Two Insults Away From Fame
I was living in
I really only had experience in two areas. I had worked in P.R. for a television station in
I applied for a job at WAGA-TV5, the CBS station in
One night the Program Director dropped in. He asked me what my background was. I told him I had been a disc jockey. He asked me if I would be interested in being a booth announcer. I had no idea what that was, but I said "Sure." That was the end of that and I went back to answering the phones. After a while, I was promoted to full time, daytime receptionist. The phone rang all the time, plus you had to actually dress for the part. The station manager would call, and if the phone rang more than five times, I'd get in trouble. There was a home for crazy people down the street, and for some reason they would come to our station when they escaped. I guess because it looked like
One time they had a big party for the stock holders. I had to dress up like Scarlett O'Hara, and walk up and down the circular staircase, welcoming them. Another time a bunch of streakers showed up with a cake for the station's anniversary. I welcomed them in, just like everyone else, and almost got fired for doing that. They had a great time running around the station naked for a while, until they came and chased them away.
There came a time in the 70's when all departments had to hire one black person, and one female. Once again I was asked if I would be interested in becoming a booth announcer. And once again I said, "Sure." I still had no idea what it was, but I was hoping it would mean more money. I found out that a booth announcer was someone that sat in a tiny room, the size of a closet, off the set where the news was delivered. Everyone could see you. Four sided, glass room, with a microphone. My job was to log exactly what time each program and each commercial aired. On the half hour, I would open the mike, and say, "This is WAGA-TV5,
The black guy that was hired along with me fainted the first time he had to do it. It was a terrifying job. Lots of pressure, but it was fun to be doing something other than answering the phone, and I was the first, female booth announcer, so it was also an honor. Sometimes I had the morning shift, which meant I had to be there at the crack of dawn, when they opened the station. Early in the morning, I had to do the Farm Report, which I called the Pig Report. It was really long, full of information that farmers needed. One morning when I was giving the Pig Report, I came across a sentence that was talking about botulism organisms. I got confused and said, "Botulism orgasm." I was hoping no one was listening, but they were. Several phone calls came in about that screw up, pardon the pun.
There also use to be a time when if you called information, you'd actually get a person, and believe it or not, they were actually in
One day I was at my aunt Ann and Pegram's house, swimming in their pool. When I climbed out of the pool, my aunt, who is the closest thing to Martha Stewart I have ever known, except prettier, says to me, "You know, if you would just lose about ten pounds, you'd be quite pretty." I would have been insulted, except I knew she was right, that I did need to lose some weight, so I just made a mental note of it and went on my way. The next week, the station manager stopped me in the hall and said almost verbatim, what Ann had said. "You know, if you would lose about ten pounds, you wouldn't be half bad to look at." This time I was crushed, as this was no family member. Then he says, "Say Atlanta."
I said, "Atlantah." He says, "No, it has no h in it. I tried again. I still couldn't say it the way he wanted me to. So he says, "Say Chicago." I said, "
One time I got real brave, and asked if I could audition for an on- camera job. I tried, but I failed miserably. I was just too scared. My voice wouldn't hold up, I couldn't follow the tele-prompter, and I decided that I was probably where I was supposed to be, in my little booth.
It was decided by the powers that be that I should become the weather girl, that's what they called them back then. I was sent off to diction lessons, and a diet doctor. The diet doctor put me on a 700 calorie a day diet. I had to write down everything I ate. He gave me some nasty protein drink and speed. The weight fell off, and I spoke even faster than ever before. The diction teacher taught me how to say, "
I had to buy a children's puzzle of the
The station could see that I was truly terrified, so the doctor put me on valium. I took it for several weeks, but it didn't seem to help much. One night I was watching the play back of my performance, and noticed my eyes were almost totally shut. I stopped the valium, and lo and behold, my eyes opened up.
Then one time, I fell off the platform they had built for me. One minute I was there, the next minute I was gone. There was one night my contact lens fell out of my eye. I kinda forgot I was on television, and told the audience to hold on, we had to find my contact, and there I was crawling around on the floor looking for the damn thing instead of doing the weather.
A few weeks after I started this new job I was in Burger King. A woman came up to me and said, "Congratulations on your new job." I said, "How do you know about that." to which she replies, "I've been watching you." I almost dropped dead on the spot. It was the first time it had even occurred to me that anyone had been watching besides the people in the studio. I became even more nervous on the air. I do not know why they didn't fire me, except I think the audience was totally amused at just how clueless I was.
Many months later something scary and profound happened. Both of the main weather guys were taken down. One had a horrible car accident, and almost died. The other one had a heart attack. This meant I had to do all three weather forecasts every day, seven days a week. Noon, six and eleven. This went on for a long time, maybe it was weeks, maybe it was more than a month, I can't remember. For three or four days I had a temperature of 102 degrees from the flu, but I had to carry on, as there was no one else that could do it. Only then did I learn my craft well. Only then did I start getting comfortable with the camera, and finally I started loving my job. I became quite famous, because every time you turned on the TV, there I was.
So, I guess some times a couple of good intended insults can lead to the best job.
And that's how Virginia Gunn became, "Are you the Virginia Gunn?" for just about the rest of my life.