I recently read an article in the Chicago Tribune about a lawsuit "alleging radio star coerced sexual favors," which made me wonder why the Me Too movement hasn't touched the Chicago TV and radio scene. A lot of people in national media and movies have come forward with allegations, but not even a handful of people here in Chicago have spoken publicly about any kind of incidents. And not much seems to have been shared in other cities, even though I know it has happened at various radio and TV stations throughout the country.
Even though the "Me Too" phrase started in 2006, the movement didn't really blow up online until more than ten years later. But because I'd seen and heard various things in the media biz, I wrote a fictional piece about a Me Too-type of situation in 2009. It was in an anthology that my business published called Down the Block, which includes more than 15 authors' and bloggers' pieces (read the book below). One reader seemed to be impressed that I'd written something way before the Me Too movement. Another reader thought that I'd experienced this story, but honestly, I never have. But there are people out there who have had a similar experience, and have stayed silent. Why?
Mr. P lived in a penthouse near the Swissotel, right on the Chicago river. That’s where he prepped for his radio show, which was number one in Chicago. I had to go there because I was his producer, and he always had an open bottle of wine, which he knocked off during our meetings. He never offered me any, which was fine with me, because I was afraid of what I might say if I got even a bit tipsy. We’d meet there in the early afternoon, after he took his long nap and after I returned calls from desperate PR reps who wanted access to his near-million listeners.
He always liked calling me “babe” and it never stopped annoying me, but there was nothing I could do, because there were only a few shows in Chicago, and I didn’t want to leave radio. In a normal company, I’d be able to go to HR to complain about him, or at least would be able to talk to our supervisor, and there would be an understanding that such treatment wasn’t right, but the Program Director at the station was a good friend of his from junior high, and since his hobby was collecting candid photos of barely dressed teens off of MySpace to post on his office wall, there was no way I could talk to him about it. So I just ignored the “babe” and “sweetie” names, and I’d focus on the next day’s run-down, which Mr. P wouldn’t look at until right before he went on the air. Which made me wonder why I had to go to his place to prep, because he could care less about what was going on, as long as he kept getting his million-plus paycheck and could keep paying his ex-wife alimony, while I did all the work to put the show together.
“You know doll, you never told me if you have a boyfriend,” he said and leaned over until his belly spilled over his pants.
“I do,” I lied. There was no way I was going to let him know anything about my personal life. Or anything else, because I just wanted to put in my time with his show, pack my resume with experience, and move on to something better – and more normal.
“I remember when I dated this girl, I met her at my last station in Milwaukee,” he said, and continued telling me stories of how and where he bagged her, then chuckled when he told me she cried when he blew her off to move to Chicago.
“Lovely,” I said, staring at my laptop to find a good story for the 7:00 hour. I really wanted to tell him off, but I couldn’t because I needed this job to get ahead, and that’s what I kept telling myself as he continued to talk about himself, as he always did, no matter what the topic was.
“You ever do anyone at the station?” he asked, pouring more wine into his goblet, which had his face on it and the name of one of the show’s biggest sponsors.
“No,” I said, and tried to divert his attention away with a juicy story of Mayor Daley once again denying corruption in the city, but he ignored it, of course.
“I did – every station I’ve worked – keeps you on edge. You never know if someone will walk in, ha ha.” His double chin jiggled while he let out a snort.
There was no way I could sit there any longer.
“Yeah, well, I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, and packed up my things. I started to make my way towards his private elevator, and thought I was free until I felt a tug of my sleeve.
“Where you going?” he asked. He had a cigar in one hand and an almost-empty wine bottle in the other. “You want a glass?”
“No – I’ve gotta go,” I said, and was almost on the elevator when he suddenly pulled me back.
“Come on, we’ve been working together a long time.” He was so close, I could smell his cigar-wine breath, and could tell he doused a bunch of cologne on his lard to drown the body odor.
“I really have to go,” I said, and pushed the elevator button again since the door closed.
Then he pulled me back more violently, which made me fall to the floor. “Stop!” I yelled, and he pinned me down with his thick arms until I couldn’t move. “Help!” I screamed, but he stopped my speech with his slobbery smelly mouth.
I managed to free my legs enough to kick his flabby stomach, which was hanging over me. He slightly moved to the side, then tried to return on top of me, which just made me kick him harder. I kept kicking and kicking until he rolled to the side, and I ran out to the emergency exit, setting off an alarm. I flew down several flights of stairs and down to the street, where the sidewalks were filled with suited workers watching the tourist boats on the river. Everything looked normal, and it was even sunny outside, but I felt awful enough to take the next week off, because I was so broken inside, and could barely get out of bed.
So I was fired, and Mr. P even managed to get a smear piece written about me in the Times’ media column because the writer was a good friend of his, and he’d never believe my side of the story. Or care. Nobody cared, actually, because other people just saw it as a chance to try to get my job. So I took a break from radio.
Until now. I’m currently the Program Director of another talk station on the northwest side of Chicago, which I partly own thanks to some investors and my generous grandparents’ will. So I can hire who I want. And right now, Mr. P and his agent are sitting in my office, right in front of me, trying to convince me to hire him because his morning show was replaced with a syndicated one out of New York, and the new owners didn’t want to pay his high salary anymore. And now, Mr. P wants to work with me. At my station. So what do you think my answer is going to be?