It was a small radio station and barely survived on the advertising it managed to sell to local merchants. It didn’t help that the radio station played rock and roll, a mortal sin in the small town whose population was eighty percent employed in the logging industry. That means that country music and religion ruled the airwaves. Still, it was a job and Fred Duchesne took it seriously. After all, he spent four years and a ton of money earning his degree in electronics. Fred was the chief engineer for KROD-AM, 1470 on the dial. They were licensed only to broadcast through the business day, sun up to sundown because at night, when radio signals traveled their best, their frequency overlaid other small stations who had the foresight to secure 24 hour licenses.
The front office was manned by Marjorie Frank, a staunch conservative of sixty-two years who’d thrown her husband out and divorced him for his slothful and drunken ways. A woman of substance, she weighed in (people guessed) at around 240 pounds, quite sufficient for her five foot five inch frame. Her hair was salt and pepper, done up in a bun that pulled her hair so tightly it gave her eyes a mildly Asian cast. She greeted Fred’s arrival with a grunt and told him that the station manager, Jack McHenry, wanted to see him right away chop-chop. Fred went back into the engineering room where he kept the tools of his trade and a large collection of audio equipment of all shapes and sizes, all of which were manufactured before he was born some thirty eight years ago. He hung his coat on a hook on the back of the door, dropped his lunch in the humming Frigidaire and went up front to see what the station manager wanted.
Jack sat at a large oak desk, his cowboy booted feet resting on the blotter as he leaned back in his army surplus desk chair. On Fred’s arrival, he dropped his feet to the floor and leaned onto his desk. “Fred! Good to see you. Look, we have an opportunity here. I’ll get right to it because we need to jump on this baby right away. Right away.” Jack had a tendency to repeat himself.
“Whatcha got going?” asked Fred with trepidation. Jack was always coming up with ways to promote the radio station and most, if not all of his ideas violated FCC rules governing broadcast on the AM band.
“You know the record store up on Main Street, Russo’s Records, right?”
“Uh, yeah. They send us all those dud records they can’t sell in exchange for mentioning their store on the air a few times a day. What about them?”
“Well, they’re having a big sale this weekend, on Saturday. I talked them into having us do a remote right from their store, playing all of the records they have on sale and giving the kids who come to shop there a chance to say hi to their friends over the air. Do some dedication stuff, you kinow, this record goes out to the love of my life, Billy Whosit –whatver. You know, this could be really big for the both of our companies. They’re willing to buy a whole five hours of advertising if we do our shows from the front of their store.” said Jack, excitedly.
“Whose idea was this?” asked Fred.
“Why mine, of course.” said Jack, grinning maniacally. “I’m always looking for a way to get the station revenues up. This could be huge for us.”
“But we’ve been through this sort of thing before. The city won’t let us run our cables through town without paying a right of way fee, a big one, and the power company who’s poles we use wants a per pole fee. Between the town and the power company, we’d lose money. A lot of money. We found that out when you wanted to broadcast the city’s divorce court last year.”
“Yeah, yeah. How was I to know that court would be so boring? Couldn’t sell an advertising spot to a single merchant.” said Jack, reflecting.
“It didn’t help that the first divorce was also the station’s largest advertiser. Man, they revealed a lot of really sleazy stuff…”
“I know, I know. But live and lean, eh? And yeah, the right of way fees were pretty steep. But I have an idea this time. We’re not going to have to pay any right of way or pole fees. It’s a natural. And this is gonna be great. The biggest thing we’ve ever done. Once Russo sees how well it works we’ll get them to sign up for more and more of these things. Make a huge difference to the old bottom line, know what I mean?”
“Uh, maybe.” said Fred, cautiously. “So, how’s this gonna work?”
“Come over and look at this map with me.” grinned Jack. Fred came behind the desk and peered over the station manager’s shoulder.
“What is that?” asked Fred.
“It’s a map of the city. See? Here’s us…” he stabbed the map with a pencil, “and here’s Russo’s.”
“Okay. But what are all of these lines here?”
“That’s the secret weapon, my friend. That’s how we’re gonna make this work. This is a map of the sewer system. Now look, we’re higher than Russo’s by what, about ten feet, right?”
“So, we’re gonna run a line through the sewer. No one will even know it’s there!” Jack was chortling gleefully. “Isn’t it great? Can’t you just picture it?”
“Um, how is it that we’re going to get a cable from the station over to Russo’s? How does this help us?” asked Fred.
“Well, I haven’t really figured that out yet. But I’m working on it. I thought I’d ask you for some ideas.”
Fred said he needed to think about it and he’d get back to Jack on it later. The men both agreed they’d think about it and compare notes later and Fred left to go rebuild a cranky Sparta tape deck used by the on-air people to play canned commercials. He was lost in his efforts until, a few hours later, Jack strolled into the engineering room. His hands were red and he had red smudges on his face. His clothes looked like he’d been painting a barn, also bright red.
“I’ve got it!” he told Fred, grabbing him by the shoulders.”
“Got what?” asked Fred dubiously.
“I bought a bunch of tempra paint down at the art store. Actually, I traded a few daily spots for the paint.”
“I see, it was red paint, I assume.”
“Yeah! How’d you know? Anyway, I flushed it down the toilet and down the drain of the bathroom sink. Then I went over to Russo’s. You know they got that storm drain right there on the corner in front of their store, right?” Fred shurgged. “Well, they do. Anyway, I pried up the grating and waited and sure enough, after about ten minutes, the water running through down there turned red. You see?”
“Actually,” said Fred. “No.”
“It means that the water runs downhill, just like I thought. It means we can do this!” said Jack, excitedly.
“Jack, I hate to tell you this, but I’m not going down into the sewer to drag cable. Besides, I don’t think there’s a storm grating on the station’s block. Even f there was, there’s no way I’m going to root around in peoples… you know. Output.”
“No, no, no. Nobody needs to go down there. Besides, I think the pipe is only a couple of feet around.” said Jack.
“Well then there you go.”
“No, my man. That’s not the end of it. The way I figure it, we just need to get a wire down into the pipe and the water will carry it past Russo’s. We can fish it up through the storm dran and Bingo! There’s our cable.” Jack looked proud. Fred was still dubious.
“How do we get the wire down there?” he asked Jack.
“I got that figured out too.” said Jack, grinning. “This is gonna be great. Really great.” He turned away from Fred and started pawing through the piles of equipment stacked around Fred’s workroom. “Hey,” he said, “where’s that reel of cable we had. The one we used for the courthouse?”
Fred went to a closet and pulled out a heavy roll of black wire. Jack grabbed it and dashed out. Fifteen minutes later he was back and asking Fred if he knew whether the station had a toilet plunger. “I’m not sure.” he said. “How come you need one?”
“I got a tennis ball stuck in there.” said Jack.
“I got a flourescent yellow tennis ball and I poked a hole through it. Then I shoved the end of the cable through it and tied a knot. I flushed it down the commode but it got stuck part of the way.” At that moment, Marjorie shrieked and came running into the engineering room.
“There’s water running under the bathroom door. It’s soaked the rug in reception and it smells awful.” she said breathlessly.
“It’s under control, Marjorie.” said Jack, trying to calm her. “Just a little hiccup in a plan. We’ll fix it right away, right Fred?”
“Uh, sure.” said Fred. He still sounded dubious. Marjories wasn’t placated, but announced that she was going to go home until Jack called and told her it was alright to come back.
“I’m not going to sit in an office that smells like… smells like POOP!” she said, huffily. Jack told her that was fine and that it would be taken care of.
“Find a plunger.” he told Fred.
It tooka trip to the Coast to Coast hardware store, but Fred came up with a plunger and he dutifully pumped it while Jack kept flushing the toilet. A rude noise emitted from the pipe and wire began to unreel from the spool. “Hah!” yelled Jack, triumphantly. “Keep flushing. I’m going over to Russo’s!” The whole operation took another hour, but Jack came back to the station and announced to Fred that he had indeed snagged the tennis ball and that he’d tied the wire to a No Parking sign at the corner of Main and Elm, where Russo’s Records was located. “The day after tomorrow is Saturday,” said Jack. “You collect up the equipment we need to do the remote and take it to Russo’s. They said they’re clearing out a spot to put in our desk and turntables.”
Fred shrgged and went to work. By the end of the day he had a temporary studio set up in RUsso’s Records, had connected it up to the station and tested it. Everything worked great. All that was left was to wait for the big occasion and then flip a switch. “Not bad.” Fred said to himself as he drove home. He hadn’t really thought it would work, but by God it had. Sometimes Jack’s enthusiasm worked out. Not often though. He noticed the heavy clouds rolling in from the south and commented to himself that it looked like rain. “Thank God I work indoors.” he said. Then he realized that he was talking to himself and shut up. At home he cooked a TV dinner and watched All In The Family while he listened to the rain that began to fall as he removed his dinner from the oven.
At work the next day Marjorie made it a point to complain bitterly that she thought a wire running into the toilet was just plain creepy and felt reticent to “do her business.” Fred looked sympathetic but just shrugged. “It won’t be there when you come back on Monday,” he pointed out. Marjorie didn’t work on the weekends.
It was still rining on and off Saturday morning when Fred got up, had a breakfast of toast and orange juice and headed off to work. On the way, he noted a large contingent of city vehicles on Main Street and wondered what was up. If anyone knew, it would be the people at the station. No matter what happened in the small city, people would call it into the station in hopes of hearning their name mentioned on the air. Fred wouldn’t listen to the station on the radio. Every time he did it seemed that someone was just screaming ‘baybee baybee baybee baybee oh baybee’ over and over accompanied by the rowls of dying cats. He parked in his usual spot and jogged to the station door. Inside Marjorie was surrounded by a crowd of unhappy people, all talking at once. Hands were gesticulating and figers were pointing upwards and there was a lot of growling. “FRED!” called Marjorie with a relief sounding in her tone. “I’m so glad you’re here! All these people want to speak to someone in charge and I can’t find Jack!”
“Did you call him at home?” asked Fred, speaking above the background of complaints and rumbles.
“No, Jack hates to be bothered at home.” she said.
“So, where have you checked?”
“Well, he’s not in his office.” she replied. Fred shook his head and tried to make his way to his engineering room. He didn’t make it. He was grabbed by a portly and disheveled man that Fred thought, if he remembered right, might be the mayor.
“See here, young fellow.” he huffed. “Something must be done and done immediately!”
“I’ll get right on it.” answered Fred, wondering what the man was talking about.
“See that you do!” snarled the possible mayor. “People’s lives are at stake here after all!”
Fred broke away and managed to get into the engineering room where he closed and locked the door. There was a glass window in the engineering room that looked in on the studio. A young man sat at the console, the phone crimped between his shoulder and his ear, his hands were putting records on the turntables and directing cartridges into the Sparta decks. He waved at Fred who looked at him through the window and shrugged. The young man shook his long hair from his face, grabbed a marker and jotted something on a pad. He held it up. He’d written “BIG FLOOD DOWNTOWN.” Fred shrugged again. A flood was the town’s problem, he had to do a few final things to get ready for the remote at Russo’s and wasn’t really interested in the details of the city’s problems.
He heard a key turn the lock and then Jack rushed in, slammed the door, locked it again and leaned against it. “We got big trouble here, Fred.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Fred.
“What’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong. Your big idea for a remote cable is what’s wrong. Apparently the rain flushed leaves and trash into the storm drains and they got caught up in your wire. Crus buiolt up until the sewer was blocked and now all of the stores downtown have sewage running backwards out of their drains. I’m told there’s poop and dirty water everywhere!”
“My idea?” asked Fred, annoyed. “This wasn’t my idea.”
“You’re the engineer!” barked Jack. “It’s up to you to fix this!”
“Fine. You go to Russo’s and cut the cable. I’ll pull it back to the station and that will let things get back to their usual flow.” said Fred.
“But we have the remote to do! We can’t pull the cable!” screeched Jack.
“Well,” said Fred. “There you go.”
“There you go? That’s what you said? There you go?”
Jack looked exasperated. “This is a disaster.” he whimpered.
In the end Fred pulled the cable out, the blockage was stopped, the sewage receded and the remote at Russo’s went off as planned. However, with the cost of the cleanup of all the store, the fees for right of way and pole usage for the hastily strung cable cost the radio station everything they made from the remote broadcast and then some. Impressed after reading about the Great Town Disaster, a major market radio station hired Fred away from KROD-AM, elevating him to the FM marketplace and put him in charge of an automated station. All Fred had to do was feed a days worth of tape cartridges into a machine once a day. Marjorie left the station claiming that it was simply too stressful and went to work as a volunteer at the United Baptist Church helping to arrange socials. Jack was elected mayor of the city and sold the radio station to an evalgelist who threw away the devil’s music filling the shelves of the studio and used the airwaves as his personal pulpit. The on-air disk jockeys, like most of the town went to work in the logging indistry.