Throughout my entire broadcast career I have liked to joke that I get paid to talk but really it’s true. At many, many levels it is a silly way to go about earning money. Of course there are many careers that, when broken down like that, can sound less-than-inspiring. Pitchers and quarterbacks get paid to throw a ball. Actors get paid to play make believe. Critics, perhaps the worst, get paid to do what others do for fun, and then tell them whether or not it was fun. I don’t know about critics, but I certainly wouldn’t mind making the coin that major league athletes and A-list actors do. I probably do better in radio than independent ballplayers and those in the Poughkeepsie Community Players.
In either case, my skills as a broadcaster do very little for me in the real world. Take for instance my neighbor Mike. The guy owns his own heating and plumbing company (Bennett Heating & Plumbing, call 857-266-6655) and, aside from that, can apparently fix anything. He’s saved any of number of things in our house and I am indebted. But what can I offer him? I’ll talk real nice for him? I suppose if his company ever starts radio advertising I can be of assistance but that’s nothing compared to getting our heat working when it’s 13 degrees outside, is it?
So imagine how good it feels those very, very rare times when I have a skill that someone needs and needs quickly.
This came up for me last week. Now, it should be noted that even when someone needs my help like this, it still isn’t actually to save anything other than the dreaded “dead air.” I don’t expect I’ll ever happen upon a situation wherein, unless I speak, a bomb goes off or something. Not that I wouldn’t welcome the challenge, though.
What I was needed for last week was much less dramatic. Turns out my dear friends at the TD Garden and Disney On Ice needed an accomplished radio celebrity to emcee an event at the Frog Pond on the Boston Common. When that guy broke his leg, though, they settled for me instead.
The job itself wasn’t all that difficult. All I had to do was show up and essentially be master of ceremonies for a skate-braiding contest. Wait! What? You’ve never heard of skate braiding? To be fair, neither had I. I, in fact, made up the term “skate braiding” that very day.
That’s always, in fact, been one of my strengths – the ability to make things up on the fly. It is a “talent” (I use it parenthetically so that you can decide for yourself one way or another) that I first discovered in high school. During my senior year I took part in an international forensics tournament held in Bolivia (I was living in Argentina in the time, so that’s not quite as dramatic as it may sound.) La Paz is on average, about 12,000 feet above sea level or, put another away, the city of Denver times two plus a little. That means the air is very thin. Simply walking up a flight of stairs often proved to be so difficult for those of us who had travelled from Buenos Aires (about 40 feet above sea level) it required a rest to recover.
It was the perfect place to hold a public speaking event, right?
I participated in two events: one a prepared speech and another called “spontaneous speaking.” I washed out of the first event probably before I had gotten more than two or three sentences into a wildly inflammatory and surely quite immature speech on abortion. But I advanced in the one that I entered merely because I needed to participate in more than one event.
The format for spontaneous speaking was simple. You’d walk up to the front of the room and pick an envelope. Inside each was a single word. You’d have one minute to think followed by a three-minute speech on your word (without coming right out and saying what it was.)
While all early and most final events were held in classrooms, the final for spontaneous speaking was held at the closing ceremonies in front of literally everyone. I had gone toe-to-toe with this one guy who was flawless but he stumbled during the final and in nice underdog fashion, my final speech just nipped his and I won a gold medal.
Say what you will about a high point in life coming when you’re seventeen, but it was pretty cool. I’m sure I have that gloriously cheap medal someplace and would be happy to show it to you sometime. I’m also sure there are high school athletes far and wide who peaked at about the same point in life that I made my silly speech about “BUG”, but I at least hope I’ve done more since.
This, though, is more or less the same skill that I have been using in radio for the last fifteen years or so (only now we call it “ad lib”) and the one that would be on display down at the Frog Pond. Only, rather than sixty seconds to think about it, I had a whole forty-eight hours to ruminate on skate braiding. I also may or may not have had the makings of a rough script to guide me.
I showed up at the ice about a half hour before the big event to find a teeming crowd of at least fifteen people waiting in breathless anticipation for what was to come. Truth be told, there was a nice enough crowd and it did grow slowly as we got closer to the big event.
It was a competition after all and the participants were of the “local media celebrity” type (verbiage taken directly from the press release.) While they could have made a case that the man whose place I was taking would be classified as such, it is hard to say that I fit the bill.
As I said to my brother, my introduction could have read: “and now here’s Marshall Hook – his name may ring the vaguest of bells somewhere deep in your brain, but probably not. He used to be on television! Well, his voice was anyway…” In actuality, I just started talking and never bothered to tell the audience who I was.
Certainly everyone who was there to watch knew the lovely ladies who were competing: Sue Brady, traffic reporter and all around great sidekick on Mix 104.1; Jackie Bruno, NECN reporter and former Miss Massachusetts, and Dylan Dreyer morning meteorologist on my favorite television station, WHDH-TV. I posed with them in one picture that made for a wonderful game of “which one of these things does not belong?”
The event was to promote Disney On Ice’s upcoming Dare To Dream show and it was simple enough. Each of the competitors would take to the ice, on skates, and with the help of two DOI skaters, make a long braid, a la Rapunzel, out of yellow ribbons. To accomplish this, the three skaters would have to weave themselves around each other to make the braid and, before two minutes was up, tie a pretty purple bow at the end.
My job, in short, was to introduce the event, much in the same way I did just then, and then narrate the action as it went down. As it turned out, it was a bit harder to talk up people weaving around on ice, but this is where my high school training came in handy. It was as though I opened up an envelope that said “SKATE BRAIDING” three times in a row.
After it was done, it became my job to walk out on the ice and, with the help of the two Disney folks, decide who the winner was going to be. Shockingly, not that this was on my script from two days before, it was a three-way tie and all the contestants received their 100 tickets to their charity of choice. Sue was playing for The Special Olympics; Jackie was there for The Italian Home for Children; Dylan won her tickets for The Jimmy Fund.
Finally, the event concluded with a professional performance by Rapunzel and Flynn Rider of the Disney film Tangled.
With that, my job, such as it was, had been completed. The women from the TD Garden were extremely complimentary and I left feeling pretty good. I suppose, as I said earlier, talking is a pretty silly way to make a living but it can be done. The reason, I surmise, is that not everyone can do it. Even fewer people can walk a tightrope, swallow a sword, or, I don’t know, ride a motorcycle around in those big metal Thunderdome balls (I’ve perhaps been to the circus semi-recently.) For anything that few people can do but people want done, there is a calling. Mine is talking and, frankly, those who know me understand it is something for which I am well suited.
(If you’re interested in checking out this year’s Disney On Ice: Dare To Dream at the TD Garden from February 17th through the 26th, tickets are still available here)