Play a Song

For one glorious semester in 1993 I was co-host of Morning Madness on Clarksville’s Sound Alternative, the New Magic 91.7 (which was, of course, the campus radio station for APSU, but it sounds more impressive the other way). A guy named Martin shared hosting duties. Martin is from Sweden and had a  . . . different sort of humor. Most of the time, our differing styles created a fresh brand of humor that apparently appealed to a wide demographic. Of course, sometimes, our styles clashed, which still brought the funny.

The station was broadcast live and we were the first ones in for the 6-9 AM show. We arrived far earlier, and braved the darkness to prepare each morning. The beginning was a little rough as expected, but we found our groove after a month or so. At first we attempted to create a specific style, but slowly realized where our strengths were and how our personalities played off each other. We learned to embrace our oddities and idiosyncrasies.

It became a smooth operation. Martin read the news and I followed with sports. I did all the public service announcements and he introduced most of the music. We had a fairly free rein with what we played since we committed to five days a week. We usually got to debut new music and throw in whatever we wanted (I never forgave him for playing Abba’s Dancing Queen one morning).

We had a few rough spots of course. One morning I accidentally offended him with the following exchange. I had just done a “this day in history” thing about NASA missing the moon with an unmanned lander by several million miles. He started joking about the difference between metric and standard measurements causing the issue (years before that actually happened).

I joined his banter and after a little back and forth said, “Hey, wait a minute. Are you making fun of the American space program?” I let a little “anger” creep into my voice.

“Yeah, I guess I am,” he said.

“Then tell me, how many Swedish flags are currently on the moon?” I shot back, “Wait, I’ll tell you: none!

I thought the joke went well, but as soon as we were off mic, he yanked his headphones off and stormed from the room.  I chased after and discovered I had actually upset him. I thought it was just one of our bits, but he took it personally. Fortunately, this incident did not result in a Behind the Music type blow up and the show went on.

We eventually settled on a winning formula. I set up a joke, which he invariably destroyed with his borderline corny sense of humor. It worked well and helped form what became my signature line, “Play a song, Martin,” which I uttered at the end of most our jokes. It became a joke itself. I once actually had to repeat it to a customer on the phone where I worked in the mall before he would hang up (he recognized my voice when he called, which is probably the closet I’ll ever come to being well-known).

Our two senses of humor and divergent personalities created my greatest and worst moment on the air. I read a story about a group that petitioned the French government to eat the endangered Ortolan Bunting. The story was ripe fodder for ridicule. First of all, the tiny bird is drowned in brandy then cooked. Gourmets eat the whole thing, bones, beak, and all, in one bite while a napkin covers their head.

“They do this,” I explained, “to ‘preserve precious aromas.’ I think they’re just embarrassed about the whole thing.”

“Why?” Martin asked.

“Think about it,” I continued, “these guys want to pay a ridiculous amount of money to eat an endangered little bird that isn’t more than a bite. I think they just want to hide their faces.”

“Could be.”

“Also, you won’t believe this, but one animal rights activist is pretty upset about this.”

“No way!”

“Way! But I’m a little confused about his stance.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he says, and I quote, ‘Whatever happened to chicken?’ ”

“He didn’t.”

“He did. And what I want to know is: a chicken doesn’t have rights? Chicken get plucked and feathered and crammed into delicious buckets of delicious original recipe? Don;t they have rights? Shouldn’t we stand up for chicken?”

“Yeah.”

“And what about ‘dolphin-safe tuna?’ Why just dolphins? Shouldn’t we cry out for tuna-safe tuna? I’m for tuna rights! I’m tired of seeing these majestic creatures diced into little bitty cans with a cartoon spokes-fish.” I banged my hand on the desk with each point. “I say we stand for tuna rights! Tuna should live and swim. Who’s with me? STAND UP FOR THE TUNA!”

There was a short beat during which the audience could hear me catch my breath. It was a moment. A joke perfectly set up and delivered, the phone lit up with calls. Then MArtin opened his mouth.

“Maybe people will tuna in to us tomorrow morning.”

Silence.

Some more silence.

I stared at him during a last bit of silence.

“What?” he asked.

I though silently, I’m just wondering where I to the body. He killed my joke and my moment. Yeah, I know that’s the thing we did, but this was a moment. Still my thought seemed like something that should stay inside my head, safe from those listening.

“I’m just wondering where to hide the body,” I said.

“What body?” He seemed truly perplexed.

“Yours.”

“Mine? Why?”

“Play a song, Martin. Play a song.”

He did. The show and life rolled on. Whenever I think about that time, that is the first moment that comes to mind. I curse and thank him for it.

© Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Leighton Brown is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information, please see the Copyright page.
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About leighton

I could be considered a true Renaissance Man after having a long and storied (seriously, people actually tell stories about it) college experience and varied careers. I am also a shameless self-promoter (who did you think was writing this anyway?) who is prone to flights of fancy, an abundance of passion on any given subject, ,obsessive behavior, spontaneous storytelling (whether anyone listens or not), and making parenthetical references. I would also be thrilled if I heard someone use the word "raconteur" to describe me.
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