“This is Rage is that rare book – a fascinating, fast-paced, really smart thriller. Part action/adventure story set in the wilds of Silicon Valley, and part insider's exposition of some of the major inner workings of our contemporary economy and of the secrets of today's High Tech 'Masters of the Universe' – Ken Goldstein succeeds in making this a debut that will make your heart race – even as it gives you plenty to think about." – Naomi Wolf, author of Give Me Liberty
"I worked with Ken Goldstein at Disney: and since I knew he could write, I encouraged him to do just that, to write a novel. As impressed as I always was with him as an executive, I'm equally impressed with what he accomplished with a pen (or maybe a computer)."
– Michael Eisner
"Ken Goldstein knows the ins and outs of Silicon Valley – the customs of the land and where the bodies are buried. I would read anything he wrote, non-fiction or fiction, set on that fascinating terrain."
– Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club
"Given Ken Goldstein's pedigree as a major internet CEO whose vision has significantly shaped today's digital world, it's no surprise that his first novel takes us on a thrilling front-of-the-coaster rocket ride through the Valley of Silicon. While This is Rage is surely required reading for all high-tech and deal-savvy action/thriller fans, it is an absolute crystal ball for radio broadcasters who are still scratching their heads as to the future of their industry."
– Mitch Dolan, Former President, ABC Radio Station Group
"Ken Goldstein has written a modern-day blockbuster! Smart, insightful, and engaging, the story takes us on a thrill ride through the circus-like madness of corporate American, the media, and government. It reveals with stunning clarity the inept and all-too-sinister characters that inhabit these worlds. You cannot help but think that Goldstein has had a front row seat and used his real life experiences to masterfully weave a fictional narrative that enlightens as much as it entertains. A must read."
– Gene Del Vecchio, author of Creating Blockbusters! and Adjunct Professor, USC Marshall School of Business
“Entertaining, eye-opening and highly probable…. I can highly recommend This is Rage as a great read!”
– Tome Tender
“Deserves the attention of business, government, workers, employers, CEOs – everyone that keeps the economic wheel of America moving for supposedly the benefit of all! Outstanding business and thriller fiction! Highly recommended!”
– Crystal Book Reviews
“Ken Goldstein's book is smart, insightful and engaging. It enlightens while it entertains. He is one of those authors who really knows what he is talking about. Brilliant writing! Brilliant story. Really a contemporary must-read!”
– Something Wordy
This is the story of Investors, Bankers, and Operators in Silicon Valley and the variation on real they’re creating for our consumption.
This is the story of a disgraced shock jock turned Internet radio phenomenon and how he becomes the catalyst he never imagined being.
This is the story of two entrepreneurs-turned kidnappers-turned anti-heroes.
This is business in the Twenty-first Century.
This is the unpredictability of the human element.
This is rage.
Read an interview with Ken Goldstein here.
“If you ever wondered what happened during those power plays and takeovers, here's the scoop!” – Dew on the Kudzu
"Ken Goldstein knows the ins and outs of Silicon Valley – the customs of the land and where the bodies are buried. I would read anything he wrote, non-fiction or fiction, set on that fascinating terrain," says New York Times bestselling author Will Schwalbe. Former Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of SHOP.COM, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, and vice president of entertainment at Broderbund Software, Goldstein understands the tech world, the entertainment world, and the corporate world like few other novelists. That he conveys his knowledge with panache, drama, and humor makes him a rare writer and his first novel, This is Rage, a very rare work of fiction.
“Part thriller and part satire, what really makes this novel a good read are the observations Goldstein has tossed in that are so right on…. This is Rage managed to beautifully balance sincere frustration with a raucous laughter at the madness of it all.” – Kalireads
From This is Rage:
“Get ready to bleep me.”
Kimo Balthazer was not having a good day. Or maybe he was, it was always hard for him to know. Was the anger his path to the limelight, or was it real, a dark gift that had kept him employed much of the past twenty-five years? It had become impossible to keep that straight in his head, what was the act and what really bugged him. Market tastes ebbed and his desire to push the envelope found new edges, but valiant noise always seemed to work. Light a bad dude on fire and oh, would they listen. Blend in some honest heat and they would scream right back, but they would never change the station. Mission one could not have been clearer.
“Kimo, be cool. We’re on warning here. I don’t want to lose this job.” The words flowed through the studio monitor; Producer Lee Creighton was already perspiring. They had been on the air twelve minutes and already Balthazer was bringing it. “Kimo, kids in private school, the ex will drag me back into court if I miss one support check by an hour. Last time we were out almost five months. I’m at monthly minimums with Visa. Did I complain when we had to move from LA to Fresno? No, I said how nice, we’ll spend weekends in Yosemite. Did I mention I hate bears and granite cliffs make me hyperventilate?”
“Pussy,” chortled Balthazer, carefully muting the mic with the ignore button. “We’re syndicated. It doesn’t matter where we broadcast, as long as we have a tower.” It was a partial truth. Syndication was the right business model, but LA got you four hundred affiliates, Fresno maybe sixty. Not poverty, not obscurity, but the wrong side of the ladder with the bottom unclear. Balthazer opened the mic and the words flowed like drain ditch run-off.
KIMO: Let me be clear, Rush Limbaugh is a monster fat ass, ugly as an inflamed wart on a circus freak, enlightened as frog excrement, who spews plague and wipes his ass with fifty dollar bills brought to him in barrel loads by semiliterate, emasculated sponsors. His listeners are limp-limb bullies, his financial backers are modern day fascists, and if the nation goes up in flames it’s on his conscience, although he’s so sedated on narcs he probably won’t even notice the smoke.
“Kimo, wise up, play smart,” pleaded Producer Lee Creighton. “Some of his sponsors are on our show.”
KIMO: So my shivering nail-biter producer tells me some of Limbaugh’s sponsors are on my show too, right here, on This Is Rage. What are they, Communists? Deviants? Didn’t anyone tell them who hosts my show? They can’t have it both ways.
“Kimo, you’re headed over the top,” added Creighton. “A touch more gentle as she goes, so perhaps we can come back tomorrow.”
Each and every day at drive time 4:00 p.m. Kimo Balthazer—his last name pronounced with an awkward hard accent on the second syllable, such that the end phrase rhymed with laser—held court with an audience of one, Producer Lee Creighton, plus about a million loyals who still tuned in on one form or another of stone age radio. Sports, News, Traffic, Spanish headlines, and Talk, that was all that was left of AM. High-def tried to save it, but the Hail Mary had come up short for all but a chosen few who still had reach, most of that club so right wing they would have sent Ronald Reagan back to a union job. Satellite radio, internet radio, iPods, MP3s, Bluetooth, you name it, terrestrial radio had been shellacked by every technology a spurned Luddite could mutter. Anyone under the age of twenty barely knew it existed. The AM dial spectrum was a Trivial Pursuit question with a higher value than the benefits of eight-track tape a generation before. It was dead to all but the ancients—commuting middle agers, addicted politicos, and the rest of the graying boomers who could not bring themselves to think of Pandora as something other than an entombed myth. For those who held on, it was ticktock ticktock, but there was still time to fund the 401k before they pulled the final plug. A few health salaries remained for the survivors who could draw, anyone who could suck ad dollars for the merged conglomerates, but fewer listeners were split among the fading stars. No one could predict how little time was left, but you could smell the body even while it was uttering soulless retransmission.
Balthazer knew he was among the last of his kind, not only the end of the line for broadcast radio blather, but a last stand for the left in largely ceded terrain. When he remembered to be amusing, he could rise above the best of logical argument, unpredictable as a core virtue, offbeat to the point of discomfort. To despise him was easy, he made it that way, all you had to do was see the world even slightly differently and you were cannon fuel. He was all mouth, no camera candy, and like his peers who could never make the TV cut, he learned to like himself that way. Squat but not enormous, maybe twenty-five pounds over fighting weight for his five tenish frame, Balthazer locked his hair style circa 1974 which kept the upper thinning crown mostly hidden from frontal view. When The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out in the mid-1970s, he had been mistaken at a screening for Meatloaf by fishnet fans and he kind of liked that, later leaning on the moniker “Bat Out of Hell” as his cheeky own. The trucker’s goatee was a relatively new addition to his website headshot, not with him more than five years but bringing him a simultaneous texture of thought rebellion and beer hall, a perfect accent for his gruff baritone and the themes of civil fairness forever stapled in his playbook.
Liberal talk radio never made any sense to the programmers. Air time on the right was served by followers and dissenters alike—the left always had to know what the enemy was thinking, so naturally they doubled the audience, good for selling cars at local dealerships, true bipartisan opportunity. The right could not care less what someone like Balthazer had to say, not even the vaguest of interest, he and his sad circle just did not exist. Liberal talk was a loser, always was. To make it work at even modest scale, you needed a ploy. That’s where Balthazer was good, he could bottle wrath and sell it in a rainbow of flavors, only he knew what was in the rainbow, and that kept him going.
This Is Rage had started out authentically enough, an answer from one raucous voice in the wilderness to the nationwide fascination with moral superiority. In the beginning, Balthazer wanted to he heard. Then he wanted to be funny. Then they started paying him real money. He always knew if he lived long enough, he would become what he most feared, and that was the step twin of the evil mirror he once wanted to shatter. Power was the enemy, but power was nice to have, particularly if you could be self-effacing about it. Balthazer had become oh so complicated, but like the enemy, he had also become thin; not in the waistline, quite the contrary, but in the construct of argument. Facts did not sell air time—spoken word ads had become the province of online subscription dating sites, orange oil fumigations, and risky high priced medical weight loss surgery. The numbers game of radio was simple, smaller sales conversions meant bigger numbers needed to get ad spend return on investment. If you could put up big numbers, you got more air. If you could put up really big numbers, you could have drive time. Stay in drive time and syndicate, you’d pull down seven figures. Lose the numbers or piss off the wrong people, well, you’d always have Fresno.
Not a half a year earlier, Balthazer had been a seven figure guy, afternoon drive time in LA with the big network of affiliates. He had taken the show a different way, it was mostly why women were so good at ruining men, and how the male species could best beat the odds by not playing nice. Decent numbers, no question, but the quality of ad buys was slipping. Restaurant chains became truck stops, discount airlines became bulk condoms, cell phone service became salacious mobile apps. The station owners, truly nice corporate people who owned most of the four hundred stations and would have broadcast Fidel Castro if he could put up numbers, told Balthazer to clean up his act. Balthazer told them it had taken a lifetime to dirty up the act, what Sam Kinison died trying to commercialize he had stolen from the grave and turned into cash. The station owners, truly nice corporate people who once had one of their own alcoholic DJs arrested by rent-a-cops and dragged to the desert until he dried out in an outhouse, told Balthazer unless the material warranted national sponsorships, they would not just fire him, they would sue him for the last three years of salary he had taken from them in the form of negative return on investment. Balthazer thought about that, went on the air, and kindly suggested that the owners were part of a spouse-swapping cult, that they had secretly formed their own religion and made it a sacred practice to mainline erection enhancing pharmaceuticals with coupon discounts to achieve extended ritual enlightenment. The libel suit that followed cost Balthazer three years of back wages, plus a new Guinness Record for a radio host in attorney’s fees. His third wife used the opportunity to walk out with the unleveraged equity remaining in his Brentwood home. Almost ten years doing drive time in the number two media market in the nation and he was broke. Again.
So Fresno was looking pretty good this fine afternoon. The mic was hot, the tower put out a signal all the way to Merced, and there was even an expense check in his mail slot for last week’s live remote ribbon cutting at the Steer ‘N’ Ale. The act had reverted to plain old ranting news talk, his choice from the day’s headlines, with a progressive tilt toward workplace cruelty and confession. As the only entertaining voice on the left since Al Franken had gone to the Senate, it would seem he might become a little less angry, but the office suffering angle was building a curious following, and even more, was pushing a pin in his forehead, anger as its own catalyst.
KIMO: So Jumbo Limbaugh believes there’s nothing wrong with the current tone of the discourse in America, that the lunatic drivel he concocts is all in the name of democracy, and if he wants to trash the president, a nominated Supreme Court justice, or just about anyone who is not his own flavor of sadist running for office then that is his ordained American right. If we don’t like it, we should just rally against the First Amendment and see what the ACLU is really made of. Okay, Rush, I’ll give you that, the arguments on the airwaves are fine, no one has to be accountable for anything they say, and if leaders on one side of the aisle can get others removed solely through invective then so be it. I have an idea, let’s turn it on you. Let’s get everyone saying that you and Glenn Beck are working in earnest on a secret science experiment to reproduce to perfection by combining your DNA. I’m not saying you’re gay, let’s presume there’s a petri dish involved. So you add your drip, Beck adds his, and for real laughs, let’s get some Hannity in there, too. Call it a right wing reproduction gang bang, and once that diseased beast is fully baked who knows where you’ll send it to burn down a library. You think that’s extreme? Imagine a woman, an actual woman, who would have sex with one of those self-aggrandizing mind scavengers. I can’t. So let’s take a caller. Robert from Boise—Welcome, This Is Rage.
Balthazer waived through the glass daintily with three fingers to Producer Lee Creighton, who had to know this was not going to be a good-good night. The studio was getting hotter. Around the corner, behind Creighton, Balthazer saw lurking the chief local representative of the nice corporate people who owned the sixty stations. Her name was Sheri Stiller, but to everyone with a pulse over whom she was destined to crawl, she was addressed solely as Ms. Stiller. Wading down the hall, she peered through the glass at Balthazer. He tried to ignore her, but she knew he saw her. Producer Lee Creighton translated, mouthing the words, “For the love of god, tone it down.” Balthazer collapsed two of his three fingers into the well-known salute, then smiled at Ms. Stiller to make it clear he was not giving her the finger, although to anyone who knew him, he was. Her stare was fixed, mechanical limbo, a humorless idle. She was waiting for anything fatal.
CALLER ROBERT: Kimo Balthazer?
KIMO: Goodness gracious, it’s Albert Einstein, calling from the grave. Yes, Albert, it’s me, Kimo. Let’s try for a dialogue. Take Two: Welcome, This Is Rage.
CALLER ROBERT: No, my name is not Albert, it’s Robert. Do you copy that, Kimo? Robert.
KIMO: Even better, it’s Albert Einstein on a CB Radio, narrow casting from 1977. Robert, we are on the air. Why did you call? What’s troubling you, trademark violation? Come on, you’re dead.
CALLER ROBERT: I don’t think I’m dead. Hey, the reason for my call . . .
KIMO: You’re dead.
Balthazer cut the line, zero tolerance for the flat of thought. Not surprisingly, that was starting to become a problem, because when a talker is as abrasive as Balthazer, he needs to have a few friends for all the varied enemies. Friends now were too often in short supply, specifically when he kept hanging up on them. Producer Lee Creighton shook his head, held up his wallet so Balthazer could see it and opened the pouch to show no cash. Balthazer grinned as Creighton put a text message on his screen—MAURICE, FROM JERSEY, PLAY THE GOOF—tossing him the call. Balthazer noted Ms. Stiller without reaction, sideline drifting in her own world, likely hungry for contract infringement.
KIMO: Okay, we have Maurice, somewhere on the turnpike in New Jersey. Maurice—Welcome, This Is Rage.
CALLER MAURICE: Kimo, thanks for taking my call. Can’t believe I got through.
KIMO: What’s on your mind, Jersey Boy?
CALLER MAURICE: General Electric. Price-earnings ratio looks too tasty to leave on the table. What do you think, undervalued?
KIMO: You must be a first-time caller, Maurice. I don’t do stock tips. Retail trading is for morons and losers. Which one are you?
CALLER MAURICE: Got the code speak, big guy, you don’t like that one. Me either, that was a test, you passed. So how are you feeling these days about Cisco? I know, it’s unexciting, a bellwether, but I’m liking it for its boringness, solid fundamentals. How about a listener poll?
KIMO: Maurice, if you must incinerate your money, try Atlantic City. At least they give you free drinks while they pick your pockets. Eye candy there isn’t what it used to be, but I’m guessing it’s in your price range. Anything more interesting we can discuss, or can I move on? Don’t leave my listeners hanging.
CALLER MAURICE: I’m thinking maybe I short the e-commerce sector, then go long on commodities. Talk to me, Kimo. Am I making good sense here?
KIMO: Do I sound like Cramer? Not a fan, he lies for ratings. If you want his crystal ball genius, go buy a subscription to Idiots Gone Wild. I’m going short on you.
Balthazer dumped Maurice, waived his open palms at Producer Lee Creighton with a wide-eyed look as if to say, “Are you trying to take me down today?” Creighton tapped his head in frustration, then mimed the outline of a smile, trying to lighten Balthazer’s demon mood. Balthazer signaled for the next call without additional expression and Creighton texted another message on Balthazer’s screen: ANNABEL, CRYING, KEEP THE BAT OUT OF HELL IN THE CAGE. Ms. Stiller stared. Waiting, still waiting.
KIMO: Let’s take another caller, perhaps someone with an actually functioning frontal lobe. We have Annabel, and she’s sad. Annabel—Welcome, This Is Rage.
CALLER ANNABEL: Kimo, thanks for taking my call. I lost my job today.
Her tears were real, anyone listening with even the least human sensitivity could feel them. Balthazer tried to soften, he knew there was something of substance here, but his words leapt ahead of him.
KIMO: So you got fired today?
CALLER ANNABEL: No, I didn’t say I got fired today. I said I lost my job. It’s different.
KIMO: Can be. Let’s talk about it. The economy hard at work?
CALLER ANNABEL: I guess. My department manager was given a target for cutbacks. I was a cutback.
KIMO: What do you do, Annabel?
CALLER ANNABEL: Insurance claims. I process payments. I mean, I used to do that.
KIMO: So you were one of those people who comes out to look at my car to see if I really hit something, then tells me you’re only going to pay four hundred dollars when the body shop already quoted me three times that?
CALLER ANNABEL: No, that’s a claims adjuster. I don’t leave the office. I check their math and send the paperwork to finance, so you do get a check. You should like me. I am one of the good people who make sure you get paid.
KIMO: Got it, so if they cut back you, payment slows down. Everybody’s happy. Except me.
CALLER ANNABEL: Exactly, they get a double win. My salary goes to the bottom line. Fewer checks get processed, the company picks up momentum for a few months.
KIMO: Outstanding, criminals across the board. Can you tell us the name of the insurance company?
Producer Lee Creighton was on his feet, shaking his head No No No! Ms. Stiller looked his way, then back at Balthazer. She wagged her finger, like the very first school teacher who had jettisoned Balthazer from the classroom—like every teacher who had booted him to maintain sanity.
KIMO: Wait, don’t say it. I’m getting a lot of negative energy from my producer who doesn’t want me to name an insurance company on the air, in case one of them happens to be an advertiser.
CALLER ANNEBEL: It doesn’t matter, Kimo, they’re all the same. It’s one big game. You file a claim, the insurance company says no. You file more documentation, they lowball you. You get a written estimate, we accidentally lose it. You file it again, we ask you if you’ll take less. It goes round and round until you’re worn out.
KIMO: So the point is, if you want your money, you have to hang in there long enough to get it? The ones who give up pay for the ones who are stubborn and get what they’re owed.
CALLER ANNABEL: Kimo, we all know you’d get all your money.
KIMO: All my money. Every single penny of my money.
CALLER ANNABEL: And you’re right, most everyone else will settle for less, because they have to get something or they can’t get their car back and get to work.
KIMO: Got it. And you got canned why?
CALLER ANNABEL: I told you, I didn’t get fired. I got laid off.
KIMO: You know, Annabel, I’m hearing something different. Let’s go for some honesty here.
CALLER ANNEBEL: You think I’m hiding something from you, Kimo? Why would I do that?
KIMO: I don’t know. Why did you call today? You’re on the radio with a million of your closest friends, only you don’t know a single one of them, and you don’t know me. So why did you call into a talk show after you got laid off? Seems like there were a lot of other ways you could have spent the afternoon.
CALLER ANNABEL: Okay, I’m not happy about this.
KIMO: Yeah, I got that. What’s the deal? Did you go to bat for someone, is that why they deep-sixed you? Because you tried to help someone do the right thing?
There was a pause on the line. Not quite the dreaded dead air that every host and owner fears, but something approaching that. Caller Annabel was choking up. This would not have been a great time to hang up on her, even Balthazer knew that. Producer Lee Creighton gave him a “move it along” hand gesture. Ms. Stiller now seemed bored, reading a magazine, thumbing through the thin headlines. Annabel’s tale could not have interested her less.
KIMO: Annabel, you still with me?
CALLER ANNABEL: Yes, Kimo.
KIMO: You want to tell us something, don’t you? Because you really feel awful about what happened, because you know how unfair it is.
CALLER ANNABEL: How do you know that?
KIMO: It’s what they pay me to do.
CALLER ANNABEL: You’re a psychologist?
KIMO: I’m an entertainer. Tell me what they did to screw you ‘til you purred.
Producer Lee Creighton grabbed the studio mic: “I bleeped that choice phrase, Kimo. Come on, think of the mailing address—farmland and steeples.”
Ms. Stiller looked up from her magazine, then set her eyes on Balthazer. He knew she could not believe any sane advertiser would want to be associated with this daily fracking fest, but the paying ones they had, she had been instructed to keep without fail. Balthazer suddenly had her on edge, fingernails silently digging into each other, swelling feet soon to stretch out her shoes. Really good laughs like this for him were rare.
KIMO: What’d they do, Annabel? Why’d they eliminate your position?
CALLER ANNABEL: I gave them a proposal. I showed them how much money I thought we were wasting making people submit the same claim four, five, six times. Then I tried to figure out the potential value of the good will we were losing with customers by rejecting their claims. I tried to explain to my boss how happy customers were when we did the right thing, and how many new customers they might bring in by word of mouth if we just played fairly.
KIMO: But you’re not the CEO, Annabel. You know that. You’re a claims processor.
CALLER ANNABEL: Not anymore. They fired me, remember.
KIMO: So they did fire you!
CALLER ANNABEL: I don’t know. They said it was a layoff, just a routine layoff to cut some costs. But when I asked them who else was getting cut, all they said was lots of people. And when I went to HR, they asked me to sign this piece of paper saying they would not block my unemployment claim if I signed it. I’m really confused.
KIMO: Please tell me you didn’t sign it, Annabel.
CALLER ANNABEL: Yes, I signed it. I had to sign it. Otherwise they said that I was fired, for cause, and I wouldn’t get unemployment. I’m a single mom, two kids, and I didn’t go to college. This was a good job for me. What do I do now?
KIMO: You didn’t go to college, but you know the difference between pissing on customers and word of mouth advertising. I’d say you’re going to do fine. I just wish you hadn’t signed that release. They got you in a weak moment.
CALLER ANNABEL: That’s right, Kimo, they got me. They got me just like they get everyone. They know what they’re doing. You should see how they figure bonuses.
KIMO: Bonuses are paid to club members, Annabel, in exchange for silence. It’s always been that way. If they all hold hands, no arms get broken. The pain begins when you don’t hold hands. Now tell me why you’re really calling, Annabel. Come on, This Is Rage.
CALLER ANNABEL: I’m calling because . . . because I think you really want to help people like me. That’s what I always hear you do. Can you help me?
KIMO: You know, Annabel, I think I can.
Producer Lee Creighton looked deep into the glass separating him from Balthazer in the booth. Balthazer saw he was worried now, this call was shifting into turbo boost, the kind of call Creighton hated but made Balthazer big. Ms. Stiller cringed as she restlessly turned another magazine page. This time she tore it a little—more than a little.
KIMO: Annabel, we need to get that insurance company to give you back that liability release. Then you need to get an attorney. Then it’s all about the American way.
CALLER ANNABEL: But I’m locked out, Kimo. How do I get the paper back?
KIMO: We get them to give it to you, Annabel. Just like that. For that to happen, we need to play a little game. Would you like to play a game, Annabel?
CALLER ANNABEL: Not exactly in the game playing mood, Kimo.
KIMO: Sure you are. Here’s how we play. We need for the insurance company to be known to the public for the abusive, appalling, viciously amoral pox on society they are. Sound like fun?
CALLER ANNABEL: That would be all insurance companies, Kimo. Trust me, I have worked for three of them and it always ends the same way. Whoever improves throughput gets sent home.
KIMO: Throughput, I love it. You should be CEO. But we aren’t talking about all of them, Annabel, just the one that set out to ruin your life. And once a million of our friends know who that is, you’re going to have a much easier time getting back that piece of paper, and I’m guessing you may never need to go down to EDD. Let’s play the game, shall we?
CALLER ANNABEL: What’s the game, Kimo?
KIMO: The game is, I say the name of an insurance company, and you say Yay or Nay, so we know who did this atrocious thing to you and your two children. What say you, shall we try?
That was enough. Ms. Stiller flung the ripped magazine onto the mixing board and grabbed the studio mic from Producer Lee Creighton. “Knock it off, Balthazer.”
KIMO: Listen carefully to the choices now, Annabel. Was it Allstate?
There was silence on the line, brief dead air again. Ms. Stiller still had the studio mic. “Balthazer, you are going to get this station sued.”
KIMO: Okay, let’s try again. Perchance it was Farmers?
Producer Lee Creighton looked at Ms. Stiller, her eyes ablaze, then opened the studio mic. “Kimo, she wants me to drop the call.”
Balthazer shook his head adamantly. Ms. Stiller was blazing down the path to seeing bug-eyed, yet with textbook training she was forcing herself to maintain her ground. She leaned over Creighton to the studio mic. “Balthazer, at the moment you’re still employed, you haven’t said that it wasn’t Allstate or Farmers. Get a clear negative on both of them so there’s no implication, especially for the network. Even if they don’t sue us, we’re going to lose advertisers if we don’t show respect for their brands.” Ms. Stiller seemed new at this, or maybe she was just better equipped for the previous station format, Latin Top 40. Either way she was going head on with unchained talent on a live daylight broadcast. For Balthazer, that was better sex than sex. No killing this call, not a chance.
KIMO: Okay, the choices thus far are Allstate and Farmers. Let’s try another, maybe was it State Farm?
CALLER ANNABEL: Kimo, I appreciate what you’re trying to do for me, but I really don’t want to get in trouble. I need my unemployment check. I need to work.
KIMO: Annabel, listen to me. The Man just did you in. You don’t need an unemployment check. You don’t need to work. You need a settlement—a nice, healthy, high six figure settlement.
Ms. Stiller was starting to sweat. Producer Lee Creighton reached for the Kleenex but she batted it away. “Balthazer, you bottom fisher, you are going to lose your slot. You are baiting that woman and that’s not going to happen on my air. Tell her you are clear it’s none of those three companies and get rid of this caller.”
KIMO: Annabel, they stuck it to you, you need to stick it to them. Everything about this is wrong. You tried to help, they canned you. You cared about customers, they sent you packing. Who was it? Allstate, Farmers, State Farm, perhaps GEICO? Was it those lizard people at GEICO?
“One more brand name on my air and I kill the call, Balthazer. You are over the line. You think this station is beneath you? Imagine where you’ll get air time if you get blown out of Fresno. Think Sarah Palin’s Alaska, then head north.” Balthazer was not sure if Ms. Stiller was bluffing. Ratings always triumphed in minor skirmishes, but he knew she desperately needed a live retraction from him on air to stay clean. If the corporation got sued for slander on her watch by a national insurance company, she would lose her job as well. Replacement jobs for radio executives were about as plentiful as launch pads for new talent. Everyone needed this gig, but Balthazer wasn’t much into cooling the reactor core.
KIMO: We’re running out of time, Annabel. We’re going to have to go to commercial. What I really want to do is play a commercial for an insurance company on the next break, but it will be much more pertinent if we know which criminals were responsible for this injustice. You have to tell me, I can’t guess. Allstate, Farmers, State Farm, GEICO? I need you need to give me a name, Annabel.
CALLER ANNABEL: Okay, Kimo, I trust you. I have no choice but to trust you. This afternoon I got fired by . . .
In a nimble fast cut to dead air, she was gone. Producer Lee Creighton had been quick on the draw, faders slid to zero, nothing Balthazer could do to bring her back. More than twenty years together had wired his producer’s instincts for survival, to move the call to vapor so the show could go on, but that was not how Balthazer saw the game, not how he got to the top. He glared at Producer Lee Creighton, who grabbed a hand towel and took a champion’s breath.
Balthazer was beside himself: “You killed my call, right before the punch line, you jerk off? You are a tier-one dick weed, shit coward, Cro-Magnon cocksucker!”
Unfortunately, both paws on the hand towel caused Producer Lee Creighton to miss that string. He had saved the GEICO lizard and all his logo pals, only to take his hands off the console in the seconds of relief that followed. Balthazer had slipped, and now so had Creighton. Balthazer heard his own foul mouth echo through the monitors, a broadcast outburst that would cost him everything. If it had not been his homeboy on the board, Balthazer would have thought it was a set up. It was simply an error following a save, but the error was unrecoverable.
KIMO: We’ll be right back, after this word from GEICO—or one of its reptile competitors.
Balthazer switched to commercial, activating the recorded auto play sequence on his panel, freeing himself of the headgear. Then he let loose on Producer Lee Creighton. “You cut her off, but you left me live? What is that, friendly fire?”
Despite the day’s ordeal, Ms. Stiller seemed almost gleeful. “Pack up, Balthazer. We’ll finish the shift with Latin Top 40.”
“You’re firing me, over some blah-blah on insurance? Come on, Limbaugh serves up worse on his first cup of coffee.”
“The insurance is for openers, Balthazer. We’ll see if they sue. But those last lovely words, that sign off will cost you your license.”
“Creighton, why didn’t you bleep me? I told you when we started today, be ready to bleep me. I smell assassination.”
“You think I’m conspiring with her?” shot back Producer Lee Creighton. “After all these years, you think I would purposefully take you down?”
Balthazer grabbed the mic cord and began to wind it into a hangman’s noose. “I don’t know what to think, Creighton. You know what? Get the hell out of here. I’m done with you.”
Exhausted as much as incredulous, Producer Lee Creighton looked hard at Balthazer, grasping for normalcy. “Kimo, I can’t do this anymore, not again.”
“I get it, Creighton. You’re a pussy. Now do what I said. Get out of this studio, get out of my shadow. I’m not carrying you anymore. Get out!” The corded hangman’s noose had become a lasso, and Balthazer was swinging it back and forth.
Producer Lee Creighton took a step toward Balthazer, worried, not seeing him quite this far gone before. “Kimo, you’re going to need help. This round is not going to be the same.”
“Get. Out. Now!” Balthazer released the lasso and the mic flew at Creighton, who quickly stepped out of the target zone. The makeshift missile knocked an old faded picture of the two of them at the Talkers Awards from the wall, smashing the frame, all that was needed to get the job done. Creighton had taken in enough drama for this tour and exited stage door right.
Balthazer was out of the chair, half way to the door, heading for Ms. Stiller. “Latin Top 40, you corporate criminal?”
Ms. Stiller was having none of it. “How far do you want to take this, Balthazer? Job? License? Jail?”
Balthazer re-roped the lasso, tossing the cord in Ms. Stiller’s direction. She ducked it.
“You’re going for assault now, Balthazer. Losing your career isn’t enough? You really want to do prison time as well?”
“Here’s what I want,” said Balthazer. This time the noose landed on her hands, as if he had done this before. All in one move, he had her hands tied in the mic cord and started to wrap the slack around a loop in the control board.
“You’re beyond crazy,” she blurted. “You think this is somehow going to be okay?”
“I think it’s going to be what it needs to be,” Balthazer smirked. “Here you go, you cut costs to the bone. Afternoons—just me, Producer Lee Creighton, and you. Now Creighton is gone, and from what I can tell, you don’t like the talent programmed for the hour.”
Balthazer fixed the cord to the control board. Her hands were locked, she could not move. He slid the microphone boom directly in front of her and put the windscreen a half inch from her lips. “We’re coming back from break now, ma’am.” Balthazer reached for the control board and pushed the volume sliders live. “Commercial is over, Ms. Corporate Criminal.” Ms. Stiller stared into the windscreen. On the wall of the studio, the red neon letters could not have been clearer: On The Air.
She tried to free her hands. Could not.
She tried to find a few words to say. Could not.
Balthazer wondered how many people might still be listening, and for how long. He left Ms. Stiller at the console, strode to the glass door, locked it behind him, then walked on down the hall and departed the studio.
No more valiant noise.
No more callers or commercials.