried feverishly to scoop out any and all ideas I had ever thought up for an alternative radio program. I thought of the free-wheeling no-format show I had done at the Northwestern University radio station. I recalled the tightly scripted shows I had done in Utah. I reflected on the subversive program I had performed at the college station in the Beehive State. I shuffled through my mental card catalog for all the other radio shows and personalities I had ever heard. I raced through Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Mercury Theatre, CBS Radio Mystery Theater, Dr. Demento, Gary Owens, Rick Dees, Mark & Brian, and…
At the end of that minute, I had my idea. I would steal another disc jockey’s idea.
At school in Evanston, I often listened to an afternoon personality based out of a Chicago rock station. His name is not important to this story (and mainly because I have forgotten it, but let’s call him “Mitch Hanford”) and I thought he was a genius. Hanford had a stable of characters that he created and who he supplied all the voices for. It wasn’t the voices themselves that were extraordinary, it was what he did with the characters and the stories he crafted around them. He would hold conversations with this alter-egos. There were even times when the voices would overlap (probably because he taped portions of the dialogue earlier, but it was still an impressive effect regardless of how it was achieved). There would be shows when Hanford was out sick and one of his “staff” would fill in – usually with disastrous, but funny, results. While many of his characters had a job to do on the show and had a dominant personality trait (i.e., the dumb sports reporter, the effeminate weather forecaster, the horny traffic reporter), Hanford created such elaborate backgrounds for them, that I came close to believing that these people were indeed real. I was more impressed with Hanford’s sense of narrative and creativity that I was with his vocal dexterity. To be honest, all of his characters sounded like him with an accent, or with a cold, or with a lisp, or with all three.
Now that I had my germ of an idea, I used the second of my remaining three minutes left to figure out how I could tailor a music disc jockey’s cast of characters to a talk-show format. In sixty seconds, I had my dramatis personæ.
There was Gaston Escargot, the Francophile sports anchor.
There was Chip Weatherall, the cranky meteorologist (“Don’t call me a weatherman, you frog!”).
There was Dr. Heinrich von Schtook, the trivia-loving engineer with aspirations of becoming a mad scientist or (dare to dream) a super-villian.
There was Horton Wedgeworth III, the stuffy right-winger and opera aficionado who collected souvenir spoons.
There was Summer Wind, the chakra-reading liberal and free-verse poet who also collected souvenir spoons (which at least gave him and Horton something to talk civilly about).
This was my make-believe quintet which was increased by one when my own personality and voice was included. I would serve as the ringmaster for this whole fictional circus.
In the minute now left to me, I furiously created and refined the voice for each character. I do believe people next to me actually scooted their chairs away as I began mumbling to myself in six different accents.
My time had now arrived. I ascended the stairs to the platform and faced the weary judges. I introduced myself and opened my mouth to begin. Please note that in my description of the three minutes leading up to my second chance that there is no mention of my planning what I was actually going to say. As I looked out over the residents of the tent, my phlegm-free throat struggled to keep pace with the words and thoughts that my brain was producing.
For myself, for posterity, and for you who are reading, I desperately wish I could recall exactly what I said. It, quite honestly and humbly, was the most brilliant minute I would ever have in my broadcasting career. Pick your metaphor – I was sizzling; I was on a roll; I was in the zone; I channeled Mel Blanc, Paul Winchell, and Robin Williams. Simply put, I killed.
I spoke about the type of show I would do. My program would not be an angry diatribe about how government and businesses were in a diabolical cahoots with each other to stick it to the little guy. My show would compare and contrast the right and the left without bias. However, my program would also be the type of show that fostered debate on the following important subjects:
…Captain Kirk or Captain Picard;
…David Hasselhoff on Knight Rider or David Hasselhoff on Baywatch;
…The Ramones or Nirvana;
…Daleks or The Master;
…Sega or Nintendo.
I introduced my imaginary menagerie and toggled between their five distinctive voices and speech patterns (my own voice making it six separate sounds in sixty seconds) so quickly and nimbly that even Shari Lewis and Edgar Bergen would have stood up and taken notice (and considering that both of those master ventriloquists are dead, I am paying myself quite a compliment).
As I finished my maniacal monologue with Chip Weatherall’s tagline of what he should not be called, I was rewarded with the sound that made the waiting in line and the possibility of a second grand embarrassment all worthwhile.
The judges were laughing.
Despite their grueling hours under a stifling roof of fabric listening to countless ranters, I had managed (with the assistance of my five alter egos) to break through and reach the judges.
A tiny portion of me felt sorry for the next guy to come on the stage.
I left the parking lot and made the drive back down south not caring if I would be one of the lucky sixteen picked out of (a figure I discovered later) over three thousand applicants. I was wholly satisfied with the fact that I had returned to the scene of my dream’s death and performed in the way I knew I was capable of doing.
That’s my story.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I would indeed find what I was looking for on that parking lot.
P.S. If you want to know what happens next, stay tuned.