Why am I (ir)rationally excited about this new tee shirt?
I’d been waiting months. It finally arrived on Saturday. I was so giddy that I made a video about it.
I received the shirt for making a donation to KALX, the campus radio station of my alma mater. It’s the radio station’s 60th anniversary, and I worked there as a news reporter, anchor, engineer, and producer 33 years ago, in 1989. I haven’t been on the radio since (except the occasional interview).
Yes, there’s proof of my brief career in journalism
For three decades, through nine moves, I carted around a bunch of cassette tapes labeled “KALX sound check.” Besides photographs and my diploma, there aren’t many things I’ve kept for 33 years. Even my marriage lasted just 31 (but the friendship with my ex will last forever).
It’s not that the news in 1989, or even the newscasts themselves, are worth keeping. (You can listen for yourself if you want to hear 21-year-old Peter report on People’s Park riots, UC admissions policy, and Dan Quayle getting an award from comedians.)
It’s that my year working at KALX has held a lasting and profound meaning for me, and it continues to teach me new lessons as I get older.
The starting point of many through-lines
The year at KALX was both formative and indicative of how my life would go. I learned a ton, including the best lesson in writing and leadership I got in college: The producer on my first ever report told me I’d done a fantastic job, then grabbed a red pen and spent about 60 seconds cutting my 150 word story down to 70 words, making it ten times better. Oh how I wish I had that piece of paper today. I would frame it and hang it within sight of my keyboard.
I didn’t make any life-long friends—we all lost touch after school—though I would love to spend an evening with the crew in the picture below, to hear how they’ve all been and where they ended up. (I remember only one name, sadly.)
What that experience represents for me is, it turns out, who I want to be. Specifically:
- Stretching my comfort zone
My major was Electrical Engineering, and I’d taken one summer class in journalism. Public performance was about as far outside my comfort zone as anything could be at that time. Just walking into the radio station was a stretch.
- Focused on stories
I am most interested in the how and why of people. We learn about each other through our stories. Stories bring data to life. Stories connect us through empathy and shared experience. Stories are how we chronicle our existence.
- Agile and resilient
Live radio news is as up-to-the-minute as it gets. It’s exciting to have a producer shove a scrawled revision into your hands as you’re reading live on air. Whether we were adding new stories or killing them, we always had one eye on the red hand sweeping around the clock ticking away the seconds, because the broadcast started on time and ended on time, no matter what we thought about it. And there’s no way to edit the live broadcast, so you just have to keep going.
- Trusting in my teammates
As a producer, I assigned stories and roles. As an anchor, I relied on my writers to give me readable copy. As a reporter, I researched and wrote and queued up my interviews. As an engineer, I ran the mics and phone lines. There was no time to nitpick anyone else’s work. I think KALX News did more to shape my leadership style than I realized until now.
- Curious and open minded
One election night, I reported live from the campaign center of a local Berkeley candidate. Another time I interviewed homeless protesters in People’s Park. When you’re a reporter, your job is to ask questions and report on what’s happening. I prefer to approach life with an attitude of “why are these people doing this thing” instead of “these people should or should not be doing this thing.” As the saying goes, I’d rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.
It’s not just a new tee shirt, it’s kind of an identity
The radio station is no longer in the same building I knew. Literally no one at KALX today would have any idea who I am, and 99% of them would probably think “old nerd” if they saw me. Still, I feel profoundly connected to the radio station. It feels to me the same way that I hear people talk about their experience in theater as a kid. Even if they haven’t been on stage in 30 years, it’s still part of their fundamental identity in many ways, for many reasons.
And that is why I am so (ir)rationally excited about this tee shirt, which I am wearing as I type this blog post.
Our through-lines get exposed over time
The more experiences we have, the more our personalities, world views, and character develop. We start off thinking our lives will go according to a certain script, but most of us change the script several times over the years. The longer we live, the more we see our career and life through-lines emerging from our numerous stories. Things that may seem entirely unrelated on the surface may actually be distinct episodes of a very coherent and clear arc.
Thirty-three years after my year in radio news, I am now able to see how that experience was a predictor of many of my life’s through-lines. At the same time, I can also begin to see how that experience shaped me, and continues to shape me as I gain more awareness and control of who and what I want to become.
Lessons that are deferred by decades
We hear a lot about “lifelong learning” these days. Everyone knows that being a “lifelong learner” is a desirable feature of a woke person. But not many people talk about learning from things we did decades ago, and which only now we are wise enough to take lessons from. I think that’s one thing that age and perspective can bring to us, if we are open to it. The idea of continuing to learn from our past experiences, mistakes, missteps, and successes.
Even decades later.
Perhaps especially decades later.
What are your life through-lines?
I would honestly love to hear your stories, from you, about the things that happened early in your life that continue to teach you and reveal you today. Drop me an email at email@example.com or DM me on LinkedIn or wherever, or leave a comment on this post. And please remember, if I ever ask you “what’s new?”, I actually would love to hear your own personal newscast for the day.
The new tee shirt video, as promised
* Not sure it was this particular teacher, actually.