On-air yard sale speaks to tough times
In Ohio, listeners try to sell what they can on Tradio
By P.J. Huffstutter
Los Angeles Times
September 20, 2009
FINDLAY, Ohio - Chris Oaks hunched over a studio soundboard at WFIN-AM, ignoring the cramp in his lower back and the flashing lights from the phone lines.
He listened to the voice in his headphones: a man calling in to sell a pair of air conditioners for $60 each.
“I need the money more than I need to stay cool,’’ the man said.
“I hope you’re not selling all that you have,’’ he said as the temperature outside hovered in the mid-90s. “You may need one.’’
For more than seven years, Oaks, 42, whose uniform is a rumpled plaid polo shirt and faded jeans, has broadcast radio want ads over the expanse of Ohio farmland.
Called Tradio, short for trade radio, the broadcast has taught him a lot about life on the farms and blue-collar factory towns dotting the rolling hills, although he’s often left with more questions.
Every weekday at 11 a.m., he spends 30 minutes offering hope and the chance to make a few bucks off old gifts, heirlooms, furniture, and other items. His smooth voice carries for 100 miles in every direction.
“It’s amazing how much you can find out from someone in 30 seconds or less,’’ Oaks said. “You learn to piece things together through the hints and guess at the rest.’’
He never wanted the job - he wanted to be a radio newscaster. Who wanted to be in charge of some garage sale?
“I remember the program director at the time explained to me the basics,’’ Oaks said. “He told me, ‘Now, don’t take this too seriously.’ I said: ‘We’re selling goats. It would be impossible for me to take it too seriously.’ ’’
Night-vision scope, fresh day lilies, Siberian husky-Lab mix to give away, chickens, a used toilet, a men’s three-speed bicycle for $25. “It’s got them brand-new tires I just stuck on her, with them fancy sidewalls on it,’’ the caller said.
Oaks listened and moved on.
“Welcome to the program,’’ he boomed across the miles of farmland. “It’s Wednesday Tradio, 419-425-1346 or 888-458-1FIN. You know the rest. Help me out, please. You’re up.’’
It’s one marker of the recession that Tradio, with a few thousand listeners a day, is the second-most-popular show on WFIN, following a morning talk show. Oaks had no figures on the growth of the radio want ads but knows these are hard times. People are selling what they can to raise money.
“Three or four years ago, there used to be some days where the phones were dead,’’ he said. “Now, we can’t get everything in.’’
Findlay, the home of WFIN’s Tradio, was once a center of oil and automotive-parts manufacturing, but the industries shifted and jobs have trickled away.
The county’s unemployment rate rose to nearly 11 percent in July, nearly double from the previous year.“There are some people who look down their nose at the show,’’ Oaks said. “They think it’s only a certain section of the public that tune in. Poor people. . . . They’re like how I used to be. I was wrong.’’