I once watched a woman implode her career right in front of me. It was 1986. I was the sports anchor at KBAK TV in Bakersfield, California. Fairly fresh out of college, I was 24 and somewhat wide eyed about life and work.
Jerri Fiali slapped the door frame of my small Sports office as she stormed in with a serious frown on her face. “This place is pathetic!” she screamed! Jerri was the news anchor and the producer of the 11 pm newscast. She had been around awhile and I suppose was in her 50’s. The point is she had been around long enough to have her positive attitude jaded by the various challenges of work.
“The news reporters do not have any of the top stories ready for the 11,” Jerri said to me with fire in her eyes. “We are going to have to start the news with you.” It was 10:55 pm when she said this. The 11 pm news started in five minutes! I stared at her in disbelief. I didn’t have anything big in sports. My first thought was that it was ridiculous to start the news with my highlights of local college baseball and tennis action.
“I am so sick of this place,” Jerri said. “The reporters are awful. No one does their job! I am sick of it! Sick of it!!” At that point I started to think that she needed to settle down because she was going to be on the anchor set in a few minutes as tens of thousands of viewers tuned in.
“Get going!” she screamed at me as I hustled to straighten my tie. I didn’t even have time to put on make up. I usually waited until a few minutes after 11 to do that in the bathroom. Jerri stomped out to the studio flailing her arms the whole way. I grabbed my scripts, handed the tapes that would air to the tape roller, and followed behind her like a scared and confused puppy dog. On the set the floor director said there were sixty seconds until air time. Jerri kept popping off about how bad things were in the newsroom. To me it was like the years of work had worn on her and she was snapping. I was watching a woman’s career go up in flames unless she calmed down quickly.
That didn’t happen.
“Good evening and welcome to the pathetic KBAK Eyewitness newscast,” Jerri said as the newscast opened. Sitting next to her on the set but off camera, my jaw dropped and practically hit the set. “Because we have news reporters and editors that cannot get their work done in time,” Jerri continued, “we have to start this newscast with Sports….SPORTS… of all things. Here is the guy that does the Sports, Charlie Adams.”
The camera came on me and I had the expression of a bewildered donkey. I stared at the camera for three seconds, which is an eternity in television news. The floor director waved his arms at me for me to start talking. Off camera Jerri kept jabbering away. Because of that I started talking louder to try to drown out her belly aching. “Well, uh, welcome to the news,” I said with a look of ‘what am I doing leading the live 11 pm newscast?’ “Um, the Bakersfield College baseball team took on Barstow Junior College today and we have action.” As I said that I pictured viewers on their couch or in their bed wondering what the heck we were doing leading with a junior college baseball game that had 74 people in the stands. Well, we didn’t even get that right. Instead of video of the baseball game, up came video of a recent new Bakersfield Zoo animal being introduced to the media.
“WE CAN’T EVEN GET THE RIGHT VIDEO ON THE AIR!!” screamed Jerri as she watched the monitor. She threw her pen up into the studio lights causing a spark and slapped the studio set. Totally bewildered at this point I said ‘well, uh, that is the wrong video..if you could come back to me we will do another story…’ They came back to me and I told the viewers we would now see action from that afternoon’s Cal State Bakersfield tennis match versus the University of California – Riverside. Again, not the thing you play at 11:01 but at 11:27 where Sports usually is during the newscast. You guessed it. Up came the wrong video. This time it was old video of a politician’s news conference from the previous week. That …. set Jerri off.
“That does it!” she yelled. “I have had it. She threw her purse up into the air, raised her arms, got up from her news set chair and started hollering as she turned in circles. The purse landed with a plop. I just stared and wished I was back in my native state of Mississippi because California was proving to be way too much for me. I had visions of the general manager driving in from home and the local newspaper sending a reporter to write about the implosion of a career. I was absolutely dumbfounded.
My head turned quickly as I looked at the back of the studio where the big doors had burst open. Several people came in laughing. Jerri turned and started laughing. I honestly thought I was in a loony bin.
“Charlie,” Jerri said to me with a smile on her face. “The news doesn’t come on tonight until 11:54 because of the music awards show the network is airing.”
Oh … my … gosh.
They had pulled an elaborate and extremely well planned prank on me. Producers, engineers, reporters and camera folks started slapping me on the shoulder. Jerri was fine. Her whole rant had been a total act. She was fine with her career. After her performance she should have gone straight down the road to Hollywood. Me? I just sat there and tried to comprehend what had just happened to me. Shortly, though, I started laughing too and I said, “You all got me! You got me! You rascals! I will get you! You better watch out!”
My point in sharing this story is that one of the ways I was able to stay positive for a quarter of a century in the crazy world of television news was a sense of humor. In this case it was working with people I really liked that pulled a world class prank on me. We all worked very hard every day and faced deadline challenges, staffing challenges, budget battles, weird hours, working holidays, coming in early and staying late, doing our job and three others as well, and yet I found at KBAK and at WSBT and other stations I worked, many of us stayed positive because we had a sense of humor.
* Be able to laugh at yourself or a challenging situation without crossing the line of making light of something. Like many things in life, there is a fine line.
* Put a humorous spin on almost everything
I have seen people in the darkest of days be able to find humor in things. One man was days from dying. He was outside on a very sunny day. “The positive I get out of this is screw putting suntan lotion on,” he said. “Skin cancer won’t have time to get me!”
Alaska Airlines does a great job of having a sense of humor in their workplace and their customers love it. I have had the opportunity to do many attitude presentations in Alaska and have flown this airline about eight different times. You know how when you sit down on an airplane you usually get the speech about seat belts delivered in a methodical manner. Not with Alaska Airlines. Here are some announcements from their flight attendants that I have heard personally or heard about:
“Your seatbelt works just like every other seatbelt, and if you don’t know how to operate one, you probably shouldn’t be out in public unsupervised.”
“If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your oxygen mask before helping with theirs. If you are traveling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.”
“There are two smoking sections on this flight, outside on each wing. There is a movie out there. It is ‘Gone with the Wind.’
“Please remain seated until the plane is parked at the gate. At no time in history has a passenger beaten a plane to the gate, so please don’t try.”
“We thank you for flying with us today and the next time you get the urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you will think of us at Alaska Airlines.”
They are very professional in their service throughout flights, but they have fun and their positive attitudes are evident. They also know how to poke fun at themselves. When their airline was just starting they said that they lost luggage on their first flight. There was just one passenger on that flight. They say that in their early days they only had one plane at the Seattle airport. Other airlines were making all kinds of announcements. One of their gate people just started making up announcements to make it sound like they had more flights.
I did a talk on positive attitude at the annual conference for a Vital Records Association one time. They are the folks that deal with often bizarre customers over birth certificates, driver’s licenses and so forth. One time one of their ladies said a woman came in to get a birth certificate for her child. When asked the name of the father she said that she wasn’t sure but she believed he had Leonard on his belt.
So, the lady who had worked at Vital Records for years said one way she stayed positive was wondering if the next customer’s story would top the previous one.
I love to help people to laugh during motivational presentations, whether it’s showing that Jamie Farr, the cross dresser from MASH, was the one big celebrity at the Miracle on Ice game in Lake Placid, or showing my infamous donkey racing clips. You’ll get those below in my presentation to the Vital Records state conference! Enjoy as you view the world’s most unsuccessful donkey racer!
Peak Performance speaker Charlie Adams is a 1980 grad of Lafayette High who is an Ole Miss alum. His new motivational keynote More Than a Miracle is a powerful description of the greatest moment in United Sports history. He shares how a group of college kids upset the best team in hockey history in Lake Placid in the winter of 1980, and galvanized America along the way.
“I literally had to choke back tears about 5 times during this Talk. Now I now feel as if I can do anything! ANYTHING!!” – Christopher Pataro, lawyer
“As powerful a motivational talk as I have heard in 40 years.” – Bob Bayliss, former tennis coach at Notre Dame and Navy
Charlie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org