The alarm chimed at 4:10 a.m.
''I must need my head examined,'' I grumbled, climbing out of bed.
In June, Maggie Fuller, the only female member of the four-person WNIR morning zoo, left the station. Since then, women eager to fill the vacancy at the popular talk radio station have been auditioning for the job. Why not me?
Don't get me wrong, I like my job at the Beacon Journal and don't have any interest in leaving (unless it's for a six-figure salary). I was simply curious about what it's like for a radio personality to have to be at the top of her game long before the sun rises. So I crawled into my little car, flipped on the headlights and headed for Kent.
In most cases, the only time I get up this early is to catch a plane heading for a far-off destination. But the payoff for feeling like I've missed a night of sleep is a sandy beach somewhere, not a testosterone-filled studio with worn-out carpet and a girlie calendar.
There's no sign on state Route 59 marking the radio station, so I drove around lost for a few minutes. The morning guys said it was a good way to keep the riff-raff out, but I got in anyway.
Stan Piatt, Jim Midock and Steve French were on the air when I arrived. I sat down at the only open seat with a microphone.
Having already drunk enough coffee to get a buzz, Piatt was rocking back and forth in his office chair and humming a tune.
''He drinks at least three pots (that's not cups) in the morning,'' Midock said of the show's host.
As French talked sports, he stared into space, focusing his eyes on nothing. ''We are all right here in our heads when we do this,'' Piatt explained, placing a finger against his noggin.
Each morning, Piatt holds a contest in which listeners are encouraged to phone or e-mail responses. With a rather antiquated phone system and no computers in the studio, that can be tricky. From another room, someone prints off e-mails and runs them in to Piatt. The morning guys explained their bosses want employees to concentrate on the show, not a computer screen.
Piatt introduced me, the day's tryout. I wasn't nervous, probably thanks to the guys in the studio with me. I felt welcomed and relaxed. And while they are remarkably proficient at their jobs, they never pressured me to perform at their level. Still, I felt obligated to be at least a little entertaining; good thing I drank that can of Coke on the drive in.
Some of the show's topics are generated from news stories, and others come from the show's listeners, who Piatt maintains are the funniest people in the world.
My day on the air was the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, so there was much discussion about Elvis' soul ascending to that great rock 'n' roll concert in the sky while his body was sitting on the can. And apparently, his daughter, Lisa Marie, is ticked that Viva Las Vegas is being used as a jingle for Viagra. The day's contest challenged listeners to suggest a song that would be a perfect tune to advertise a specific product.
''Blowin' in the Wind for Beano,'' offered an e-mailer.
Clearly that was from a guy.
The door to the studio was continually opening and shutting. When the national news began, Piatt whipped off his headphones and went outside for a smoke. French and Midock revolved in and out. It seemed only natural to follow. I hung out at the water cooler and pretended to know when it was time to go back to my seat.
Midock rapidly rewrote the news, while French spoke briefly with some employees.
When everyone was back in his seat, I talked about the Beacon Journal, particularly the writers who don't routinely have their mugs in the paper. I shared an incident that happened long ago during my 16-year high school class reunion in Ellet, where two women, embroiled in a cat fight over a man, rolled on the ground beneath a table.
And I chatted about my upcoming adoption of a child from Ukraine. I explained that my family took Russian language classes earlier in the year. And while the instructor wanted to teach us the alphabet, I was more interested in learning words like ''vomit'' so I could take action before it happened, and not after.
Back to the contest: A caller recommended the song You Dropped a Bomb on Me, for air freshener. Another guy.
Maintaining the same energy level as Piatt was difficult. Perhaps if I had gotten more than four hours of sleep the night before, it would have been a bit easier.
Bennie Da Bookie walked into the room. I had expected some mammoth, Godfather-like figure, rather than a respectable-looking man with a slight build. Comedian Dan Long stopped by, as did Elvis impersonator Dan Lintz of Ravenna.
Someone asked where he had been for the past three decades and complimented him on his lean physique.
''I've been living underground,'' he replied, his lip arched in a snarl. ''You can't gain a lot of weight eating potato bugs.''
What a hound dog.
A listener proposed Love Stinks for a commercial about a divorce attorney. Everyone laughed.
After Piatt and French left the room, Midock suggested I could easily fill the empty chair left by Maggie. Perhaps he was just being kind. Earlier, I had paid him a compliment about his ability as a newsperson.
''It's pretend, remember? Just pretend,'' I answered.
Besides, it wasn't even 10 o'clock and I already needed a nap.
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.