I had just ended my year-long internship (which had actually turned into me producing Cathy’s evening show) with legendary, ground-breaking air-talent (what we used to call DJ’s), Cathy Faulkner at Seattle’s KISW. I was still pulling unpaid on-air shifts at my college radio station while enrolled in other classes, and ran the program control boards for a local sports radio station on the weekend. In addition I was also working five nights a week from 7pm to 10pm, running the program control boards for the evening DJ of a small radio station broadcasting to parts of western Washington state that I didn’t even know existed. Their format was Top 40 with a heavy 80′s rotation as well. I was newly divorced and as the non-custodial parent of three small children, I was doing everything I could do keep my head above water while working towards my degree in Broadcast Journalism ,and paying child support.
Once the internship was over I started blasting air-checks (samples of my on-air breaks from the college station) and resumes to radio station Program Directors all over the west coast, in hopes that I’d get an offer. If I was sending tapes out locally, I even went so far as to find out if the PD had a favorite pizza joint or beer. I’d attach the tape to a six-pack of beer and send via a courier, or have a pizza delivered to the PD at the station. I’d tip the delivery driver generously if he’d deliver a package that included my tape and resume, along with the pizza. Hey, don’t laugh, in a couple of instances it actually got my foot in the door and me in front of a Program Director. As it turns out though, that’s not how I landed my first job on the air.
I mentioned earlier that weeknights I ran boards and produced for the 7PM-10PM DJ, Kelly J, of a small local station. I walked into the station just as the last few verses of Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” was ending and saw the bright red “ON AIR” light go on over the studio door. So I stopped and waited. Once Kelly’s air-break was over , I could walk into the studio and run her boards, pull CD’s, line up ad cartridges and station bumpers, and generally just make sure she had what she needed to do her show. What I heard come out over the station speakers wasn’t her voice though, it was the voice of the station’s Program Director, Steve. When the “ON AIR” light went out, I pushed the studio door open, and no sooner had it whooshed shut behind me did Steve look up and say, “I’ve already pulled all the CD’s for the next three hours and had one of the promotions guys grab ads and bumpers. Can you get an air-check of yours in my hands in the next hour?“
“Where’s Kelly?“ I asked.
“It’s awful. Her husband had a pulmonary embolism late Friday night and they didn’t get to him in time. Rick died en route to the hospital“ he said, and then reached for the box of tissue sitting above the phone console.
Steve took a listener call and then turned back to me and said, “I know this is short notice but Kelly isn’t coming back and I need to fill her shift, the sooner the better. I already have a copy of your resume from when we initially hired you to run Kelly’s boards, but I can’t find an air-check. I’d like to hand over the mic immediately but want to make sure you know what you’re doing behind the mic as well as behind the board. I probably won’t be able to find a board-op for you in the short term though, so you’d be on your own. Interested?“
I nodded and said, “Yeah, I’ll do whatever I can to help out until you can replace Kelly. I’m going to run back home and grab an air-check and I’ll be back in about 45 minutes” and then turned to leave the studio when the Steve motioned for me to be quiet for a minute so he could take care of his next air-break once the last ad had aired. I stood there in silence, but internally, while sad for Kelly’s loss, I was excited for the possibility of my first job on the air. I was almost immediately overcome with a sense of guilt at being excited; if I ended up with the job, it would come as the result of someone’s horrible loss.
The PD turned off the mic and said, “Listen, this isn’t “helping out.“ If I put you behind the mic tomorrow, the job is yours. This isn’t a temporary fill-shift. Still interested?”
“Yeah, sure. Of course. Thanks for the chance. I’m just gonna go get that air-check now, OK,” and then I turned around and left the studio before he could change his mind.
I was a mixture of nerves, excitement, and again, guilt, on the drive home and then back to the studio. I ended up getting the job and started the next night. I found out from the General Manager of the group that owned that radio station I worked at, as well as several others in the area, that her husband was the bread winner in their family but he didn’t have life insurance. Kelly working at the radio station was just for what she called her ‘Mad Money.” It wasn’t a meaningful financial contribution to her family, nor was it meant to be. She was now going to have to find a job to replace Rick’s income; 20 hours a week at a small radio station wasn’t going to bring in a fraction of enough money to cover their mortgage, college savings for their three children – all under the age of 15, and living expenses. Kelly made the decision utilize her degree in education and teach at the high school level. The GM organized a fundraiser for Kelly and her family, but sadly she was eventually forced to sell the family’s home and move to a less expensive suburb of Seattle. I can’t even begin to imagine the crushing blow of not only losing a spouse, but then being forced to sell the home that is at the center of where you started and have continued to grow and center your family.
Sixteen years later I still wince when I think about Kelly and her loss, a loss that ended up facilitating my gain. I think about how she not only lost the love of her life, her partner, the father of her children, but their financial security including their home. I’ve been remarried for almost ten years and while we’ve had our own financial ups and downs, we’re finally working towards being on solid financial footing, but we’re realistic people and know that can literally change in the blink of an eye. I’m also extremely fortunate that I can stay at home with Gaby and accept freelance photography and writing work because my husband has a job that allows me that freedom. I’m so grateful for this because I know that isn’t the case for millions of families across the country where both parents have to work in order to meet their most basic needs. I think there are a lot of women who publish online and can only afford to stay home and write because their husband’s have jobs that make it possible. Publishing our lives online, regardless of whether we’re niche writers or storytellers can be feast or famine; having a partner with a stable income that meets our financial needs is part and parcel of why a lot of us are able to do this.
If anything were to happen to Gareth, Gaby and I would literally be lost at sea financially. While we’re still digging out from our own personal financial collapse of 2009, we’re only just now getting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, put a little money away, and begin to plan for our future. We push a little harder financially because Gareth has only been in the US for less than a decade and he doesn’t have the time built up in the Social Security system that most people who’ve been working their entire lives have accrued. Fairly early on, right after he secured his first position with an American firm, we had the “life insurance” talk. Kelly was still in the back of mind. I’d look at Gaby, who was only an infant at the time, and think about how we wanted to buy a home, set down roots, and establish ourselves on solid footing. I’d left radio and had closed the small voice-over business I’d built over several years to focus on raising her and rebuilding my relationships with my older children from my first marriage. I started writing again and pursued a blossoming love of photography. Gareth’s income was pivotal in allowing me to do that.
We were fairly naive when it came to exactly what our life insurance needs were and at the time didn’t realize how many factors go into determining exactly what our needs would be should something happen. As a result of that naïvete, we were woefully under-insured. It can also be fairly confusing trying to determine exactly what type of life insurance you need in addition to coverage amounts that would make sure you’re completely protected, financially. In the last few years we’ve taken extra steps to educate ourselves on our needs and that conversation isn’t as difficult (because let’s face it, talking about life insurance means we’re talking about our own mortality and that can be hard to think about when you’re still relatively young and feel invincible) and now we have great resources on how to start the conversation about life insurance needs. I’ve also made sure that my oldest daughter Meg, who is in the Air Force and has a child of her own now, has these same resources – especially because of both her job, and her husband’s job in the military. While the military forces them to have something in writing in the event of the unspeakable, they don’t go into great detail helping enlisted families determine what exactly their financial needs would be, should anything happen.
I know there are a lot of women who come out here and read my silly, or even sometimes painful stories, or even the mundane “fluffy cat” posts, that are in the same boat as our family . . . you can indulge your love of writing because you have a partner whose job allows you that leeway. What would you do though, if something happened to your partner? Do you even know exactly what your financial needs would be outside of making sure you could keep the lights on and tummies full? I really encourage you to sit down and have the talk so that you and your children don’t have to concern yourselves with the possible loss of material things while you’re trying to deal with one of the most emotionally devastating losses a couple can experience. Genworth Financial can help you plan for your financial future. Their calculators and planning tools helped us determine where we needed to cut back in order to be able to bulk up our life insurance.
While our own financial tsunami of 2009 has made us a great deal more vigilant about our financial needs, I hope it doesn’t take the unthinkable to get you and your partner talking about your own financial needs. Will you be able to stay behind the keyboard, or more important, avoid financial devastation, should something happen to your partner?
This post has been inspired by Genworth through Brandfluential. All opinions are my own.