Talk Back Horror
Friday, October 8 2010
There are very few things that would compel me to wake up before 6am. But when I was presented with the opportunity to further my career ambitions by accepting an internship at a popular talkback radio station, the thought of awaking at 4am seemed somewhat more palatable.
Last time I had woken up at an ungodly hour, I was spurred by the promise of pancakes for breakfast, followed by a fun-filled trip to Luna Park. I should have known that the prospect of spending an entire day braving spine tingling rides, and consuming enough fairy floss to make Elvis Presley’s diet of fried peanut butter sandwiches seem nutritious was too good to be true. I was horrified when my mum’s Volvo took a sharp turn in the direction of the dentist. But I retained a sliver of hope that this time my early morning waking might reap some benefits. I thought that this time things would be different.
I was wrong.
Bright eyed, double-espresso fuelled and eager to impress, I strolled into the foyer of the radio studio at 5.55am; five minutes early. I took a seat in the lobby and began reading the paper, inconspicuously watching the men and women power-walking uncomfortably in their stiff suits, carting jumbo latte’s with their i-Phones glued to their ear. Before long the show’s producer strode out of the elevator and stretched out his hand toward me, introducing himself as Justin. His presence was warm and inviting, giving me false hope that his colleagues would be the same. I tried in vain to keep up with Justin’s fast walking pace, and attempted to conceal my anguish after stubbing my toe on the corner of one of the sharp office desks.
Nobody seemed to notice my intrusion, however. Like fearful sweatshop workers on minimum wage, they kept their heads down, engrossed in their work, their haggard appearance a mark of the stress of the industry. When we finally reached the office of the host himself, I could see why sagging bags framed their blood-shot eyes. Joel Schnitzel had an imposing presence like none I had ever encountered. Any feelings of excitement I had were immediately terminated. As Justin introduced me, I stretched out my hand, expecting the perfunctory handshake to follow. It did not. In return, Joel looked me up and down and without even a nod of acknowledgement he asked Justin to retrieve him his annotated copy of The Age.
Here, I may as well have been wallpaper. If my position of power could correlate to the food chain, I would be on par with plankton.
After two and a half hours sitting across from Justin’s desk reading every tabloid and broadsheet newspaper, careful not to make too much noise when I breathed lest I be shot by Joel, I was invited into the studio and put in charge of answering the talkback hotline.
If anyone’s ever listened to a talkback program, they’d know that the participants fall in one of three categories: lonely truckies, outraged pensioners and ignorant racists. With fingers as nimble as a concert pianist, I took charge of all nine phone lines. I listened to little old Barbara, through choking sobs, retell the story of how her Shetland pony had contracted a terrible toothache; I assured Jim, against all his better reasoning, that the debauchery of the Kardashians is not the model upon which all teenagers base their behaviour; I listened for ten minutes as Nancy recited every ‘Vicar of Dibley’ quote that her regressing mind could remember, and reminded John that the extermination of the Jews in WWII was globally denounced and that Jews in Australia are not responsible for the rising cost of living.
I sifted through these callers to find the odd gem who would be suitable to put on air. But having nine people talking in your ear at once, with every third caller asking you for the ‘aut-O-barn’ number, which is similar to the studio hotline, impedes on your ability to think clearly. Without attentively listening to Bill, I let him go on air. Within seconds, he had worked his way through every expletive known to man and had denigrated every ethnic minority residing in Victoria. At long last, Joel spoke to me: “NEVER LET IDIOTS LIKE THAT ON AIR AGAIN, TRAINEE”.
Tail between my legs, I showed myself out of the studio at the conclusion of the show. Nobody but Justin said goodbye. He invited me to come back the next week, adding that he liked the way I handled the pressure. I accepted, knowing that although internships present insurmountable challenges, the only way to get to the top is to start from the bottom.F