The first of July is sort of my anniversary. It was many, many years ago and in a place far, far away (no, not the Star Wars galaxy, New York State) that I had my first foray into the news business. It was during my final semester at college (second year) when my English professor told me about a radio station that was opening up in the same town as the college. He recommended that I show up and ask for a job. At that point, I was still a teenager, eager to learn and ready to do what I loved for a living – writing – so I figured there was nothing to lose.
In late spring, with really no idea what I was getting into, I went to what was still an under-construction building for the radio station, met the station manager on a concrete slab outfitted with forms and doorways, but no walls. I explained my situation and though they had already lined up the on-air staff, he said they could use a ‘stringer’ – a person they would send out to cover community events and various governmental agency board meetings. My job was to go to the assignment, then come back and write a story or two from the information gathered. The brand new radio station in small town Cobleskill, New York signed on the air on July 1. The year? Well, let’s just say it was a while back and I have now officially been in this business for more than 30 years.
The on-the-job training was awesome. This was the area I had grown up in, but was now seeing in a whole new light, through a new set of eyes. No longer a ‘kid’ but a bona fide news person, it was a great experience. My ‘stringer’ position was short-lived, and within a few months I was working part-time writing news. Then they wanted me to record the stories I wrote and would plug them in during the newscasts. A few months after that, the original news director left the station and the job was offered to me. I had two part-time jobs then, at the radio station and with an educational program and had to choose which career path to choose. Radio and newswriting won out and more than three decades later, I still make my living by writing news. Guess it was the right choice.
My trip down memory lane was sparked not so much as the July 1 date that just passed but the chance unearthing of some old cassette tapes with some of my earliest radio station newscasts and feature stories. It was a blast to listen to them; my very first report came from a poultry barn at a county fair, you could barely hear me over the clucking of the chickens and the cockadoodledoo-ing of the roosters. But what a great piece of personal history to still have.
A couple of years later, when I worked at a larger AM/FM station, I was filing live reports from the scene of a hostage situation. Those are still preserved on tape as well. When I looked at the date of the recording, it was a shock to realize that I was my daughter’s current age when I was covering that particular story. The street was shut down in a small town as a gunman took a town clerk hostage. Reporters and cops were across the street, taking cover in an old gas station, on the lookout for the rifle being pointed in our direction.
I can’t imagine how my mother must have felt when she learned I was potentially in harm’s way; I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with my kid doing that! I was calling the radio station from a pay phone (no cell phones, yet, remember) and giving updates, writing the story on the go and plugging in some ‘sound bites’ from bystanders and police officers on scene to enhance the story. There’s nothing quite as exciting as being in the middle of a headline-grabbing breaking news story. Well, if that’s what excites you.
Thirty-plus years later, I am happy to report, the news business still gets me excited, it is still what drives me. And thankfully, there’s always another story to cover.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.