Note: In part 1 of Dave Silverbrand’s reflective piece last week, he talked about how he arrived at KVIQ, and the gradual loss of viewers to the Internet. – Ed.
Special to the Union | Part 2
The new generation of adrenaline junkies was
no longer satisfied by CSI-Miami episodes and The Young and the Restless. They wanted new tattoos, “So Ya Wanna Fight” nights, roller derby and human-suspension performances.
So I had a great job title but nothing to do. I collected my paycheck while I sat in my office and practiced my Spanish. Nobody at work was talking to me because I was making more money by doing less and they resented that, I think. You would too, probably. But, hey, I emcee the Oyster Calling Contest at the Oyster Festival every year. That has to count for something.
For me, it was frustrating because my “competition,” News Channel 3, had become the “Spirit of the North Coast.” Who is in charge of “spirits” anyway? And how are they selected?
Oh, life for me wasn’t that bad. I also taught journalism at College of the Redwoods, taking field-trips of students to Arcata Plaza to find the “real story.” They loved it. Once, on April 20, our class wrote news releases announcing a “1:20 Festival.” I chose the title because our class convened at 1:20 p.m. I described it as a block party for people who wanted to celebrate a smokeless fiesta and still have time to walk up the hill behind HSU for the 4:20 pot party. We even got award-winning journalist Kevin Hoover to cover it.
The problem is that it was raining and no one was there. The band that had promised to play for free didn’t show up. No food, no music, no point. What were we supposed to do to make a slammin’, jammin’ party – interview Kevin Hoover?
Back at the TV station at Seventh and I, there was nothing else for me to do except answer the phone, explain to callers why CBS hadn’t carried the Raiders game and listen for fender-benders in the intersection outside. Still, I could have gone on in that job forever. Get paid for doing nothing? Why not? Government is full of people like that.
As the company downsized, my corporate office got smaller and smaller. They gave me one the size of Saddam Hussein’s hideout. In another, I shared space with office supplies. They got the window. And in still another, I was asked to share space with a mother of two hyperactive kids.
As much as I love kids, that was asking too much. What if they borrowed my coloring book without asking?
Still I pressed on, ignoring even the most obvious sign that my time was over. Sainte Partners stopped paying me. Actually, they said I could continue to work there for free because I was the “soul of the community.” That is very much like being the “Spirit of the North Coast” except without compensation.
Still, I continued to work. Why? Because I believed in the station, even though it was turned over to a Sainte Partners guy from Modesto. He was a salesman who had married into the Sainte Corporation, then divorced the daughter of its owners, Chester and Naomi Smith.
He then tried to hire his new wife. That didn’t go well at corporate headquarters either. So my guess is that they sent him to Eureka as a moral test. If he really loved the company, he would go there – the equivalent of 40 days and 40 nights in the spiritual desert. He was the new boss of KVIQ – my new supervisor. He gave me a fancy new title, “Director of Public Service.” But he couldn’t promise me any money.
The new boss told me that my on-air presence was great for the station and the community. Someday, he promised me, I could be making big money again because people loved me. So he encouraged me to record station-breaks and take pictures of beautiful cultural landmarks – like Blue Lake Casino, where he told me he passed many hours at the blackjack table.
The Sainte Partners boss figured that landing one big client like a casino would be all he would need to balance the books, pocket a commission and keep his job. Who else but the casinos had any money to spend on advertising? It didn’t work that way. For some reason, they didn’t trust him.
But then it’s always risky to trust people unless they back up their promises. He didn’t. Not to me, anyway. Maybe the Rancheria felt the same way.
Maybe, being a creative person in an uncreative company, I was confused. Maybe they loved me more than they were letting on – and just didn’t want me to have a swelled head. What an odd and empty feeling.
So on a sunny spring day, I quit – sort of. I announced that I would continue in my present unpaid position – from my house. At least I would save the commute time. I turned in my key to the post office mailbox. On the other hand, you can’t quit a job you never really had anyway.
Now, I am a happy survivor, working in radio and writing news and commentaries in English and Spanish. Life is good again. And they pay me.
Still, I can’t help remembering the glory days of CBS and locally, its relentless decline. Of course I hope the CBS eye survives. I bled a lot for it and frankly deserved better. But I should have known better, too.
Now I sleep soundly with my cat Amadeus. I remember the glory days of local TV, when competition filled our sails and generated our sales. I miss the old days.
And on a quiet night at Wabash and Broadway (if there is such a thing) one can still hear the cry of the floor director at 5:59. “One minute out! One minute out!”
You can also hear the whimper of a young co-anchor scampering toward the studio: “I’m not gonna make it. How’s my hair?”
A co-worker best summed up our legacy. “It is what it is,” he would say.
Yes, it was what it was.