E-a-r-l-y. No, it isn't one of the words Scott Slade asked competitors to spell during Saturday's Gwinnett County Spelling Bee. But it is one the host of WSB-AM's "Atlanta Morning News" program lives.
The voice of the county Bee for more than a decade, Slade took his familiar position stage right this weekend at Mill Creek High School's theater, calling out words for the contestants to spell in the same distinctive voice that accompanies metro commuters to work every weekday morning.
Because of his job, the Suwanee resident is in his element during the early hours of the day, rising each morning at 2 to research and prepare for his show, which starts at 5 a.m. But Slade, 52, seems equally comfortable at the Bee, an event he looks forward to each year.
"They called and asked me to do it one year, and boy did I have an awakening," said Slade, who can't remember for sure how many years he's called the Bee. "It is such a pressure event.
"They have parades and things for sports stars - and they deserve to be honored - but so do these kids. I don't know how many adults make a living playing football, but I do know a lot of adults who make a living out of spelling and performing (mentally) under pressure."
I first met Slade at last year's event, which is sponsored by the Daily Post. He, like me and the other judges, is impressed by the difficulty of many of the words, some we all admitted not knowing. But Slade has the toughest job - he has to pronounce those words, even the monsters.
"I was amazed at how precise you have to be," Slade said of the enunciation required in calling the Bee. "Even people who speak for a living get sloppy. But you have to get this just right."
Slade is pretty good at getting his main job just right as well. He's worked at WSB for more than 20 years, hosting his top-rated morning drive show since 1991. One of the last disc jockeys to play records on the AM station, Slade's name and voice are both more well known than his face.
Which can make for some interesting trips out to eat.
"I get a lot of: 'Do I know you?' 'Have you been here before?' 'Have I waited on you before?'" Slade said. "It usually ends with: 'You weren't what I expected. I thought you were' - fill in the blank - 'older, younger, shorter, had more hair.'"
The job is tough on his lifestyle. Slade, who records all of his favorite TV shows, goes to bed between 8 and 9 p.m. during the week. He said he misses out on a lot of neat things, rarely staying up past his bedtime.
"The schedule dominates your life," he said. "If I go out on a 'school night,' it takes me three days to get over it."
It's been much longer than that, and Slade still hasn't gotten over his appreciation of Gwinnett's Bee. So when it comes to him announcing the Bee again next year, his station's motto says it best - Depend on it.
Todd Cline can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. His column appears on Tuesdays. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.