The Power of a Compliment
By Peter L DeHaan
the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took
on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student.
During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at
school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV
station. I arrived to find out it would be a group
interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one
person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.
was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from
the previous decade. Despite the powerful
magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at
everything. Stan led us candidates to an open
classroom and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern.
Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with
me going last. With my classmates embellishing many
of their answers, I struggled with how to honestly present myself as
the desirable candidate. After a while, the
classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC
License.” “This position doesn’t require an
FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second
Class FCC License,” the second one boasted. Then
all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that
my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant?
Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game
I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I
informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License. Of
course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned.
Everyone was uncomfortable on this whole exchange but as the
last one to speak, I felt it more acutely.
to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When
would you need us to start?” I inquired.
“As soon as possible,” was Stan’s reply. “I
can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.
“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.
“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.
“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow
morning.” I was hired!
first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As
he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was
lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production
work in between. However, he was more interested in
regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me.
It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an
out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect
his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training
were completed, Stan would be gone.
my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel and I did the first
live segment. It was a 30-second weather report.
I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it
off when he was done. There was a mike check
beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I
did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment.
Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!
half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There
were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings
for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live
announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment was running
long or there was time to fill.
the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late.
He reviewed expectations of the first two segments and I did
them solo. He called later, before the third, and
we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show.
I did the third segment by myself. Then Stan
called to say that he had been watching and I had done fine.
Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!”
I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in,
but let’s talk through it just in case.” I
never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.
sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon
show, knowing that any miscue would be heard by thousands.
By the time the show concluded, I was physically and mentally
exhausted. This was a pattern that would repeat
itself before each noon show for the next several months. If
only I had gotten more training to boost my confidence.
training was fine for production work. Time was not
an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If
I hadn’t been trained on something, the director would instruct me.
The live shows were a different story. It
was tense and nerve-racking; perfection was expected and errors were
not tolerated. This produced an incredible amount
of pressure and anxiety.
stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a
result of the directors; I worked with three. My
favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my
job and was empathic and understanding. Unfortunately,
I seldom worked with him. The second director was
aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or
how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work
with him too much, either. Most of my interaction
was with a third director. During live broadcasts,
he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled
– a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder.
And everything was laced with expletives. Management
via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get
through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was
unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even more
most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day
caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my time
there would be short, as graduation was nearing. I
grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice. Ironically,
the day after I tenured my resignation, the volatile director inquired,
“You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”
haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. Besides,
I just gave my two week’s notice.”
he exploded. He slammed some papers on the table.
“I can’t believe it,” his face turned red and with a
curse, threw the papers on the floor. “We finally
get someone good and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”
was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned.
“I’m not good.”
the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”
about Stan?” I asked.
was an idiot. He was always making mistakes.
We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it
up. You did better your first week than he ever
I make mistakes everyday, too”
mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few
viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers
and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I
am a good!
surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day.
The nerves were gone, I made no “mistakes,” I wasn’t
yelled at and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My
job was fun.
my second to last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer.
She was thinking about taking over my shift. She
wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately,
that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered.
There was a live band, with each person and instrument
separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I
would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio
console. Although it was stressful, it was a good
stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I
performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my
critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned
back with the knowledge of a job well done. My protégé
shook her head. “I could never to that,” she
sighed and left the room.
last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As
such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How
might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that
I was doing a good job?
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