Ambush Radio

radio mic and board
Radio. My first love.

Ah, radio.  My first love.  Sigh.

Early in my young life I really loved radio and secretly had ambitions to work in radio one day and become a popular host.

Well, I had my opportunities in radio but I never became popular or a radio host.

But I had no idea how, um, problematic radio would become for me later in my career.

Without getting into too many details, we were dealing with a crisis at work, one that would last several months and potentially affect the health of many of our residents (and visitors).

Suddenly, our use of a specific substance, one we’d been using for decades, became “controversial” (certain people didn’t want us to use it and in many cases, they were misinformed about the substance).  It didn’t help that there were numerous junk science websites with false and misleading information about it.

A Spanish-language radio station called, wanting to put someone on the air, live, to talk about our use of the substance.  Me, being the Spanish speaker in our group, did the interview.

At first, the hosts were nice.  Then the knives came out.

It’s no fun being on the receiving end of an ambush. Especially while live, on the air, and in your second language.

They threw out all kinds of issues at me–a so-called ban of the substance in other jurisdictions (never mind it was ok’d by the EPA for use in the US), a couple of scientists (in non-relevant fields) who condemned our use of the substance, etc.

Fortunately, I was prepared for most, but not all of these attacks.

As the summer wore on, they’d call for me to go on air with them several times.  Each time I was more ready and better prepared than the last time.

Once, they started to ask me where I lived, if I had children, etc.  I was ready and I cut them off before they could play the “child card” on me (and yes, by the way, I do have a child).

At the end of the day, the crisis came, and it went.  Our organization dealt with it effectively, thanks to our leadership and all of our staff.  I’ll never forget the work we did.

And I’ll never forget my time doing battle against ambush radio.

Where’s the excrement?

Almost from the beginning, this is where it felt like the interview was headed.

A big part of my day job involves media relations.  Most reporters I deal with are easy to get along with, reasonable, and fair.

But there was this one time when I worked for a government-owned water and sewer utility…

City of Portland sewage treatment plant construction sign
Yes, I worked for a water and sewer utility before. No, it wasn’t Portland’s. Photographer: David Falconer. The U.S. National Archives.

It was some years back when I had a TV reporter for a small Spanish-language cable TV outlet ask to do a story on our oldest wastewater treatment plant (that’s the PR term for “sewage treatment plant”).  The request seemed innocent enough.  The reporter told me he just wanted someone to explain the process and walk him through it.

I figured I could handle what seemed like a simple request, without tying up our operations folks.

We strolled around the plant a bit when he asked me, in what sounded to me like a thick Argentinean accent (which I’ll never forget), “¿Y dónde está el excremento? (Where is the excrement?).”

Of course, his camera was rolling and I was mic’d up.  He kept looking into the various huge tanks holding the wastewater (which is, needless to say, mostly water), repeating the question to me, expecting to see a, um–I’ll use the clinical/medical term here–piece of stool floating in a tank or something.

Insider tip: that generally doesn’t happen.  At least I never saw such a thing.

The solid stuff settles to the bottom of those tanks you see at wastewater treatment plants.  It gets separated from the liquid and treated, usually via a process known as anaerobic digestion.

Then there’s dewatering, or drying, so the stuff isn’t so heavy and can be shipped out for use as fertilizer (in which case it’s called “biosolids”) or taken to a landfill for disposal.

Dried sludge
Sludge that has dried on a drying bed and is being removed.

As it turns out, most of the sludge was taken while wet from that particular plant so there wasn’t really much “excremento” for the guy to see.

Needless to say, the guy was quite annoying with his insistence and repetition of that question.  Clearly… he was full of “excremento” himself as far as I was concerned.

Brand Yo Self

Whether you work in the field of PR/marketing as I do, or not, you need to brand yourself.

branding iron
You’ve gotta brand yourself. But not necessarily with an old-time branding iron. Credit: Derek Gavey (CC BY 2.0)

In essence, this means establishing some type of career/work reputation for your self–it’s far preferable that it be good, of course.

I had a talk with someone from my day job about this.  I told this person that once you establish a good reputation for certain things at work, you could actually “ride” and get by on that reputation.

By way of example, I knew someone who habitually came in to work late, always took coffee breaks, always took a lunch hour (and that hour would sometimes stretch to longer than 60 minutes) and usually left early.

Color me convinced: branding yourself is important. Credit: EdgeThreeSixty TM (CC BY 2.0)

To be fair to this individual, the individual worked hard while at work.  I mean, nose to the grindstone worked hard.

But because this individual came in late/took frequent breaks/left early/etc., the individual’s reputation around the agency was one of a slacker.

Another example: yours truly.

I don’t mean to brag, but I usually come in to work early, leave late, and seldom take breaks (at least not visible ones where I’m gone from my desk when people need me, although I do take frequent mental health breaks at my desk or not too far from the office).

As a result, I made the observation to a co-worker that I could start “slacking off” and that because I’d already established a reputation for simply being present, I could come in to work late for a whole month and yet still “ride” the coattails of that reputation and people would continue to think of me as the guy who came to work before everyone else did.

I actually tried this (NOTE TO MY CURRENT BOSS IF YOU’RE READING THIS: I tried this while I was at a previous employer!) and it was true: people continued to think of me as the guy who came in early, left late, etc., long after I’d stop doing those things.

You may not be a household name like some of these barnds, but your personal brand is important. Both inside and outside of your place of work. Credit: brett jordan (CC BY 2.0)

Establishing a good reputation early on at your job will take you far.  At minimum, you’ll be less likely to draw the shortest straw if (or when) the economy tanks and cuts need to be made.

You can draw some lessons from this and apply some of it outside of your job, too.  I’ll get into that in a future post.

The water tower is falling down, falling down…

water tower
The old water tower in northern Miami kinda looked like this. Credit: Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos, (CC BY 2.0).

Way, way back, early-ish in my career, I was called to help arrange filming a scene for Bad Boys II at a water tower owned by the agency I worked for.

The water tower was no longer in use and was in bad shape.  My employer was actually in the process of having a contractor take it down so it wouldn’t be a danger to the nearby community in case of a hurricane or something similar.

The water tower had been a landmark in the community but it’s days were long past.

rusted water tower
Everyone loves a water tower–unless it’s in bad shape and threatening to fall on you. Credit: Daniel Ramirez. (CC BY 2.0).

We actually delayed the demolition for a week so they could film a gunfight at the water tower.  Afterwards, we proceeded and completed taking down a piece of history, the old Miami water tower.

How I got mixed up with an exploding whale

Beached whale, filming of Reno 911!: Miami
Filming of the blown-up whale scene for Reno 911!: Miami. This is not the actual place the explosion took place. Credit: Mark Sabanathan, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

One of the coolest aspects of my job is working with the movies, AKA Hollywood.

Well, to be fair, and honest, my involvement is minimal.

I get called from time to time for permission to use one of my employer’s facilities to film scenes for a movie, or commercial, or music video, or a still photo shoot.

It’s not up to me to grant permission–that’s done by the department director where I work.  I just help out in getting the permission, relaying any requirements to the film/production company, and so on.

One of the weirder things I worked on was for the filming of Reno 911!: Miami.  They needed a good spot to blow up a whale (a dead one) and we had just the right place: an unused sludge drying bed at a wastewater treatment plant.

I made the arrangements but due to my schedule at the time I couldn’t go out to watch the explosion.

To this day I don’t know if they used a “fake” whale or an actual dead whale in this scene.

PS: The video below of an exploding whale is not from the movie.  I couldn’t find a clip of the scene online, probably due to copyright issues.