It was 1976, my first job as a disk jockey and I was doing my gig live at the Montana State Fair. It was hard enough to sit in a dark room and chit chat with invisible strangers while playing them a little night music and the inevitable 12 minutes of commercials an hour. But take that show into the light of day and the whole dynamic changes; I am not a partyboy. Hell, I never learned to dance because I thought people were looking at me; being in a crowded room as the spotlighted entertainer wasn't what I'd signed on for.
really need to worry, the station I worked for was in fourth place of
four, and one of those four wasn't even a commercial radio station but a
hobby/vanity transmitter in some egomaniacs basement. How he got himself
into the "arbitron" ratings book when he was generally only on the air a
few hours a day is beyond me, but he kicked our demographically challenged ass. In any case,
we were certainly not overwhelmed with fans that clamored for our
autographs; it was pretty quiet around our booth.
I'd just been
moved from overnights to afternoon drive time, and my popularity was
just beginning. It was funny to look into the small crowd that
occasionally gathered and wonder whether any of them had actually
listened to me; if they were only here now because of the spectacle of a
radio station's appearance at "the fair". And I wondered whether this
middle aged woman or that was one of the few truck driver's wives who
had taken a sudden interest in calling me once I'd changed time slots;
my "groupies" as it were, lonely women who thought I was their personal
voice of reason and tranquility.
For seven days I did my time in
the wooden booth within the exposition pole barn, a monkey in a cage
more or less; waving and grinning, taking requests and being as charming
and clever as God had intended when he made me a lover and not a
And then I got the fan from hell;
A wiry fellow
half my size who seemed to appear with every small group that passed in
front of me for days on end. A sort of "Ernest goes to the Fair" lookin'
kinda guy, he wore the same clothes each day and just shuffled along
behind people as if he were a pet on some invisible leash, always
slowing as he got to within eye contact range, locking onto mine and
then muttering to himself as he sauntered from right to left and then
out of view. And yet I considered him a distraction for the most part, a
loony for sure, but a harmless entertainment for a bored and mildly
Finally on the last day of the fair he stopped and
stared at me as I was working the news, leaning up against the opposite
corrugated steel wall and rubbing his chin as if a theologian gathering
his far too many thoughts with the help of far too many extra voices.
breaking his blinkless glare, he slowly walked to our brochure table
where a station clerical worker would normally glad hand and chit chat
with the adoring throng; but today she'd taken sick and I was left to my
own devices, forced to answer questions and pass out free junk between
my little witticisms that were 3:36 minutes apart on average.
began by making a few requests, no doubt just the hits of the moment as I
don't recall the titles. But then he began to ask me pointed personal
questions; what my wife's name was, what part of the city I lived
in...and on for what must have been 20 minutes.
It was a slow
night, near dinner hour and Heart was the featured rock group at the
sold out grandstand, so this guy and I were near enough alone that I
couldn't shake him off. I tried to be as tactful as I could in refusing
to answer his questions, but he became more and more upset anyway. Once
he'd moved into discussing politics and Vietnam policy he was damn near
frothing at the mouth and I was actually beginning to get nervous.
did my normal stand up and stretch to show my size and fake my
Herculean strength thing, but that only agitated the guy. A few times
he actually lifted his leg as if a dog having a chat with a fire
hydrant, but I was sure he was testing the height of our booth's counter
to see what it would take to leap it. And then my guess came tolife as he jumped onto the counter and began to walk toward my
He'd forgotten why I was where I was...I was on the
fucking radio d00d! (Actually I'm a little surprised it occurred to me
so quickly lol, his action stunned me a little) Immediately I switched
on my mike and started loudly making clear to all within my few thousand
square mile listening area that I had a little problem with a midget
wrestler and if a copper didn't show up at the Karr/Kopr booth at the
Montana State Fair within a few minutes they would need to drag a dead
carcass from the exposition building as one of us would certainly perish
Of course I was amplified within the booth itself much
less across most of big sky country, he heard my verbose call for
assistance and set off running, leaping over the counter like a
frustrated sheep in an insomniacs dream.
I slapped on Gordon
Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy"; the bathroom song as we called
it because it was over seven minutes in length and the only format approved tune that would give you time enough to deal with your humanity in a
dignified way. I ran to the counter and jumped it, so as to keep my eye
on the little twerp that I might point him out to the gendarmes that
would surely be arriving any second.
None did, everyone thought I
was bored and joking, or maybe had inadvertently left my mic on while
babbling to someone. Not only did no one show up to save me, but no one
even called to check my bluff. I'd only felt that alone one other time,
and that was in my one true violent nightmare. Who knows what might have
happened if he'd ignored my raving.
No matter; after 7 minutes and a few seconds of private eying I was back behind the counter, thanking Mr. Lightfoot for the opportunity to stretch my legs, and moving on to another piece of pop music.
Less than an hour later
there was a huge commotion in the building, maybe 50 yards from where I
was finishing up my shift and packing the equipment for the trip home.
There was a scream and then shouting, a scuffle and a gun went off, and
then all was silent again save my own chatter about what mother nature
would bring the city of Great Falls through the following week and the
rest of the top of the hour crapola.
I was told the guy
in question tackled a random woman as she was eating her popcorn and lazily browsing
the booths in the exposition building. He'd knocked her to the floor
and as she tried to crawl away, he'd removed her slip on pumps and
tossed them aside. Where he found the hammer I'm not sure, but one hit
was all the woman needed to understand that her bare feet were his
target and that this wasn't funny anymore. She flew from him like a
mouse in the shadow of a hawk, and as he stood for the chase a half
dozen bystanders wrestled him to the ground. He'd pulled the gun in self
defense he told officers later, he wasn't trying to hurt anyone when he
pulled the trigger, just warding off the demons.
I suppose I
could have let him come, had our tussle and hopefully been the victor,
and then held him for the police. It might have saved a grievous injury
to that poor woman and lord knows I know what foot pain is. I can
only guess things happen for a reason, and it was not my day to take a
I love the fair though I don't go every year anymore. I
especially love seeing the animals in their dusty cages, minding their
own business as if the world around them is a safe and happy place. They
remind me of me many years ago, before I learned the truth and ruined
my outlook forever.