Saturday, July 28, 2007

I Am Urban Legend

I am proud to say that I was part of an urban legend.

The rules for an urban legend are 1) the story is passed down by a friend of a friend (sometimes referred to as FOAF) so the person telling the story did not witness it him or herself, 2) the story is more than likely not true, or only barely true even though it may involve real people, and 3) the story is either humorous or creepy.

I was working at a small television station as a night shift on-air switcher. The main part of my job was putting the TV shows and the commercials on the air, but another part of my job was answering the phone. Most of the crazy viewers liked to call at night.

I was having a bull session with some of my fellow workers when the subject of annoying callers came up. The station’s commercial editor was a funny guy named Don who came to Atlanta from Denver. Don told us a story about a switcher he heard about back in Denver named Joe.

“Joe reminded me of you, Mickey,” Don said. “He hated dealing with the crazy callers too. He had this one old lady calling him every night to complain about something or other. Joe finally got so mad, he said to the old lady, ‘If you don’t stop calling, I’m going to turn your TV off.’”

“Did that work?” I asked.

“Not right away,” Don said. “The old lady said, ‘You can’t turn my TV off.’ Joe said, ‘Oh yes, I can.’ Then Joe punched black on the air.’”

A switcher has a button on his control panel that puts black on the TV screen. It’s normally used for emergencies. If a station is only airing black, then it’s not making any money off of programs and commercials. Most switchers do their best to avoid going to black.

“The old lady freaked out,” Don said. “She started crying, ‘Please turn my TV back on.’ Joe said, ‘You promise to stop calling me?’ ‘Yes, I promise,’ said the old lady. So, Joe punched up the program that had been airing and he never heard from the old lady again.”

We all had a good laugh at Don’s story. Fast forward to seven years later. I have moved on from on-air switcher to promo writer/producer.

At the end of an edit session, the editor, his assistant, and I were sharing our best TV horror stories, when the editor told us about an on-air switcher who kept getting late night calls from an old lady. The editor told the exact same story as the one Don told me seven years earlier. I was waiting for the editor to finish so I could ask him I if he knew Joe the switcher from Denver and did Joe ever hear from the old lady again?

However, before I could say anything, the editor finished the story by saying, “Mickey, I can’t believe you did that to the old lady.”

That’s when I realized I had been part of an urban legend. The way the editor heard the story from a FOAF, I was the on-air switcher who punched black on the air. Well, I know I never did that, so I’m pretty sure the story never happened. Not that it matters. I was part of an urban legend. How cool is that?

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