There's a general rule of radio that one should show up at the station at least a half-hour before air-time. This is a good rule. I know from hard experience - most radio personalities know why that rule exists. Break it and the reason becomes harshly apparent.
First of all, unlike in television, your start-time varies. There's a certain leeway in radio. TV even local TV is precise. Local radio is more general when it comes to the clock. A show that is scheduled for 3PM might actually start at 02:59 or at 03:01. Both would be considered "on time". So, if you're running late, trying desperately to arrive for your 3PM top-of-the-hour greeting, arriving "just in time" at seconds before 3PM could mean you're already late, which is embarrassing and job-threatening.
Even if you arrive, say, five minutes early, you're apt to find yourself in a bit of a rush. You may still have memos to read and grasp. Good luck. A cup of coffee might have been nice. No time. Perhaps you'ld do well to review the local news or a couple of trade publications all in your good, sweet time. Nope. Got a phone call to make? Forget it. Arrive a half-hour before air-shift and it's all doable at a leisurely pace. You can then saunter into the studio, plug in your head-set, sign onto the logs, wait for the end of the other guy's last song and start in relative calmness. You're set.
Show up late or "just in time" and you're never quite right. That first hour - maybe the entire air-shift - is a frantic game of catch-up. You're rushed and not quite in control; not in the way you'd wish to be per the above. Even if you sound fine to your listeners, you're sweating. You're off your game.
This brings me to what I call my radio nightmare. It's not a nightmare in the sense of those terrifying sequences in which you're threatened by some monster, seen or unseen, or some sort of unavoidable violence. We’ve all had those, I’m sure: Something really bad is chasing you. The faster you try to run, the slower you go, the closer it gets. When he was a young man, my grandfather experienced a recurring nightmare scene in which he was chased by a bull until he'd wake up in a sweat. You get the picture.
I should point out to the uninitiated that radio station control rooms are equipped in essentially the same way. Some are better than others. And, it's best to have someone tell you what's what and where everything is. But, if an experienced person were thrown into a strange control room and given a few minutes, he could probably figure it out. At worst, he would know where the microphone button is, so he could talk. Of course, I've never been in such a scenario nor has anyone that I know of. My point is, these rooms are fairly standard in their construction.
My radio nightmare is actually quite hilarious unless you're me. Version "A" goes like this:
The radio station is in an idyllic field at the top of a small, gentle hill. It’s housed in a little cottage. Seems like a dream, doesn't it? The problem is, I'm running late and I'm dashing toward the cottage. Of course, the faster I run, the slower I go. Finally, I reach the door, fling it open and get ready to hit the air. I don't recall any previous jock ever being there, but his last song is playing and I have less than two minutes to go. I plug in my head-set. Then, I look around. I don't know what I'm looking at! The equipment is totally different from anything I've ever seen. There are no records or CDs and no computers as I know them. I can't even find a microphone button. I can't find a microphone! The record is ending! It ends. Dead air. I'm scrambling, but all the equipment looks like alien plumbing. More dead air. My sense of panic increases. Then, I wake up. Sometimes it takes a few seconds for me to know I'm not still in that scene. When I come to my senses, it's a major relief.
Version "B" is much the same as Version "A", except I arrive already late, my first song is playing, I'm nervous because when you’re late for your air-shift, thousands of people know it, including your program director and your general manager. And, they very much don't like that. Being alone in this little cottage doesn't mitigate that feeling one bit.
Anyhow, my first song is already playing. I look around and encounter the alien plumbing equipment. Instead of going into a song-to-song segue, we go into dead air. I desperately look over the strange machinery to no avail. More dead air, then I wake up.
These variations on a theme occurred every few months for years. They were always funny to me after I’d wake up and realize it was just a dream. In the past couple of years, it's been the same essential scene, but with greater variation.
A few nights ago, I dreamed I was already in a studio on the air. A woman of some authority was in the studio with me. She didn't remind me of anyone I've ever known. I fabricated her. But, she had authority. My music ran out. I didn’t know what to do with the alien plumbing equipment. As I would try to figure it all out, she would badger me. This is great. It's just what any jock needs in such a moment; someone to tell you how stupid you are while you're trying to find your way out of a running dilemma. This happened over and over; same basic scenario on "repeat." Then, I woke up. Only I didn't laugh. I didn't think it was funny.
A short while ago on Facebook, where radio colleagues stay in touch, the subject of radio nightmares came up. Most were LOL hilarious, except, of course, to the person in the dream while he was dreaming. I'm laughing as I type thinking of those stories.
The common denominator was dead air; that dreaded dead air.