Sam looked at the giant digital clock on the wall.
Sam Steele Stories
He glanced over at the cart machine and removed the top two cartridges, setting them aside as the third song was finishing. He grabbed another cart from the rack and stuck it into the top slot.
Sam looked to the opposite side of the console in front of him and flipped a switch. A red light bulb lit and the music fell silent. Then he immediately flipped the switch back.
“Nope!” he said as the red light went dark and sound returned. The last note was fading fast as Sam grabbed the battered headphones that lay in front of him. He put them over his ears, flipped the switch, and spoke into the microphone.
“That’s All Star from Smash Mouth as we play the top hits of ’99 here on your rock station at Mistleton University—”
University? Or college? Mistleton College. Why can’t I keep that straight. Been here since August. Surely I should know the name of my school by now. What’s the difference between a college and university anyway? Well, I said it. Can’t take it back on live radio. Just move on. Like Ed said, speak with absolute confidence even if you have no idea what you’re—
“—It’s 11:31, just 29 minutes from the new millennium. I’ll be here till then and then after until 3:00 am.”
Till then? Then after? What was that? Not saying that again. If I can help it.
“Up next, the Backstreet Boys—”
Sam pressed the button on the cart machine. Keeping the volume low, he continued talking over the music.
“Here is I Want it That Way.”
He flipped the switch and turned up the music.
I didn’t say my name again. This should not be so difficult. Flip the switch, say the song, say the station, say my name. How long have I done this? These are rookie mistakes.
He looked at the rack of top songs.
“Cher. I have to play that before 2000 rolls in,” Sam said aloud. “Baby One More Time. Genie in a Bottle. Livin’ La Vida Loca. No Scrubs—no thank you.”
He grabbed the “No Scrubs” cart and stuck it in the already-played rack.
“This should get us close to midnight. Just need another—”
The phone rang. Sam picked up the receiver. “Mistleton Radio.”
“Who are you?” the lady creaked.
“Why don’t you tell us that next time you’re on the air?”
“I know. I forgot,” Sam stammered.
“I’ve been listening to you since 10:30, and I’ve wondered who this man with the velvety-smooth voice is on my radio.”
Sam started to reply but glanced at the time left on the song. He reached over for the Ricky Martin cart and stuck it in slot 2.
“Are you taking requests?”
“Um,” Sam said trying to calculate the time left in the hour. “I’m not sure I’ll have time until after midnight.”
“But this song won’t work after midnight,” she said.
“What do you want to hear?”
“Prince,” she said. “I want to party like it’s 1999!”
“Well I gotta play these songs our program manager left for me,” Sam said, staring at the rack of remaining songs. “Besides, wasn’t that from the 80s?”
“It was re-released at the end of last year and made the charts this year, so I think it should count,” she said. “Besides that, I turned 88 today, and I think you should play my song before my birthday is over.”
She’s 88? And listens to us?
“I’m curious, ma’am,” Sam said. “Why do you listen to the student station?”
“I was a student at Mistleton,” she said. “Of course, we didn’t have the radio station then. Didn’t get that until after World War Two. I met my husband at Mistleton. He passed away a decade ago. No wait, two decades.” She laughed. “Time’s strange. But I like the music you play. Keeps me young. By the way, you got dead air.”
Sam looked at the meter. Needles were laying on zero. He turned to the cart machine and hit Ricky Martin.
“Oh good,” the lady said. “I like this one, but I would like it better if you played Prince next.”
“Okay, ma’am,” Sam said. “If I can find it. This is not the most organized place.”
“Turn around,” the lady said. “It’s on the shelf in the wall behind you. Near the top. The cartridge has a blue dot.”
Sam turned. Sure enough, there was a large group of songs, all with blue dots. He put the phone receiver down in front of the console and walked over to the shelf built into the back wall. He looked near the top. Prince. Party Like—
How did she know?
He grabbed the cart and returned to the phone.
“You were right. There it is. How did you know?”
He held the receiver and put Prince into the third slot.
“Ma’am? Are you there?”
The phone was dead.
“Okay then. Let’s play your song.”
Sam started the cart and lined up the remaining songs, constantly calculating to ensure his last song would finish right before midnight.
“That is Cher with the number one song for 1999,” Sam said as the song faded out. “And I believe, I believe, I believe it’s about time to say goodbye to the year, the decade, the century, and the millennium!”
Sam flipped the mic switch off and frantically searched through the pile of carts on the console.
Fireworks! Where are the fireworks? Fog horn? No! Fireworks. Ah ha!
He grabbed the cart labeled New Year Fireworks and stuck it into the cart machine. Then he flipped the mic switch on.
“By the way, I heard a news story with some professor saying this is not the last year of the millennium,” Sam said. “That starts next year.”
Sam glanced at the clock.
“I don’t know about you, but going from 1999 to 2000 is a huge deal,” Sam said. “Even if that prof is technically right. I don’t know.”
Sam raised his finger in front of the button on the cart machine and paused.
“Question! Are you ready for this?”
Oh. Man. I’m not ready for this! How am I going to fill the next 20 seconds? I got no words. Twenty seconds of dead air? I can’t do that. I could sing something. What’s that song? Old Lane Zine? What does that even mean? Or hum it. Or count. Yes! Count!
“Here’s your countdown to 2000,” Sam said as he watched the clock.
“Um. 15. 14. 13. 12. 11. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.”
As the clock on the wall turned midnight, Sam pressed the button to start the fireworks.
One second later, the entire control room went dark and silent.