John Curley shares his unconventional on-air dyslexia workaround
For years, KIRO Radio’s John Curley tried hard to keep people from knowing he has dyslexia. It’s a secret that almost scuttled his early broadcast career as it was just getting started.
“I struggle mightily,” Curley admits. “I tend to ad lib things as opposed to read. I get the general gist.”
Curley was recently asked by some kids he was talking to in an Issaquah school about overcoming dyslexia, if it ever kept him from succeeding. He recounted a time when it very nearly did.
Somehow, he managed to get a job as a TV weatherman at a small station, in large part because he didn’t have to actually read anything on the air. But when tornadoes threatened the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois area where he was working one of his first jobs, the truth nearly came out.
The news director came running screaming “tornado, tornado,” pointing at a screen that turned out to be a radar (Curley never bothered to actually learn what it was or how it worked, so it was of no use to him.)
The boss told him to get on the set and read the warnings from the teleprompter. He had no idea Curley was dyslexic and actually couldn’t read the screen.
Luckily, most of the staff including the boss evacuated to the basement, leaving just a grizzled, veteran cameraman in the studio with him.
As the advisory came up on the screen, it was do or die time. He could make make his way through the first line, which said the National Weather Service had issued a warning. But them came the moment of truth. A series of towns with lengthy native American names that would trip up even a strong reader started scrolling on the screen. Curley was certain his career was about to come to a crashing end. All he could do was pray. And suddenly he got an inspiration.
No, he couldn’t suddenly read. In typical Curley fashion, he came up with a much more devious solution.
“I acted as if my microphone was turning on and off, like it was breaking up,” he laughed.
Occasionally he would throw in whole words or sentences just to make it seem real. He kept up the charade for several minutes until the text on the screen finally stopped. Somehow, he got to the end of the breaking news alert.
“The guy running the camera leans across and says ‘what was that?'”
He was caught. In a panic, Curley told the the crusty cameraman the truth and pleaded with him to keep the secret.
Luckily, Larry the cameraman had a secret of his own. His son had dyslexia as well. As long as Curley wouldn’t mention Larry likes to smoke in the studio, he wouldn’t say anything. A friendship was born, a career flourished.
So what’s the moral of the story?
“When I talk to these kids, I try to tell them that look you can overcome this. God gives you other gifts you need to find and it is the finding of those gifts that makes life interesting.”
Thankfully, with all of the advances in the treatment of dyslexia, most kids won’t have to resort to Curley’s unconventional way to deal with it.