A COLLECTION OF STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE AND LIFE EXPERIENCES
A COLLECTION OF STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE AND LIFE EXPERIENCES
It was a Monday in July when Morrie Trumble quit, telling his boss that he’d stay two more weeks. Then, bye.
As the sports director of a national radio network based in New York, he had a shift five nights a week in addition to leading Sam Rosen and Jack Russell, the two others on the staff.
Jack had been there only four months, and was hired after he was deemed the least bad in the field of about 200 candidates. Not one was really good. Yet, Jack would rise right away to number 2 on the staff when Morrie left.
They all worked at UPI Audio, a division of United Press International, the global news gathering company. That was back in 1979, when the radio network wasn’t well known, but was big –- affiliated with about 1,000 stations. Only a few of those in the 50 top broadcast markets actually used reports done by Morrie Trumble, Sam Rosen and Jack Russell. But the smaller the market was, the bigger those three men were.
So the prospect of losing Morrie and finding someone to take his place put his boss, Stan Sabik, under pressure.
Making it even worse was the timing. Morrie chose to quit on the Monday that was two days before the Wednesday which, in 1979, was the Fourth of July. Holiday celebrations meant nobody, but nobody, would be in an office almost anywhere in the United States of America for at least the next few days.
And in those times, when the 3-day weekend was just becoming acceptable, this was an excuse for a 4-day weekend. Or a 5-day weekend. Or, hell, just take the whole week OFF.
That meant whoever would begin doing Morrie’s job on Monday the 16th of July, well, he could not currently have a job. Because if he did, he’d have to quit and give two weeks notice.
And even if Stan Sabik, Morrie’s boss, figured out who to hire in the next hour and could get approval from his own boss, Frank Sciortino, there was literally no way a new guy could start on the 16th -– he’d have to get his boss’s approval and didn’t know where his boss was because his boss took like an 8-day weekend.
So Stan Sabik was in a jam. Looking at a new guy starting no sooner than the TWENTY-THIRD. Or, as he realized with a shudder, what if the new guy had to move to New York from somewhere further away than, say, Albany or New Jersey.
That’s when Morrie’s boss, or EX-boss, made a decision.
“I’ll just hire that kid,” Stan Sabik said to himself. “I don’t know HOW I’ll convince Sciortino to take a kid with absolutely no full time professional experience, but I’ll figure it out…”
Stan, the bureau chief, was thinking about Sciortino, the general manager, who didn’t really like anyone much younger than he was, which is why the youngest person in the New York headquarters was 33 and Sciortino didn’t really trust her and…
Suddenly it came to Stan. He rolled that phrase over in his head, “no full time professional experience,” and he smiled. “My God, we only have to pay him $16,000 a year. We’ll save 30 grand on salary!”
My mother didn’t even step out into bright sunshine of the pre-holiday afternoon to shout. “Keith? Phone.”
I was lying on our very sketchy front lawn, listening to my home-built “walkman” and working on my tan and trying not to acknowledge that this Fourth of July week was the deadline I’d given myself for sitting around working on my tan.
That was after I surprised myself by graduating from college in seven semesters. During the last one, I had 10 courses worth a total of 28 credits. It was a juggling act so arduous that I still have nightmares about the morning of my graduation on May 28, 1979. My dream is that I forgot an entire course and must read 3,000 pages or write 500 pages or both by noon or NOT graduate on time.
Once again, my mother, “Keith, it’s Roger Norum.”
Hearing that Roger was on the phone made my heart race. I’d met him about three months earlier after a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend referred me to an editor at UPI Audio. I’d hardly heard of the radio network then.
But, wearing my best suit, I went to meet that man at the main office on East 42nd Street – only to find out that he had resigned. Instead, out came Roger Norum, a very quiet man with a kind face, a big round beard and a big round curly head of hair.
Roger said he’d heard my audition tape – sportscasts from college – and liked it enough to pass it on to Sam Rosen, who was impressed, too, and gave it to Stan Sabik, who invited me in for an interview.
“You’ll hear this alot in this business,” Stan told me, “but I think I can guarantee you six weeks of vacation relief this summer. Some sports, some news, if you don’t mind doing both.”
Now, here was Roger Norum calling to make sure that I knew Morrie was quitting to become sports director for the NBC Radio Network and UPI Audio would need a guy.
“It’s the talk of the place right now,” Roger said. “Morrie is already packing. They’ll have to move fast, but the holiday this Wednesday means there’s no way to bring in people for interviews or have a full search to replace him.
“You should give it until Thursday, then call Stan. Unless he calls you first. They really loved your tape. Stan was excited. It’s the old cliché about the right place at the right time. By the way, you are invited to the annual Norum Family Fourth of July Bash.”
I never once spoke to Roger that he didn’t invite me to a Norum Bash. He had them for all major holidays and, I believe, for lesser events like the Westminster Dog Show and Moroccan Independence Day. He was a lovely man, and although he was a fine newsman, he was far better at kindness and favors, like the one he was doing for me that afternoon on July 2nd so long ago.
Needless to say, I was silent and breathless for the rest of the day. I told my folks what might be going on, how I might be getting a job just as I was about to make myself start worrying about not having one.
After hearing Stan Sabik talk about vacation relief, I suspected he might offer me something on a temporary basis. But even THAT would be a chance to break into professional radio, at probably the peak of its post-war importance and competitiveness and growth, IN New York at a network.
My rivals for every job I’d seek for the next 20 years, or 30, or 50, would be glad to get a break in Keokuk, Iowa – no offense Keokuk – and I’d be on the network they’d hear as they arrived to do the morning shift at 4:30 AM. In… Keokuk.
I do not remember sleeping that night. Not well, anyway. Still, I’m confident that I recall this correctly: On Tuesday, July THIRD, I was back on the Family Tanning Lawn, about 20 feet from the driveway, just after noon when the front door opened and Mom said it again.
”Keith? Phone. Someone named Stan.”
As soon as Stan Sabik heard my voice, he laughed and asked, “You tired of lying around the pool yet?
”I lied and said yes. Of course, there WAS no pool.
“Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard” – he said it in such a way that confirmed that he knew I'd heard from Norum or somebody – “that my sports director quit to go to NBC and I need a full time sportscaster. You interested?”
Prepared for part-time work, I was stunned.
“Full time, Stan? Did you say FULL time?”
Stan laughed. “Yes. $16,000. No negotiations. Mostly nights, some mornings. Split days off. Can you come in Thursday to fill out an application? For the job I just gave you?” He laughed.
Ever since, I’ve associated the Fourth of July with the start of my career, especially during years when it falls in the middle of a week and makes it harder for employers to hire anybody but the cheap and the unemployed.
Turns out that having the holiday on a Wednesday is infrequent. After 1979, it happened in 1990, then 2001, 2007, 2018. The next one won’t be until 2029.
A week after Stan's call, I was on the air, so scared that I had an out-of-body-experience. Thirty days afterward, I was working alone when Thurman Munson, the star catcher for the Yankees, was killed. He had crashed his private plane. I had to call his teammates for interviews.
By October, I was considered good enough to cover major league baseball playoffs. And then I was one of a trio sent to cover the 1980 Winter Olympics.
But all these years later, none of that beats the thrill of that phone call, a realization that my career had really started. And 48 hours later walking into an office as a pro.
Then Stan Sabik had some “good news” for me about “football games you covered for us in college for $15 each.”
It was, he said, that “the union says they count toward professional experience. You get SIX DAYS credit. Instead of starting at $16,000, you’ll get $16,025. Congratulations!”
Keith Olbermann has focused on sports and politics in his career as a writer, broadcaster and commentator.
In those times, when the 3-day weekend was just becoming acceptable, this was an excuse for a 4-day weekend. Or a 5-day weekend. Or, hell, take the whole week OFF