The Promise of Youth

Exactly 24 years ago today, at 6:10 pm, Friday, August 19, 1983, my life was about to be enriched considerably. I had just sat down in the still-warm chair that Dick Brehm had vacated seconds after he had finished reading the 6pm news and hit “play” on a 60-second cart (the pre-recorded ad cartridges at that time were the same size as 8-track tapes). That gave me a little less than one minute to don the headphones, adjust the chair’s height, adjust the mic (correct height, slightly off-axis to avoid sibilance), cue my records on the turntables (yep, this was still the day of long-playing phonograph records), and flip the notebook on the copydesk to the PSAs (public service announcements) that I was about to read next as I started my very first shift as an announcer on KVOD-FM, Denver’s commercial classical music radio station.

The commercial ended, I turned down the cart “pot”, turned up the mic “pot”, and then…

And then, in a flash, I realized that the microphone inches in front of my mouth was connected to thousands of ears all over Denver, and I…well, I suddenly, inexplicably forgot how to breathe. I tried to take in the air my lungs would require to push back over my vocal cords to make them vibrate, to make some sort of sound, any sort of sound, but I found that I could not inhale.

Luckily I did not panic, and was able to recall what Dick had told me weeks before, as I prepared for this day: “We’re famous for our silences. If you get in trouble, just turn down the mic.” What I had not anticipated was that I would get into trouble exactly two seconds into my radio career, but here I was. I turned down the mic. Silence.

With the mic not “live”, I found that I could take a deep breath, so I took two, just to be safe, and I turned the mic back up. I had no more jitters for the rest of my radio career, and found that I was surprisingly relaxed; in fact, I really enjoyed “talkin’ to the folks”, as we called it, at KVOD, and was somewhat of a natural on radio (or so I was told – I really had no perspective). My last radio shift at KVOD was in the summer of 1986, when I left Denver to study piano in London (another story).

Last night, at my dear friends Frank & Julie’s evening pool party at the Lowry Swim Club, I was delighted to bump, 21 years later, into Theresa Schiavone, of KVOD and later, KCFR. We were two of the few guests who actually took advantage of the 33-meter pool.

If you live in the Greater Denver Area, or anywhere else that KCFR has broadcast over the past 20 years, and you’ve listened to Colorado Public Radio, you know Theresa’s voice – she’s a reporter, a broadcast journalist. By the time she joined KVOD in 1985 I had my own regular slot on Sundays, and I did various odd jobs around the station to supplement my student’s income. One of our advertisers, Europtics, wanted to sponsor weekly arts reviews: dance, theater, exhibits, and Theresa selected me(!) to handle the music reviews.

So there I was, all of 22, reviewing the Denver Symphony Orchestra, the Denver Chamber Orchestra, visiting soloists, quartets, basically anything I wanted to go hear. All I had to do was call up the venue, announce who I was, what I wanted to review, and voilà! I’d have two of the best seats in the house waiting for me at Will Call – free! The tricky part was creating the critique, but that’s another story.

What I could not grasp was why Theresa, an otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable person, had entrusted such a platform to me.

I got an inkling last night, when I saw myself in her eyes as she introduced me to her friends at the party. She was, first of all, clearly delighted to see me, which made me glow. After all, I was such a small part of her radio career that I wouldn’t have blamed her having trouble remembering who I was. I’d been hearing her voice on the radio for years, and so she was somehow a part of my consciousness; I hadn’t been a part of hers for, well, a very long time.

It shouldn’t have surprised me how young she remembered me, amazed at my beard, my height (I haven’t grown), a few gray hairs. What hit me with full force was how she remembered me: the energy, the life, the spunk, the promise. “I always knew you’d go places,” she said.

Pretty heady stuff for a middle-aged guy like me. The elixir of life; youth redux. I really liked the kid I was in her eyes, and in a burst of nostalgia for my young self I wanted to make Theresa a part of my life again: we exchanged emails, phone numbers, and went off into the night with our respective partners.

I don’t recall ever doing anything socially with Theresa outside work; we lived very different lives then, as we do now. I’m not sure I’m going to follow up with Theresa, not because I don’t think she’s a really cool human being. It’s just that I don’t want to burst the rainbow-tinted soap bubble clouding her vision. I think I’d like to remain the 22-year-old youth with promise, instead of the 44-year-old salaryman that I have become.