Thursday, February 12, 2009

Something's Got To Give

[Rather than conduct a tear-filled, navel-gazing, self-serving news conference, Chad the Elder has issued the following tear-filled, navel-gazing, self-serving statement.]

Next month marks the five year anniversary of the debut of the Northern Alliance Radio Network on AM1280 The Patriot. Those years have featured a vast array of characters (on both sides of the studio glass), on air moments ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, and enough behind the scenes absurdity to provide plentiful material for a comedic novel. In all seriousness, we have often said that a gifted comedy writer could easily keep his muse busy reworking the NARN experiences in amateur radio into a book or perhaps more suitably a sitcom. One that would probably come across better on Showtime or HBO given the nature of some of the material.

It has been an enjoyable ride and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. For most of my adult life I've been an avid listener of talk radio and to get the opportunity to go behind the mike as a host is a privilege I would have never imagined I would enjoy. And enjoy it I did. From chatting with the author of Why Mommy Is A Democrat to debating the merits of women's basketball to singing our very special version of the Wellstone School Song to interviewing a mime, laughter has never been in short supply (unlike coffee in the break room).

Doing broadcasts from various events was a definite highlight. They included two state GOP conventions, election night coverage in '06, one anticlimactic day at the '08 RNC (how's that fundraising for the victims of Hurricane Gustav going?), the WWII Memorial dedication at the State Capitol, and a couple of Patriot picnics. But the big daddy event of every year was the Minnesota State Fair. Broadcasting from the Fair in various locations under various weather and technical conditions was always interesting. The guests, the contests, and the listener interactions at the Fair were unique and while they sometimes presented particular challenges for radio, they were never boring.

Being part of the NARN also gave the chance to get to know the other hosts and it's been fun to spend time with John, Ed, Mitch, King and yes even Michael. Saint Paul and I were already close personal friends prior to the show, but it's been a pleasure sharing a mike with him and with JB Doubtless for a short period of time back in the early NARN days (I blinked and missed Atomizer's radio career).

There was also the opportunity to become better acquainted with the likes of Scott Johnson, James Lileks, and yes even Jay Larson. It allowed me to further my friendly rivalry with Hugh Hewitt (the godfather of the NARN) and his producer and loyal sidekick Generalissimo Duane and to get to exchange pleasantries with Michael Medved and Dennis Prager, two other Salem Radio hosts that I avidly listen to. We even got to fill Hugh's size thirteen loafers a couple of times as guest hosts on his show.

Interviewing some of the best and brightest minds of the day was another perk. The complete list would be extensive to detail here. I recall the first real radio interview I did was with Myrna Blyth author of "Spin Sisters." It was something of a surprise to realize that people whose books I would want to buy and read anyway would be willing to send me books for free and come on the air to talk about them. And that I would be able to converse with people whose work I had long admired--people like Mike Nelson from MST3K, Jake Slichter from Semisonic, and most significantly the late Richard John Neuhaus. The power of radio indeed.

Some of my favorite interviews include:

- The local beer guys. Mark Stutrud from Summit, Omar Ansari from Surly, and Jeff Williamson from Flat Earth.

- The Modern Drunkard, Frank Kelly Rich.

- Local politicians: Michele Bachmann, Marty Seifert.

- Climate change realists: Dennis Avery, Stephen Milloy, and Dr. Roy W. Spencer.

- Pundits: Mark Steyn, Michael Barone, Dinesh D'Souza, Ramesh Ponnuru, Vox Day, Joe Carter.

- Military men: Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, Marcus Lutrell, Maj. Steven A.Givler.

- Authors: Robert Ferrigno, Ross Bernstein, David Harsanyi, Robert Bryce, Eric Burns, John O'Neil, Craig Shirley, Steven Vincent (RIP).

- Historians: Mark Moyar, Michael Burleigh, Jonathan Brent.

Again, it was my great pleasure to have the opportunity to pick the brains of these fine folks. And while it times that involved some work, it was always a labor of love.

The problem such activities is that when you labor for love, you usually labor for free. That's the whole meaning of the word "amateur" as wisely explained by Terry Teachout in a WSJ piece on amateurs in the arts (sub req):

You'll notice that I used the word "amateur" pejoratively. To call a performance "amateurish" is one of the biggest bombs in a critic's arsenal. Yet the word itself descends from amator, which is Latin for "lover," and throughout much of its history it has also been used to refer to people who engage in an activity for love rather than money. The world of art is full of such passionate and admirable creatures, some of whom share their passions with the public. If you've ever heard a concert by the Doctors Orchestral Society of New York or seen a play performed at one of the innumerable community theaters that dot the American landscape, you know how useful a role the serious amateur can play in the life of a culture. Anyone who seeks to make art rather than merely receiving it passively is on the side of the angels -- so long as he doesn't succumb to delusions of grandeur.

I would hope that most of the time we've played the role of serious amateurs on the NARN. I doubt if there's been much temptation to succumb to delusions of grandeur since doing a Saturday radio show from the catacombs of the Patriot studio in Eagan hardly lends itself to thoughts of grandeur (although when the septic system backed up people did get a bit delusional).

We're all familiar with the phrase "time is money" (not mime Saint Paul). And one of the challenges facing all amateurs is just how much time you can devote to an activity that you don't get paid for. Back when the NARN started five years ago, I was relatively footloose and fancy-free. Sure, as a gainfully employed, married homeowner I had my share of responsibilities. And while at times those responsibilities came into conflict with activities like doing an amateur radio show, the situation was usually manageable (thanks in large part to the understanding nature of my lovely wife).

Today, I'm still a gainfully employed, married homeowner. Who has been lucky enough to be blessed with the arrival of three wonderful boys in the last four years. Those familial circumstances have obviously altered the whole time-responsibilities-activities equation. And it became apparent that something had to give.

That something is my regular participation on the NARN First Team show. Spending close to four hours on Saturday morning and afternoon on the show to say nothing of the extensive show prep (insert joke here) without compensation is simply no longer feasible. As much as I have enjoyed being part of the radio show and recognize what a rare opportunity it was, there's no longer room on my plate for it.

After we did the end of year show in late December, I decided to take January off and see if something could be worked out. But nothing has changed since then so I figured I should make official. I may on rare occasion still return to the studio under special circumstances. Perhaps a five-year anniversary show would meet that criteria.

Of course I'll still be listening to the NARN First Team each and every week (and the entire NARN broadcast when possible for that matter) and will likely call in a time or two (and maybe even not under an alias). After all, old amateur radio hosts never die; they just fade away...

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