Let me be straight up front with this. If a DJ on a radio station doesn’t wear a headset while on the air, then he or she is not a REAL radio DJ. Real DJs have “Headphone Hair!”
I know, some really iconic radio stations in the past had systems where the jocks could hear the music without feedback. I know some jocks and news announcers used the one hand cupping the ear method, like Gary Owens on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. Even my old school news announcer Mike Rast often sat in the news booth with one ear cupped behind his ear. But even Mike himself used then when he was reading the news from the control room while I was out at Doug Broome’s ordering a shake and fries. If you really wanted to hear what was on the air you needed headsets.
During the 60s, the standard control room headphone was the Trimm Dependable Headphone. They were everywhere even some early radio receivers sported a pair. They were light and inexpensive and their “on the ear” design could deliver an adequate sound level without causing feedback on the air. They were supplied by my first two radio stations WUSC and WCOS. They were also the headphones used at the iconic rockers in Jacksonville, WPDQ and WAPE.
The days of the Dependable Trimm Headphones were numbered as stereo began to penetrate the radio and audiophile arenas. They went out with the old “Hi – Fidelity” mono singles and albums. I was the first at WCOS to make the switch to the stereo “over the ear” design of headphones. I had a pair of inexpensive stereo headphones complete with vinyl covered pads that completely enclosed my ear. After consulting with Milton our engineer about using them on the air I build a conversion box that matched the stereo low impedance headphones to the mono 600 ohm output from the board. I loved those headsets. When I went from the studio to Dougs for the Nightbeat show, I bought a Motorola AM tabletop radio and installed a stereo jack in the white plastic case that sent the sound to the headphones instead of the speaker. I no longer needed the conversion box. A side benefit was that Dougs was closer to the WCOS Transmitter located on Edgewood Avenue a couple blocks behind Providence Hospital. I was in heaven. They sounded better there than in the Cornell Arms Studios.
As I sit here writing, the fog of the years is clouding my memory and I can’t remember the brand of headphones that I used then. But you can see the headphones in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice awkwardly placed on the head of a Soviet Rocket Technician played by Richard Marner. How is it that my Swiss cheese memory can remember the movie and the actor but not the brand of the headphones that I used? Let’s just say that Google is a good thing.
At WIS Radio in the late 70s I used the Sennheiser HD414 headphones. These were the first “on the ear” headphones I used since the Trimm headphones with which I started. These puppies were light and had a great sound a combination I really came to dislike, because they were feedback magnets. I never did feel that I could adequately hear what was going on because when I turned them up loud enough they would squeal like a stuck pig when I leaned up to the microphone to say something. One of the other DJs, who ran his headphones at just short of jet engine level, kept insisting that I do something to stop the feedback. So I got him a pair of Koss Pro-4AA “over the ear” headphones but he said they were too heavy. Fine with me, I used them the few times I filled in for an absent DJ.
I was fortunate in that I didn’t use those headphones too much in the 70s because I had many DJ friends who did and they all wear hearing aids. There was no beating hearing the air suck around the microphone when the VU meters are banging against the stops and the compressors were thumping. Oh YEAH! Man! That was radio!
As much as I disliked the Sennheiser HD414 headphones, I went back to the brand when I started doing enough air time to warrant getting a pair of radio quality headphones. These days I use the HD 380 Pro headphones. Their “over the ear” design prevents most feedback situations, but I still have to be careful. In my home studio, the headphones rest on the Shure RE-27 microphone when not in use during a show. Because I had no studio speaker muting, I had gotten used to keeping them on my head as long as the show is in progress. But last year I installed an AudioArts Air 1 console that does provide muting so they are off my head more than in the past. Another good thing is that the Air 1 limits the headphone volume to a safer level. I wonder if OSHA had anything to do with that.
At WUSC-FM, when they are not on my head, I carefully hang them on the neck of their Shure RE-20 microphone where I can grab them quickly before the record ends. One thing to note: the headphone volume on the older AudioArts D-75 console can be turned up way past the pain level. It is a good thing I have so much to do while the songs are playing there that the headphones are off my head almost all the time the microphone is not on. Occasionally, I get caught flatfooted when the song ends before I am ready. When that happens I have to be sure to keep the earpieces away from the microphone as I lift the headphones off of it, or I will get a little squeal of feedback. Keep listening, I guarantee it will happen sometime in the next show or two. Oh MY!