Jay Meehan: The election night radio blues
We were new and we were few. KPCW had been on the air only four months and the President of the Board of Trustees had spent much of the day searching for his News Director hat. He wore many, but this was Election Night and coverage, in his case, would entail a carton of smokes, gallons of black coffee, and cooperation from his staff.
His planned modus-operandi for the evening (which would no doubt stretch into early morning) was to gather a posse of live call-in reporters and send them out into the Summit and Wasatch county hinterlands to check the pulse of the electorate.
We, in turn, once the polls closed and the vote-counts began to come in, would dial up that cat-in-the-hat manning the station from “The Bunker.” Being located above the basketball courts in the Memorial Building next door to the Alamo, normally, life at KPCW was pretty much as good as it got.
The night in question, however, would be all about phoning in updates and, if one were to get put on the air, sounding somewhat sober and professional. For myself, I had little desire to remain sober while the Republicans once again regained the White House. So, I had that going for me. However, there was no way out.
With 1980 being the year of Reagan’s landslide victory over Jimmy Carter, Utah’s political heartbeat was its normal self — reactionary and rabid. If there were to be any surprises, however, Summit County would probably be the hotbed – meaning you might have to take off your gloves AND your shoes to calculate the votes for President Carter.
The bunker, a former bathed in concrete film-projection booth flush from its complete makeover into a radio studio, went for $1 per year with Park City Hall as the landlord.
With a radio station on the top floor, a gymnasium in the middle, and a bowling alley-slash-gun range on the bottom, the proud Main Street edifice played to more than one eccentric demographic.
Anyway, having just moved from a swayback farmhouse in Woodland to a log cabin with plank siding in Heber, I was anointed the reporter-at-large for Wasatch County. Having never reported on vote counts from outlying precincts before, I prepared for my assignment at the County offices with due dread.
Being an undisciplined sort, I stashed away a thermos of heavily caffeinated bus-stop coffee, a five-pack of cheap cigars, a recently acquired yet already dog-eared paperback of “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco, and a fistful of out of market No-Doz tablets. But, what I really needed was a fedora.
If only we would have gotten on the air five years earlier, we could have covered that famous Park City “special election” for mayor in which write-in candidate O.D. McGee “shook babies and kissed hands.” But, alas, that wasn’t to be.
And on this night, I didn’t want to participate. I knew I’d be out of my element and rather than welcome Ronald Reagan into my reality from an environment where denial would be impossible, I longed to wake up the next morning with my forehead on some bar. I wanted to stick my head in the sand, not proclaim his victory upon radio wave.
Most of my previous “live remotes” from my days in the Salt Lake City AM radio trade had originated from truck dealerships, western wear retailers, and honky-tonk saloons. Party atmospheres were a given. This one was different. As the evening wore on, I longed to be elsewhere.
The night soon yawned and so did I. By ten or so I initially thought I needed a drink, or a mood elevator, or both. And I’m not talking about what Andy Griffith referred to as a “big orange.”
But, alas, the Reagan landslide soured my mood to the point where my thirst for something exotic totally waned. The temptation to travel the ten blocks or so to where our dryer served as our liquor cabinet, lessened as each state’s dominoes fell further into the Red.
I finally did come to terms with my sophomoric reaction to a news assignment from KPCW by going out and getting bombed with my radio buddy Dan Wilcox once the watering holes reopened. It didn’t make my next eight years any more palatable, but it kept the sand out from under my eyelids.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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