Cross-training in Reno’s media

One of life’s surprises as you get older is how much there is to know about things you didn’t think there was much to know about.

Twenty-five years ago, I could pontificate with certainty on almost any topic. Writing a column encourages that: You get paid for running your mouth—you must be smart.

Step outside your sphere of competence, though, and you’re just another one of the people Kurt Vonnegut referenced when he said, “The trouble with dumb bastards is that they’re so dumb, they don’t realize there’s such a thing as being smart.”

As a lightweight newspaper guy, I was perfectly cast. I rarely covered hard news, and fine with me: Serious journalism is work. I preferred to saunter in at mid-morning, dash off a few words on some topic of insufficient importance to cause trouble, then head for the gym.

For years, I managed to do that. Along the way, I developed a measure of scorn for two groups: Television news people, whom I figured only had to be sharp for 45 seconds at a time, and everybody connected with radio, for the same reason, plus they didn’t have to dress up.

Since my print journalism career was cut short in mid-stagnation, though, I’ve had a shot at both those jobs, and I have one comment:

Sorry, guys.

A few months ago, Brent Boynton at KOLO TV asked if I wanted to do “occasional commentary” on Channel 8. I’m well stocked with opinions, so why not? I taped three or four segments, not all of them awful, then KOLO had a budget crisis and the concept went away.

That’s OK—I wasn’t very good, and it wasn’t enough fun to justify the work. What impressed me, though, was the professionalism of the KOLO news staff under pressure. At a newspaper, if you don’t know what you want to say, you can take five minutes to gather your thoughts, get some coffee, whatever. On television, the cameras roll when they roll. You roll with them, or you’ll be exploring opportunities in the booming fast-food industry. Most TV news operations aren’t doing the job they should, but I’m in awe of the jobs they do, and wearing neckties besides.

About the time KOLO cast me off, I got a call from Dan Fritz, program director at Reno radio station KBZZ. They were planning changes, and that would leave a gap between 10 a.m. and noon. Would I be interested?

For me, this was like NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs asking if I’d like to fill in as a driver: Hell, yeah. But if I could, I probably already would be. Despite the myth rammed down our throats by coaches, success isn’t a matter of who wants it most, but of who has talent. There’s no evidence that’s me.

Still, who could say no to his own radio show? I started, timidly, on March 24, and so far it’s been a non-catastrophe. Producer Dave Encore has kept me out of trouble, at some risk to his own career, and listeners have been tolerant.

More than anything, though, I’ve seen that radio, like TV and being president, is harder than it looks. The more natural and effortless (two words not yet applied to me) a show sounds, the more certain you can be that the host sweated over it. Easy patter is hard work.

Which, to be honest, isn’t what I was looking for, plus I haven’t seen any groupies yet. But who knows what the future holds? Check us out (if the editor will allow a shameless plug): 10 a.m. to noon on the Buzz, 1270 AM.