It’s somewhat disconcerting when total strangers call out your name in public spaces as if we are old friends. Being well-known and recognizable within a city changes something fundamental inside a person. With my chosen career came some minor level of public attention, some affection, a minor amount of fame, and the loss of much of my privacy. Being a broadcaster meant knowingly making the choice to shelve my anonymity, at least on the local level. Thankfully, I could plan anonymity breaks by travelling out of town to places the radio stations’ signals didn’t reach nor the newspaper that daily published my publicity photos wasn’t widely read. All things considered, the loss of anonymity wasn’t much of an inconvenience until the threat to my safety came to light.
I finished back-announcing “We Are The World” by the supergroup ‘USA for Africa” written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian. The song was one of the best-selling songs of 1985–the time of my brush with danger. The phone rang and I answered it. A man from Heidelberg, Germany called to tell me that he had been listening to our FM radio station due to an atmospheric anomaly. He went on to read a list of songs and commercials that I had played during the past hour. His list was absolutely accurate. We had a short friendly conversation, then he provided his mailing address so that I could mail him a letter on our station’s letterhead for his scrapbook. The conversation had put me in a happier than usual mood.
I had just hung up the phone and started another song when the phone rang again. The caller was a very hostile, irate man who threatened to kill me if I didn’t stop playing “We Are The World”. He claimed to have been stalking my daily whereabouts. He knew that I drove a 1981 Datsun 310, he mentioned the car’s license plate number. He knew that I lived in a particular apartment building complex. He also mentioned that he observed me walking to work on pleasant days. He made himself clear that his threat was not an empty one. He then cocked a rifle near his phone so I could hear the metallic clicking noise. Then the call ended.
I kept that particular phone line off the hook then used another line to inform the station manager about the threat. He advised me to call the police and tell them about the threat. Meantime, leaving the first phone line off the hook turned out to be a useless effort–the threatening call could not be traced. In subsequent days, the hostile caller phoned me a few more times and escalated his threats. Each call was punctuated with the cocking of a rifle. I tape recorded those calls so they could be used for the police investigation. In the meantime, the police advised me to stop my practice of walking to and from work. They did assign an officer to follow me to and from work for a week. Then the threatening calls stopped.
In my mind, the threat remained despite the lack of threatening phone calls. I didn’t feel reasonably safe for about a year. By then, the song that offended the vicious man had become less popular and received less airplay. Naturally, my attitudes regarding anonymity shifted dramatically. I was still required to make in-person promotional appearances for the station and continue my on-air work. I felt reasonably safe in doing so, but the memory of the 1985 threat lingered as a cautionary note.
Ever since retirement several years ago, the memory of the threatening events only surfaces briefly when I hear the USA for Africa song or when the topic of anonymity is mentioned in the media. Except for this blog, most people wouldn’t recognize me nor could they care less. That’s OK.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor and environmental activist, Harrison Ford. “I am not the first man who wanted to make changes in his life at 60 and I won’t be the last. It is just that others can do it with anonymity.”