When I was 10 months into my 16th year, I encountered the most fortuitous opportunity.
Back then, I always exclaimed of my extraordinary luck. But as I have grown older and more knowledgeable of such things, I now realize it was an enormous blessing.
I had been placed in a program for industrious, gifted students in the days before honors classes. In the class run by the very kind Mrs. Betty Childs, to whom I owe a heart-felt debt, we were instructed to try our hand at what we thought we’d like to study in college and claim as a career.
Individually, we spent time with people in that profession. It was very grown-up, because we were responsible for scheduling our appointments, assembling information and then reporting it back to Mrs. Childs for a grade. I became something of courthouse junkie, thinking I wanted to be lawyer, and learned quite a bit about the legal system.
Many days when my classes ended, I headed straight to the courthouse to catch the tail end of a day’s trial. The judges, clerks, attorneys, bailiffs and paralegals came to know me. It felt like family to me. I was certain I would become an attorney.
One day, Mrs. Childs, in her gentle manner, instructed us to prepare a paper on what might be a second career for us, should the first not work out.
I chose radio. I scheduled my interview with a radio station manager and took myself down to the station to meet him. It was a country music station and since I was one of the few 16-year-olds listening to Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings and the Statler Brothers, the manager, who used the air name of Randy Reynolds, was impressed.
“How would you like to have a job?” He asked, out of the blue.
I’ve rarely turned down a job offer in my life.
“I’d love it!”
I was so excited.
“What will I do? Answer the phone? Open mail?”
“I’m putting you on the air,” he said. “You have just the enthusiasm we need. Sundays from one to six, then we’ll add Saturdays.”
It’s pretty amazing but through that opportunity, I would become one of the youngest in the United States to possess an FCC license. I learned how to time records to end perfectly as I brought up the news network on the hour, figure out the longest songs for bathroom breaks and use my knowledge of country music for contests. I became particularly adept at interviewing country music stars in the studio and on the phone. I was such a novelty that no country music star ever turned me down. And some said I was one of the best interviewers they had encountered.
Once, in a press conference with Ronnie Milsap, who was hot as a firecracker and is blind, stopped the questioning. He turned in the direction of my voice after the third question and asked who I was and which station I represented. I answered and he smiled.
“You ask great questions,” he said. “Stay after this and I’ll give you an exclusive interview. I’ll record some tags for your station.”
I was 17 and one of country and pop music’s biggest stars had singled me out in a room of reporters and told I was good at what I was doing. It was strong encouragement. I earned double bachelor degrees in journalism and broadcasting.
Since the day I was hired by Randy Reynolds, I have never spent a day not working in journalism. Even in the days when I worked two or three jobs at a time, one or two of them was with the media.
Yes, I am blessed. And grateful to two people who crossed my path and steered me right. I’m here because they were there.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.