"Good morning, what's your name, and where are you calling from?"
And that's how it went, every Friday morning for years. Always on Friday, always in the 4 AM hour.
I was producing the overnight talk show. Over the years, I learned to recognize certain voices.
Charlie from Brooklyn. Wolfie. Tina from the South Shore. And Generosa, with her distinctive Boston accent.
Generosa's voice was always upbeat, no small trick at that ungodly hour.
We always chatted for a couple of minutes before I lined up the call to go on-air. She always asked how I was, how the family was; nothing earth-shattering, but after a long night (or morning, if you're a purist) of doing what can get to be a fairly mundane routine of answering calls, making sure the commercials all run - on time - checking on the transmitter and the lights that warn planes that a tower of cold, hard steel could be in their flight path, it was nice to hear a pleasant voice.
I was late to the show as far as Generosa is concerned. She'd been calling in for years before I started that job, and would do so for years after I moved on to working a different position during daylight hours.
I first met her at a station event. Much of the time, you feel the voice doesn't match the person you see in front of you. You get a picture in your head, and that picture can be way off. Not so with her.
I remember there was this one caller, who shall remain nameless, who came on like a vixen. From her breathy voice and suggestive, flirtatious conversation, she put a picture in my head of someone who must be a cross between a runway model and a soft porn star.
I saw her at a later event for the station. Let's just say I'm never afraid to admit when I'm wrong.
Generosa was almost exactly as I imagined, an older woman with a twinkle in her eye and a non-stop smile beaming from a face that had seen a lot over the years.
I came to learn during my tenure on the overnight shift that some of the listeners formed a community of their own. They correspond, they call one another, get together every so often.
This station reached halfway across the country at night. The station had what was known as a clear channel, which meant that no other station could broadcast on that frequency and interfere with our signal.
That was one reason why someone in Pennsylvania or New Jersey or parts of Canada could all listen to us in the middle of the night. This was before satellite radio and the widespread proliferation of cable and satellite tv.
It also apparently added to the size of the group that kibitzed "off air."
Those whose common bond was a talk show or a radio station probably had different reasons for developing those relationships. Overnights can be a lonely time for those who don't sleep well, and a local program can be a lifeline in the darkness. Perhaps that's where some of it started.
I do know that Generosa was a valued part of that family.
She passed away early this week. She had just turned 100 a few months ago.
She was one of many for whom the station mattered. She took a keen interest in every facet of it, but particularly the overnights.
I remember the last time I spoke with her. The overnight host who'd succeeded the man I worked with had been let go, and I got word that he was coming back! I know how upset Generosa (and others) had been with the change. Their friend, that familiar voice in the night was gone. It spurred a grassroots effort that proved successful.
When I got the word, I looked up Generosa's number and called to tell her the news.
Never mind that I was late to that party, too. I'd just found out, but she already knew! Someday we'll find the mole in our operation. But I digress.
We hadn't talked in years, but it was as though it was a Friday morning all over again. We chatted for a bit, and then she paused.
Generosa? You ok?
Michael, she answered, this is such a wonderful day! I heard a sniffle, and I had to get right off the phone or I was going to lose it too.
I was sad to hear of her passing. It wasn't a total shock, but to me, Generosa was a big part of what I still consider the best part of radio. Live and local, especially in the middle of the night. Whether it's an impetus for sparking in-person contact between listeners, or it's just a steady voice in the background, letting you know you're not alone.
I know, you may think I'm romanticizing radio a bit. I've been thinking as I write this of the movie American Graffiti. Seek it out if you've never watched it.
UPDATE: It's Monday morning, November 12th. Morgan White, Jr. is hosting the overnight show this morning. Generosa's daughter, Fran, is on the line, and caller after caller is getting the chance to express condolences, remembering her.
Godspeed, Generosa, and I hope you find a good station up there.
Keep God in your heart, and at arm's length from government.
I posted that as my Facebook status recently.
A relationship with God should be a personal one, if you have one at all. There are those, however, who think that their religious understanding of God should be the way society as a whole should live.
You know who they are. They tell you that such-and-such is the way the world ought to be - because it's in the Bible.
Or the Koran.
Or the Torah.
Have we forgotten how many wars have been fought in the name of God? Make no mistake, those battles are not as much about prayer as they are about control. That's what organized religion is. A battle to control the faithful.
The idea of God has been used for centuries as a tool of control. For some, there's a comfort in religion, in the idea of God promising an eternal afterlife if you play by the rules. For many people, once they move into adulthood they leave that idea behind and try to make their own way. Many of those same people often return to God late in life, perhaps hoping to reserve a seat on the Glory Train at the end.
In this country (the US), I see organized religion as an attempt to circumvent government in some cases. Preachers of whatever religion that object to the law of the land (abortion is the easiest example) lecture the followers about living to God's word.
To me, it's shameful that politicians try to appeal to voters by saying how strong a believer they are. There's a certain moral code most people live by: they don't kill, they don't steal from others. People shouldn't wag their fingers at others because they think God is on their side. If a person has a strong faith, why proselytize? I think that person has the right to pray, to perform all the rituals of their faith. But that does not give them the right to legislate that faith to others.
I don't want to point fingers, but look at the clergy child sex abuse cases that have come to light in recent years. People of "faith," diddling children.
Lawmakers and advocates ought to support their arguments with facts, not point to a book that may or may not have been divinely inspired and say "That's the way it oughta be. It's right there in the written word!"
Keep your religion to yourself. Live a good life. Keep God and politics a country mile from one another.
Here in the US of A, we've been in the middle of a knock-down, scruff-of-the-neck, leap-off-the-top-turnbuckle presidential campaign. In less than two weeks from today, the election will be held, and within a week or so, President Obama or Former Governor Mitt Romney will be declared winner of the White House.
We'll see. Guarantee not much will change anytime soon. There are still going to be a shitload of problems that need addressing, both domestically and internationally. Details on those another time.
How much of an impact does the President have in people's every day lives? Not all that much, apparently. People spend more time debating who should be eliminated on a tv talent show that they do who should lead the lone remaining superpower.
It's nothing new. It's been this way forever. It's just that now people treat campaigns like soap operas, and they're not that far off. This campaign has been two shows: the freak show of the primaries, followed by the drama of the general election campaign.
The next campaign starts the day after someone is declared winner of this one. The next congressional elections are just two long years away.
I wish lawmakers would just take a year off from polls and campaign appearances and just do the jobs they're elected too.