Scott Hollifield: When the red light blinks, there's trouble on the line

Scott answering phones at WNCW

Why am I torturing myself like this?

That was my first thought as I sat down at a desk in a public radio studio and prepared to take pledges by phone for the next four hours. I was a volunteer or, to be more accurate, I was volunteered for this Saturday chore. Of course it was a good cause, but I would have rather dug a ditch, neutered a cat or wrestled a bear (if it was a small bear) for the benefit of the station than answer phone calls because I absolutely hate to answer phone calls.

In my experience, when the phone rings, something is either wrong or someone wants my money, my vote or my help moving a refrigerator. I have developed an enormous dislike for the phone and no longer hold Alexander Graham Bell in high esteem.

Each morning when I arrive at my job as a small-town newspaper editor, I look at the phone on my desk. If the red light is not blinking, I rejoice in the fact that the day does not immediately begin with an angry message.

And there has been quite a bit of anger lately.

Our circulation department –good, hard-working men and women who deliver the printed product when most of the rest of us are snug in our beds – has been hit with a series of misfortunes resulting in quite a few people not getting their newspapers delivered as they should.

When people don’t get their newspapers delivered as they should, they are concerned. People who are concerned want answers. They call the newspaper office, encounter a confusing automated system that either cuts them off or sends them to a call center a thousand miles away where no one knows where Tater Town Loop or Bat Cave Road is.

Concern turns to anger and that anger leads to my phone ringing and a conversation that usually results with both parties agreeing that I am an incompetent boob.

Add those calls to the usual calls from angry grandmas who can’t believe their darling angel’s break-in arrest is in the newspaper and people who are going to cancel their subscriptions if they see one more anti-Trump cartoon and, well, as I stated, I absolutely hate to answer phone calls.

So, there I was preparing to answer phone calls for WNCW (88.7 FM) in beautiful Spindale, N.C. for the next four hours after being volunteered to do so. In reality, I owe the station much more than four hours of my time. When it went on the air in 1989, I lived in a turn-of-the century, rundown farm house 18 miles from the nearest grocery store with a rooftop antenna that picked up two TV channels.

The eclectic playlist of WNCW – country, rock, blues, bluegrass --was a live-saver for a couple of poor 20-somethings with a new mortgage and poor fixer-upper skills. In my truck, in my office, in my current house, the station has been the soundtrack of my life for the last 30 years.

Ultimately, those four hours of phone calls were far from torture. They were uplifting. They were life-affirming. They were funny.

A fellow volunteer on my left talked to a listener who kept three radios going at all times, including one out in his still house.

A fellow volunteer on my right talked to a donor who gave $100 in honor of his three goats.

Everyone I talked to was happy to give money to keep the station on the air and no one yelled at me, not even when I screwed up the computer form in front of me and had to start over.

“Take your time,” the fellow said. “And thanks for what you are doing.”

I went back to work on Monday still feeling good about Saturday’s chore. As usual, the red light on the phone on my desk was blinking. For some reason that morning, it felt a little less menacing than usual.

Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, N.C. and a humor columnist. Contact him at rhollifield@mcdowellnews.com .

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