Nothing says Christmas in the radio industry like doing a Christmas light switch-on. You know you've arrived when you get to light up your home town shopping centre accompanied by The Mayor, Father Christmas, a soap actor currently in Panto down the road or, if you're lucky, all of the above!
I remember my first time and I truly believe it's a story that only I can tell.
Let's go back to Shrewsbury in the year 2009. The country was in a bit of a pickle financially, Michael Jackson had very suddenly left us and I had both been given and lost my first ever Breakfast Show on commercial radio. When Christmas rolled around I had taken a pay cut to host an afternoon show. It wasn't ideal but hey, I was still on air doing what I love. My foot was still in the door!
I took at job at Waterstones in Shrewsbury on a weekend. I could spend all week doing what I love guilt-free, knowing I was plugging the financial hole on a weekend selling books and generally being all customer service-y (between you and I, this was something I really enjoyed doing. Still do. I know when radio is done with me it's something I could easily be the best in the world at!)
I living in Shrewsbury where I was a radio presenter and a sales assistant. Very rarely did the twain meet. That's the joy of being a radio guy, nobody knows what you look like - unless you're in one of those markets that decorate their buses with Breakfast Show presenters faces.
The first time the streams metaphorically crossed though lead to an anecdote that I doubt many others will have.
TOM: I'm really sorry but I'm unavailable.
MANAGER: Oh. That's a problem...how come?
TOM: Erm...I'm kinda...the one switching the Christmas lights on.
(pause longer than a piece of string)
MANAGER: Is that the best excuse you could come up with?
I think to the lovely guys I worked with the penny only dropped when they heard my voice over the loudspeaker on that Thursday night (oh yeah, the shop I worked at was DIRECTLY in front of the market square where the light switch-on was happening)
I'm really grateful to the people I worked with at Waterstones and their patience with me. The following year I started getting interest from other radio stations and on more than one occasion I dropped my bosses right in it by having calling them on Friday afternoon to beg for a Saturday off so I could go and cover on another station or host an event in town. They always obliged me. Every single time.
My time with Waterstones ended when out of nowhere I was offered weekends on Wyvern back in Worcester, my home town (another blog for another time). Hours before my next weekend shift, I had to call into Waterstones and resign effective immediately. I hated doing that. I don't like letting people down but, like the lovely people they are, they accommodated this bungling radio numpty. I am forever grateful for that too.
Every Christmas I think back to my 2009 in Shrewsbury. I've been a part of nine Christmas lights events since then but that particular one, with my colleagues from Waterstones across the way and That Guy From Emmerdale to my side, it was one of the coolest things in the world to be a part of. I may as well have been lighting up the universe that night.
If you find yourself in a similar situation over the holiday season (as them Americans say) then I'd love to hear your story! Just always check before you start whether the plunger is live or not...seriously, I've heard some stories!