I was the advertising manager for a radio station that broadcast from the main one in the city about 60 miles away. My sales office was in a smallish country town. We sold local airtime and live broadcast events.
I had been avoiding one local pizza restaurant because of the evil reputation of the owner. But I was begged, literally begged, by this owner one day to help him turn his business around. We had been building a good reputation for successful events and promotions. This guy had a reputation for being hard to work with and a slow payer, both of which turned out to be true. I tried to tell him we were too booked, but he was persistent. Finally said I would see if my boss would OK it.
I didn’t like this man from jump. Even when asking a favor, he was abrasive and pushy. But my boss, Wes, who was also the station owner, “encouraged” me to do it. You don’t turn down business, especially when it walks in the door to spend money.
It was the nightmare I expected it to be. We set up a few live broadcast events. The owner argued over every tiny charge, even though I was getting him promotional items for free, the “friends and family” discount on a popular local country and western band, and even added some free airtime, courtesy of my boss.
The more business we created, the more this guy resented me. I think we made it look too easy. He didn’t see all the hard work that went into setting up these events, so that everything went smoothly and happened on time. I think it made him feel stupid to see me and my crew, a group of young women in our 20’s, making his business happen when he couldn’t.
He was getting the benefit of two years of relationship-building, making friends in this closely-knit town through a lot of hard work and charming of the local business owners, bands, and owners of local entertainment venues.
I didn’t realize it then, but buying our airtime, especially a live broadcast event, had become a token of prestige, something business owners bragged about. We didn’t charge like the bigger stations did, but we made a lot happen for that amount. If we were broadcasting live somewhere, our other advertisers would stop by just to say hi, be seen (and get a free shoutout on the air, of course).
That I had talented, pretty, personable women working for me didn’t hurt either.
The “fly in the ointment” (yes, I’m getting to the fly part) was that the pizza shop owner was rude, demanding, insulting, and sexist. But, because of us, his sales were going up, people were coming to the restaurant and his place was finally crowded on the weekends.
Only he constantly criticized me, saying I got lucky, saying was it all my boss’s ideas, yada yada yada.
I pretty much had a free hand at my station. But my boss could have a temper when money was involved. Like, we were expected to bring it in, not kick it out.
Even so, I told him I wasn’t going to take any more crap from this guy. I had been putting up with the way Pizza Jerk talked to me, but when he started abusing my “girls” I was getting fed up.
I stopped sending my crew over there for live events, instead borrowing male DJs from our main station. Pizza Jerk noticed this, but wisely said nothing to me about it. Relations between us were getting strained.
One day PJ gets a bright idea, which, he told me smugly, would be better than any of the previous promotions we had done for his business. He informed me that he had set up pony rides for the weekend, starting Friday -rented ponies from a local stable to give rides for the kiddies. He wanted a two-hour live broadcast for Saturday. Our DJs were booked, and my crew was working the state fair booth, but the station producer, Emilio, agreed to be the live broadcaster for this last-minute event.
Fortunately for me, because he became a witness…
The pony ride plan had one major drawback, which I tried to warn the owner about. But, before I could explain, he interrupted me, saying, “It’s already done, let’s not have your usual negativity.” (!)
His place had a popular outdoor seating area. Pizzas were placed on the bar at the pass-through window and waitresses served them. A local favorite was the “Rodeo” -pepperoni, sausage, black olives and mushrooms.
The tables filled up as families came out to eat pizza and watch their toddlers on the ponies, plodding slowly around in a circle. If you have ever done this with kids, you know that even toddlers find it boring.
Emilio did his thing, coming on the air live every ten minutes or so to invite folks down, putting some of the kids and parents on the air, talking up the pizza offerings etc. with his usual polish.
Unfortunately, ponies tend to leave “piles” behind them, if you know what I mean. By Saturday afternoon these piles had attracted swarms of flies. They didn’t smell so great, either. When the wind changed, noses began to twitch.
I suggested to the owner that maybe he should get one of his employees to remove the mess. He had one of the busboys shovel the horse poo toward the parking lot side, like five yards farther away, making landmines for customers returning to the parking lot.
This only served to agitate the flies.
Naturally, the aroma of pizza attracted the flies, who flew into the kitchen for a bite of something tastier than horse dooky.
The cooks were hustling to put pizzas out for the growing lunch crowd. The waitresses were working as quickly as they could to bring out food and drinks.
Pretty soon, most of the crowd had pizza at their tables. Because of the hectic pace, the waitresses didn’t notice that some of the “black olives” on the pizzas were moving.
The owner had JUST come up to me, smirking and bragging about how well his brilliant idea was working, when FLY CHAOS erupted.
And one kid with a piercing voice: “Daddy, there’s FLIES stuck to our pizza!!” THAT turned heads.
I walked over the table. Sure enough, there was a fly, wing-side down, stuck to the cheese, not quite dead, his little legs waving slowly.
I looked around to see the other diners inspecting their pizzas in horror. They didn’t ALL have flies in them, but…
One by one, chairs were pushed back, and children were gathered and bundled out to cars. Customers avoided eye contact with the owner.
Pizza Jerk turned bright red, then stomped over to me. He began berating me LOUDLY for “my” terrible idea in front the exiting customers. He had quickly figured where to shift the blame and he was making a big show of it.
I wasn’t having it.
My LOUDER speech went something like:
“You are as full of horse shit as this parking lot is! I TRIED to tell you at the beginning. I TRIED to tell you last night. YOU didn’t want to hear it!”
I wasn’t going to have the community blaming my station for this fiasco. And that instant blame shift? Oh, that set me on FIRE.
I don’t exactly remember everything I said, but it covered his rudeness to my crew, how cheap he was, his ingratitude for all the business we built up for him, and I don’t know what all. I may have questioned his relationship with his mother. I know I finished with, “You are never going to advertise with us EVER again, and you can take your pepperoni and FLY pizza and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine!”
Afterwards, I packed up banners and cords, mortified at my outburst, and still mad. I wouldn’t even look at Emilio, who knew better than to crack jokes at the moment. I was pretty sure that come Monday, I would be picking up my last paycheck at the station.
I didn’t find it funny. Damn, I kicked out a client the boss had specifically told me to work with, one who had been spending a decent amount of money. And not in a way that could be repaired, not without me getting fired. And I made a scene that was witnessed by some of our biggest clients. Emilio would be obligated, as second-in-command, to tell Wes -if the story hadn’t already gotten back to him. Wes was pretty hands-on, and weekends almost always found him on deck at the main station.
On Monday I didn’t wait for the call, but went straight to the main station to face the music. I went into Wes’s office, leaving the door open. I figured by now everyone knew anyway.
Wes scowled at me. I started to tell the story, head down, when I noticed his mouth twitching.
The scowl was fake! He LOVED the whole thing! You couldn’t buy this kind of buzz, especially for a small radio station! And he was tickled as hell that I had finally lost it with Pizza Jerk. It dawned on me that he had just been waiting for the inevitable explosion.
I had worked hard to be a leader, a person who handled conflict with calm and strategy. But Wes knew that I had a temper, even though I seldom allowed myself to show it. He had never seen me really lose it, and I think he suspected that with Pizza Jerk the day would finally come.
What I didn’t know was that some of my clients, other advertisers who had come out for the event, lost no time in calling my boss at the main station, even waiting on hold to tell him the story. What I didn’t know was that they found it hilarious! Pizza Jerk had offended all of them, at one time or another in that small town. It was the reason his business had been failing. They rallied around so that I wouldn’t get in trouble. Bless them. My boss must have gotten an earful of Pizza Jerk stories that afternoon.
I began to relax, absorbing the fact that I wasn’t going to be fired, and that my clients had been paying much closer attention to me than I had supposed. I looked at Wes, whose eyes were sparkling.
For the first time I pictured what the confrontation must have looked like to the “audience.” Oh, God! Short, furious me, nearly jabbing tall, potbellied Pizza Jerk with my finger while letting out all I had been holding back for months. Then I started to laugh. The he started to laugh, hard, and the station crew, who had been watching us out of the corners of their eyes, started to laugh. My boss would be wiping his eyes, then someone would say “FLY pizza!” and it would start all over.
I didn’t lose a single customer. I’m pretty sure I gained a couple because of the legend I had unwillingly created.
Naturally, every time our stations got together for pizza, I was asked if I wanted to order a pepperoni and FLY Pizza.