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My Own Anderson-Cooper-Style, On-Air Laughing Fit

By Dave Fox

Anderson Cooper’s squealing fit on AC360 last night was epic. It reminded me of my own most ridiculous on-air incident, way back in 1992, when I was anchoring the evening news on  Wisconsin Public Radio.

I had come to the station from commercial radio, and was dealing with a different delivery style from the “infotainment” format I’d worked with at other stations. The Public Radio stories I read were supposed to have some sort of serious political or social impact. Furthermore, at age 24, I’d been coached in how to sound like a 60-something professor.

It was a slow news day. Minutes before airtime, I was combing through the AP wire. I needed 30 more seconds of material and there was a funny story I wanted to read. But I knew it didn’t really fit the station’s format.

I looked for something else, but with two minutes before I had to dash from the newsroom to the studio and anchor the news live, I had nothing else. I snagged the wire copy and headed to the studio.

The story was about a teen in Boscobel, Wisconsin, who had been arrested for stealing four items from a pet store: A snake, a tarantula, an iguana… and a book called “My First Lizard.”

It was a funny story, and a story I could have delivered with the light but controlled tone it deserved on a commercial station. But halfway through reading it, a thought buzzed through my mind again: “I should not be reading this story on this station.”

I was live, however, halfway through the story. I had no choice but to keep going. When I got to the book title, I could feel the laughter building like the moment before an explosive sneeze. I couldn’t have a laughing fit on the air. But I couldn’t contain myself either. So I got through the story… with a mischievous snicker as I read the book title. Then, I killed the mic.

Through several second of dead air, I doubled over in my chair, eventually falling on the floor from laughing so hard. Tears were streaming down my face as I had a private laugh attack in the studio. It wasn’t the story that was making me laugh so hard. It was the fact that I was reading it — a combined feeling of rebellion and concern that I might get in trouble. The newscast was just about over. With the microphone still off, dead air stretching longer, I tried to compose myself. I had to say just one thing, and then I could push the button that started the next hour’s program.

“This is Wisconsin Public Radio News. I’m Dave Fox.”

So I got it together. Took a deep breath. Put on a serious face. Turned on the mic. “This is Wisconsin Public Radio News,” I said, as the thought “Oh no, not again” rambled through my brain. As I got to my name, I lost it. My convulsive laughing fit, similar in volume to Anderson Cooper’s last night, was heard throughout Wisconsin.

My one saving grace was that this was radio, not television, and a one person show at that. I could bail now and go into the next hour’s program. So my own on-air meltdown back in 1992 did not drag on as long as Cooper’s did last night, but it was equal on the cackling scale.

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Published on Friday, August 19, 2011

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