Wednesday, February 07, 2007

WLVB Looks For an Evening Announcer

And now for something a little lighter, placing composers in surreal plot situations like a Classical Music Radio Station that would be staffed by the composers themselves? Though WLVB is actually a country music station in Vermont, it seemed the logical place where the station manager would be a guy named Beethoven.

(Incidentally, any resemblance to characters in the story and my former colleagues at WITF 89.5 is purely accidental, and the fact they're looking for an evening announcer had no bearing that I was aware of at the time concerning WITF's former evening announcer.)

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The phone rang, the little blinking light barely catching his attention. He picked up the receiver and snapped, “Ja, Beethoven here,” and soon slammed it back down. “Another hang-up!”

He had gotten a letter the other day from somebody in Hollywood wanting to know if he could recommend someone to compose music for the studio’s next big hit, “American Pie VIII,” but he tossed it in the trash. “What do I know about music for dumplings and pies,” he muttered. He thought maybe it was them calling him, now. The last time he had tried writing for Hollywood, these idiots kept trying to change everything: “Keep it simple,” they told him, “don’t ramble.” Infuriating!

He returned to the e-mail he was almost ready to send his program director, Richard Wagner, about the latest ratings book. Things were not going well at WLVB lately, the classical music station where he had long been the station manager. But then, classical music on the radio was always a problem in this country. “People these days prefer American Idol,” he sniffed, “but then it wasn’t much different in Vienna, either.”

The morning guy, Bach, was always complaining about what it had been like battling the Philistines in Leipzig. Brahms, in between cigars, would say how much he loved a good Strauss waltz but now and then, something a little serious was good for the soul yet a lot of listeners kept complaining about all the old-fashioned music he was playing in the afternoon. “This is America in the 21st Century,” they’d grouse, but turning to Beethoven, he’d say “Have you heard any of this so-called music they’re writing today?” Beethoven just looked at him and Brahms went back to his cigar.

Beethoven sighed as he looked out the window of his office before he remembered it was only a photograph of a window looking out onto the Vienna Woods which he missed so much. He had gone against Wagner’s objections about bringing in a woman to host the weekend’s Old & New Age show, but Hildegard of Bingen had proven to be a wise choice on his part. If nothing else, her numbers were very good and she didn’t hang out at the station much except on Fridays for a little while.

Now Wagner was complaining about the guy they recently hired to host the opera program. Verdi certainly had his credentials, but he rarely ever did any German operas and how could you have an opera program without good German opera? “No wonder the ratings were in trouble,” he argued!

The problem, Wagner said, whatever he might have been hinting at in his obtuse e-mails about the Direction of Art and the Role of the Artist in Society, had nothing to do with ratings but with the purity of the message. “Spare me the philosophy, Herr Wagner,” Beethoven grumbled as he hit the Send key. Or thought he hit the Send key: it disappeared from his screen so fast, he was sure he must have hit the wrong key instead and deleted it.

Clara, his new secretary, brought in another cup of coffee for him. He just knew she was going to start in about hiring her husband Robert Schumann for that development position that always seemed to be open. The other day he noticed her and Brahms hanging around the coffee machine a little longer than necessary, like he needed that kind of trouble on his staff anyway. He found it difficult making small talk with her, asking about the kids and all. “Ja, ja, thank you,” waving his hand in her general direction, pretending to be lost in another article about the competition with satellite radio.

She put the afternoon mail on his desk, mostly applications for the evening position. Since Wagner had finally succeeded in switching Mendelssohn to the overnight spot, they needed someone in a hurry, but nobody was quite right. This guy Schubert was too quiet; Mahler was too loud. Tchaikovsky was just too depressing and Mozart, you could tell, was always going to be asking for time off because it would interfere with his social life. We could use somebody French, he thought, but Wagner was pushing for this friend of his named Bruckner. Paging through the latest edition of the classical radio trade journal, The Courant, Beethoven wondered if there was a composer out there like this Howard Stern: maybe that was what they needed, someone who could shake things up a bit – and play the violin, as well.

Bach had given up explaining he must be thinking of Isaac Stern. Brahms just chuckled into his beer.

At the last staff meeting, Bach thought maybe Handel would be a worthwhile candidate – at least his hair was neater than Stern’s. Brahms thought surely Johann Strauss – the younger one, that is, who had great hair – would get all the young listeners dancing.

Wagner just rolled his eyes. He knew all about the Music of the Future, and Johann Strauss, he assured them, was not it.

“What about Schoenberg, then,” Beethoven had asked, looking from one to the other. “Or maybe Stravinsky?” No one responded. He thought maybe they were all suddenly deaf.

That was when Mendelssohn, bleary-eyed from his late-night shift, suggested Berlioz. He’d met him in Rome and though he didn’t care for his music much, himself, it was certainly consistent with the personality and spoke directly to a younger generation: maybe that was what WLVB needed in the evening?

Bach sneered at him. “We need a drug bust? To hell with Berlioz,” waving his hand in disgust.

Ravel, one of the new guys in sales, slapped his fist down on the table, wincing at the sudden pain. “That’s it,” he shouted, “that’s exactly it! ‘To Hell with Berlioz,’ the new evening show at WLVB!”

“Hmmm,” Beethoven thought, looking over the scrap of paper Mendelssohn had passed his way, “I like it. Clara, give him a call and see if he’s available to come in for an interview, ja?”

She took the scrap of paper warily between her fingers as if it were crawling with cooties and left the room.

There had also been a letter asking about the possibility of an internship from a student named Juan Chrisostomo Arriaga, so Beethoven dutifully passed his resume around for their inspection. Some felt he was too young or too inexperienced, sounded too much like Mozart but Beethoven just glowered at them. “It’s an internship,” he grimaced. “Dummkopfs,” he muttered not quite under his breath.

They were also talking about some kind of gimmick that could help the next ratings book. Bach thought a marathon of great pianists playing his Goldberg Variations back to back would do the trick, but Wagner just started to snore.

“If you wanted a Marathon, I’ve already written the ultimate Marathon,” Wagner tossed out into the conversation but just thinking about it, Brahms began to snore.

Mendelssohn, who enjoyed cooking, was wondering about a take-off on “The Iron Chef” but with symphonists instead. Brahms was wary of the quality of anything that could be composed that quickly: “you couldn’t improvise a symphony,” he grumbled.

Wagner thought he could get Liszt to arrange another series of “Dueling Pianists” but Beethoven liked the idea of a grudge match between two soccer teams, pitting the Russian Five against the French Six. Ravel said it would be too expensive to pull off and wasn’t really suited to radio, for that matter. True, hadn’t they learned their lesson with “Celebrity Bowling with Mozart” which didn’t even last three weeks?

Beethoven sat at his desk, sipping his coffee when he saw the light blinking on the phone again. Once more, he picked it up with a sigh but as usual no one was there. “What good is all this technology if it doesn’t work, ja?” he stormed, slamming it down, then thought about writing another e-mail to his Immortal Beloved.

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Dr. Dick
© 2007

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