Sunday, September 17, 2017

DJs At College Football Games, Really?

Let me start out by saying that I’ve got nothing against DJ A-Minor. He must be a skilled DJ to get the gig for the University of South Carolina home Football games at Williams-Brice Stadium. His real name is Andre Barden, a Charlotte-based DJ, who has worked the Charlotte Hornets home games. This seems to be a new trend sweeping the SEC recently. For example; Sterling L. Henton – “DJ Sterl the Pearl” has been rocking Neyland Stadium for the Tennessee Home Games for several years now.

I guess I’m gonna sound like some crusty old curmudgeon here but I remain unconvinced that a college football game is the proper venue for a DJ. Aside from Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra” and Darude’s “Sandstorm” two pieces of recorded music that have a special place in the Carolina Football tune playbook, I’d rather be listening to the Carolina Band “The Mighty Sound of the Southeast” blast out the Carolina Fight Song, the Alma Mater or one of the many musical riffs that have been part of the soundtrack of the Carolina games as far back as the days when my feet were covered with the chalk of the gridiron on crisp, cool Saturday afternoons.

Watching the game last night, I was struck by how quiet the “Billy Brice” was. True, the Kentucky team was having its way with the Gamecocks and the 80,000 plus home crowd was mostly out of the game. But in past games, you could hear the band playing their hearts out, trying to get the team and the crowd back into the game. To me, there is nothing like a marching band with skin in the game filling the air with horns and drums. To me, there is no dance or house song that has that same electrifying sound. And to DJ A-Minor’s credit, he didn’t try. Very late in the game, the band started to play into the stony silence and Carolina had a rally, too late and too little but it was a rally nonetheless. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

This brings up something else that has been bugging me for a while. The TV Networks covering the games have gotten away from carrying the half time band performances, opting instead for jumping to half time shows out of their New York Studios where they talk about all the other games being played that day. I concede that there is an interest in those other games but I suspect that there is more opportunity to create advertising revenue in those shows rather than committing to a pair of 15 minute band performances. It seems a shame that all of those student musicians hours and hours of practice, getting every note, every turn and every step down with precision is lost to those not in the stadium. I remember what a thrill it was when our band performances were covered on TV. I feel badly that those who have followed in my footsteps across the field don’t have that memory. Not every college band gets to march in the nationally broadcast Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City, the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami or the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. And if they do, it is all block marching, no formations. No real chance to strut your stuff.

Note: I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the SEC network and some of the other ESPN Networks offer the band’s halftime performances on their apps. But that is not quite the same thing.

As I mentioned earlier; the concept of DJs playing at sporting events come from the professional sports venues. The big difference in my mind is the concept of school spirit. Professional sports fans love their teams but not the way high school and college fans do. Somehow it is more personal. So, I really don’t mind DJs at professional sports venues, It’s a cool idea, even if I can’t get into some of the music. But that is another story.

I admit it! I have skin and memories invested in the old school ways at football games. But I also have admiration for DJ A-Minor for taking on a gig where he has to please a crowd of 80,000 with widely diverse tastes in music. I don’t think that I would take that challenge. To all my fellow marching band curmudgeons I say, “The only thing constant in this life is change!” So let’s give the guy a chance and see how it all turns out. Who knows, maybe like little Mikey in those old Life Cereal commercials from 1972 through 1984, maybe I’ll like it. Oh MY!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Irma’s Tale! (Both of them)

This weekend, everyone who lives in the southeastern part of this great country of ours is thinking of a lady named Irma. Me too! But to be honest I’d rather think about Irma la Douce. She has a much better figure than Irma the Hurricane. Remember that 1963 romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine? Irma la Douce (Irma the Sweet) was a “working” lady who became the object of Jack Lemmon’s affection. The rest of the movie was about the ex-cop, Jack’s attempts to change Shirley’s profession. What we need today is for Jack Lemmon to persuade Irma the hurricane to spin around harmlessly in the Gulf of Mexico.

Not that hurricanes are anything new to this native Floridian who saw his share of them while growing up. These bad ladies; Greta, Debbie, Ella, Irene, Judith, Brenda, Donna Carla, Hattie, Cleo, Dora, Isbell and Gladys all came visiting Florida while I lived in Jacksonville. That is before men’s names got merged into the mix. The big difference back in the day is that we did not have computer models predicting the paths of the storm. So it was rare that we had more than a few days warning, a few precious days to prepare.

For us kids, preparations were to go out and police the front and back yards to pick up anything that could become a missile when buoyed by the high winds. Toys, hoses, sprinklers, lawn furniture and flower pots were stored. The car was placed in the garage with our bicycles, bathtubs and all available containers filled with water, canned food stocked on the kitchen shelves. Because we had an electric range, we made sure the camp stove was filled with propane for use outdoors and that there was plenty of firewood available for the inevitable loss of power. As boy scouts, we knew how to camp out after a storm.

I thought that when I moved to Columbia, SC over 100 miles from the nearest coastline that all of that was behind me. And up until 1989, hurricanes became something to observe from a distance. My theory was that surely any storm that hit the coast would dissipate to tropical depression status before it got here. Then, along came a Cat 4 visitor named Hugo who made landfall just slightly north of Charleston, on Sullivan's Island on September 21 with 140 mph sustained winds and gusts to more than 160 mph.

It was during the overnight of September 21, 1989 when I realized that the western eye wall had passed over the house. I knew that my theory needed revising! That was my first time in the eye of a hurricane and everything they said was true. The winds died out and the stars were visible overhead. Soon enough, it was time to scurry back inside as the other side of the eye wall passed overhead and we were dumped back into the fury of the storm, this time with the winds coming from the west and south as opposed to the initial directions of the north and east.

The next morning, cleanup began with clearing all the branches and tree limbs that covered both the front and back yards. The only damage to the house was the loss of a corner of one shingle on the western facing roof. But the pain was the loss of power. We live in a little power cul-de-sac with about 50 homes on our neighborhood circuit. Despite the heroic work of the power crews, it was five days before power and air conditioning returned. The neighbors all around pooled our resources, we took showers at a neighbor who had a gas water heater and they cooked on our gas stove. Needless to say there is a fine new gas water heater in a tin shed attached to the back of the house now.

Ever since Hugo, my vigilance level for hurricanes has increased. These days I watch them come off the Cape Verde Islands and note the position of the Bermuda-Cape Verde High that determines when hurricanes turn towards the north from their westward tracks across the Atlantic.

Knock on wood: I have had to evacuate a hurricane’s path only once in my life and that occurred in 1998 when I was evacuated from Myrtle Beach, SC where I was attending a conference. The center of Hurricane Bonnie came within 70 miles of the Horry County coast. Highest wind reports ranged as high as 82 mph at the Cherry Grove pier. At the Myrtle Beach Pavilion the highest gust was 76 mph. While the eye didn’t hit South Carolina, Bonnie was close enough to cause beach erosion and an estimated $30 million in damage at flood-prone North Myrtle Beach, not far from the North Carolina state line.

As I drove south along US 17, I was planning on headed westward on US 501 through Conway and then over to I-95 and I-20 near Florence. When I reached 501 I could plainly see that the traffic was backed up for miles and that would not be a great way to get out. I opted to drive down to Georgetown and then take US 521 to Manning and then Sumter where I picked up US 378 to within a few blocks of home. A trip that would normally take a little over 3 hours wound up taking about 4 and a half. Some of my friends who took the more direct route spent over 6 hours to get back home. Although I would like to claim that as a genius move, it was more like blind luck.

I did learn something that day; why interstate highways are not designated as hurricane evacuation routes. Everyone who thinks that Interstates are faster has not had to evacuate in a crowd. Interstates become crowded and traffic slows to a standstill, tempers flare and folks run out of gas and patience. Secondary roads remain lightly travelled, although more than normal but traffic tends to move at a higher speed and there tends to be more gas available in stations that are not at Interstate intersections. From the news coverage that I saw this week, the folks that evacuated Florida for Irma have experienced that first hand.

Left: Shirley MacLaine as Irma la Douce So this morning, Hurricane Irma made landfall at 9:10 AM Eastern time on Cudjoe Key in the Lower Florida Keys, about 30 miles east of Key West, while classified as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds. After crossing the keys, she went back to sea and is skirting up the Gulf Coast of Florida. The second US landfall is occurring somewhere close to Marco Island now and Irma will move across Naples and Fort Myers later this afternoon. As expected, Southern Florida is experiencing widespread power outages and coastal flooding. For me, I’m breathing a watchful sigh of relief.

The movie la Douce ended in a ball of confusion with the lifelines of the major characters significantly altered. It appears certain that, when the remnants of Hurricane Irma dissipate somewhere in the Midwest that the lives of many folks in Florida and Georgia are going to be similarly altered. To all my family and friends who will be forever changed by Irma, my thoughts and prayers are with you. Life does go on! Oh MY!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Gameday!

It seems like it took a little longer this year but college football is finally here. Just for the record, The University of South Carolina Gamecocks edged out the North Carolina State Tarheels 35 to 28 in a nail-biter in Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina. All I have to say about that game is that I must be in pretty good cardiac shape to have survived that one.

Wait, I have one more thing to say! When did the ESPN network play by play announcers abandon their neutrality in calling a game? My old friend Bob Fulton must be turning over in his grave over that broadcast. Yes - I know, Bob was very pro-Gamecock in his broadcasts out of Williams-Brice Stadium, but after all, he was on the Gamecock Football network. I remember how neutral he was when covering a game for the Mutual Radio Network or re-creating a Dixie Youth baseball game. He often said to me unless you are broadcasting for a specific team, that losing impartiality in game coverage was the cardinal sin of the professional sports broadcaster. But those two announcers doing the game yesterday were so biased that they even embarrassed the third member of the team down on the sidelines who at least attempted to level the playing field.

OK - now that I have that off my chest, on to Football Season.

I have to say that although I watch the NFL on Sundays, that prep and college football is what rocks my boat.

I went to almost every game during my high school years. My freshman and sophomore years, our band was still in their formative years. By my junior year, our pep band was in the stands cranking out the Sousa Marches and College Fight songs as the team went up and down the field. My senior year was the first time we fielded a marching band. It was pretty simple stuff; all block formations. Right turns, left turns, about turns and when we really got fancy, oblique turns. Yeah man! We had two of them; 45 degrees to the left and 45 degrees to the right. As drum major, I was in my heyday. We had fun and lots of it. Remember, what happens on the band bus stays on the band bus.

Left: Williams-Brice Stadium today! Onward to college and more block formations in the Navy ROTC drum and bugle corps. Yeah, I had that down. But then there was the big time, The Marching Gamecock Band, complete with field formations. This was a horse of a different color. In block formations, the drum major was the one who had to know where to go, the band followed along. But field formations had much more individuality. Each member of the band had sequential “spots” on the field assigned to them. Between these spots there were a given number of steps in a given direction. Some of these spots were end-points in a formation and some were turn points. If one stopped at a turn point or turned at an end point, they stood out like a sore thumb before 75,000 of your closest friends and neighbors. You had to be on your game on game day.

Enter pure spectator period number one. This is where I turned in my trumpet and spats for a microphone and turntables and started my full time radio career. One of my favorite segments of my shows was the sports report at 10 after and 20 till the hour. In the fall came the transition from the unpronounceable names of the international tennis players to those of the World Series baseball team members and good old football players. Those were good times with scores and just a sprinkling of stats. I didn’t spend too much time at the stadium but always followed our team.

In the 70s I was back in the stadium a little. On November 2, 1975, I was on the camera deck on the northeast corner of Williams-Brice Stadium with the new Electronic News Gathering (ENG) system at the Carolina – Clemson Game. Carolina defeated Clemson 56–20 to set a Gamecock record for most points scored in a football game against the Tigers. Later in that decade, during the 76 through the 79 seasons, I had the pleasure of producing and engineering the Gamecock Football Network with Bob Fulton and Tommy Suggs.

All that was a long time ago; these days football is a spectator sport for me, most of the time, via the magic of television. It is true that my easy chair in my air conditioned living room is a lot more comfortable than that aluminum bleacher in the hot sun of a September afternoon. But I do miss the smell of hot dogs, peanuts and popcorn swirling around in a chilling autumn breeze. There is an excitement about being there in person and the satisfaction of seeing your team secure a two score lead. Just don’t do it too soon and become complacent and let the other team get back into the game.

One other advantage of being at the game is not being able to hear those annoying “neutral” announcers pull for the opponent. Sure, my friend Dave Aiken, the stadium announcer, has a local team bias. But it is a little muted; “Another Gaaaamecoooock FIRST down!” Yeah – life is good, pass me some more peanuts.

But at home, not only do I have my soft chair and snacks, but I also have digital television. I can see every blade of grass on the gridiron and every turn of the football during that perfect spiral pass to that wide receiver streaking down the sideline followed by that explosion of crowd noise as the fans in the stadium cheer the latest touchdown. I give a big “Yes” and a fist-bump into the air. All this, wakes Darcy from her slumber and startles Chester onto his feet and out of the room. He is back in a few seconds as if to say “What the heck was that?” To quote Andy Griffith way before his Mayberry Days; “What it was, was football!”

Bring on the 2017 season! Oh MY!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Muffin Eating Contest, Really!

When your broadcasting career is as long as mine you have probably broadcast all kinds of events. I’ve been on both sides of the microphone/camera for football, basketball, soccer, stock car racing, horse races, tennis, debates, an anniversary for a zoo, all sorts of press conferences, presidential visits, inaugural and “State of the…” addresses and even a funeral. But yesterday was a first for me; a muffin eating contest!

A couple of weeks ago, our Public Affairs director, Ellen asked if I could assist in the fall kick-off event for WUSC-FM since I was the DJ with the most experience with our Marti. “Sure,” I said, “it will be fun. What are we doing?” When she said it was a muffin eating contest, I thought “Well now, this is a first!” I know you are thinking, “Wait a minute, you’re going to fast, what is a Marti?”

Left: A typical Marti Unit. OK! For many broadcasters, the Marti name is synonymous with remote gear. Just about every station has owned a “Marti” at one time or another to carry remote broadcasts back to the studio. It all started in 1947, when George W. Marti had an idea for a portable transmitter capable of sending high-quality radio programming from a temporary remote location to a receiver located at the studio. The Marti and other similar devices are collectively called Remote Pickup Units or RPUs.

My first experience with a Marti was when we put the first unit on the air in Columbia at WIS Radio back in 1977! It was really cool; bringing studio quality sound to the air from wherever you had an electrical outlet or a car battery. We did broadcasts from all over, that year. It was not unusual to see my little red Karman Ghia with a 20 foot steel collapsible tower strapped to my luggage rack everywhere in the city. Once, we were covering a press conference from the Governor’s office in the State House. I arrived expecting to meet someone from the station with press credentials, but he was not there. So I drove up over the curb of the U shaped driveway in front of the State House and around to the west side. Sure enough, one of the policemen assigned to the State House came over. But instead of giving me a hard time and telling me to leave, he helped me erect the tower and told me I could stay parked in Governor Edward’s space until after the broadcast. Can you see that happening today? Heck, you cannot even drive into that driveway on the north side of the State House these days.

Anyway back to the muffins. Mad Yum Muffins had been underwriting my show and other live shows all this summer so I was more than willing to give them a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Most of you know that parking in the Five Points area can be a bear. But I got lucky and found a place 75 yards up Greene Street from the fountain, the venue for the remote. A few quarters in the meter and I was good to go. I would love to tell you that the set up was smooth but the first location we chose did not have a clear path back to the station. I made a quick trip back to the studios to recheck the receiver and found nothing. Back at the Fountain, again with a close by parking space; yes lightning does strike twice! We moved the Marti 50 feet and got a usable path. It seems that the building across the street was enough to block the signal. We were good to go.

Unlike the old AM stations of the past where you could monitor from the remote site what was on the air real time with a radio, FM transmitters have a delay of about 7 seconds. Add to that, we have a 10 second delay/dump circuit at WUSC so we can bleep out unwanted stuff. You know; George Carlen's seven words you can’t say on the radio. So I was explaining to the other DJs who would be on the air how to use a cell phone to co-ordinate with the board operator back at the station to know when to start talking. I volunteered to demonstrate by opening up the first live cut in and pass the microphone to the other DJs, then back to me to cue back to the board operator to cut us off and play music.

To make a long story short, because of the complexity of taking the cue while not actually hearing what was on the air, I wound up beginning every cut in along with one or more of the other DJs. I had two microphones available so it was easy peasey. The actual muffin eating contest came in the last three cut-ins of the day. There were 10 initial contestants, three would be eliminated in round one, three more in round two and the final four would compete in round three for the prizes.

I thought that two of the ten were the ones to watch. One was a fellow DJ who pushed 200 pounds, the other was and old friend who although he was thin, rode his bicycle everywhere around town. They both made it through round one, but this petite redheaded female freshman from Charleston blew us away with her technique. She out ate everyone by downing 36 mini muffins in the three minute first round. We had a dark horse in the race and a new favorite. By the end of round two, my two initial favorites were gone as well as one of the final four, who could eat no more. Our redhead was way ahead in total muffins eaten.

The last round started and by now it was clear that our leader was in danger of losing the contest despite the fact that she had out eaten everyone else hands down. It was neck and neck as the final minute of the contest and the other two were pretty close to her. Had she made a mistake by crushing the competition in the early rounds? Time would tell. It was really close; our informal opinion was that she had won by a few crumbs. The judges conferred and concluded that she had done just that.

I would like to say that she was jumping for joy but in reality she was looking a little green, just having eaten a total of 64 mini muffins in the three rounds. The contestant who came in third was also looking a bit distressed. But the second place winner, continued to eat more muffins as the prizes were handed out, he just didn’t have the best opening, peeling and eating technique.

So, at the end of the day, no muffins, or lunches were lost, we had a winner and everyone had a great time. Now I can add “play by play of a muffin eating contest” to my resume. I’m not sure what that says about my career! Oh MY!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

That Last Gasp of Summer Freedom

This week marks the end of summer vacation for the schools around here. Some have already started and the rest will be going full strength on Tuesday. It seems a little early to me; back in the day, school started the day after Labor Day. So these final two weeks were the last gasp of summer freedom.

A slight panic set in there were things to do, the last sandlot baseball game needed to be played or that last bike ride down to the Lackawanna Pool for that glorious chlorine tinged dip of the summer just to name a couple. OMG, just about now, I remembered that there was a book report due the first day of school and I haven’t turned a page yet. On top of all that, there is a trip downtown looming to buy clothes for school. Not that we had much of a choice with the school uniforms being required. Still we had to go get fitted for our white shirts and navy blue trousers. The required ties needed to be bought unless the ones we used last year are still serviceable. Due to a recent summer growth spurt, I sometimes had to switch from a Windsor knot to a four in hand to allow enough length to the tie to reach my belt.

It was this time of the year that I had to give up my summer job, usually a paper route to make time for school and homework. This didn’t make for a happy time for the route managers who needed to find new carriers or throw the routes himself. So his “vacation” was ending too. He tried wheedling and cajoling us to stay on. “You can still get up at 4 AM and throw your routes before school,” he’d explain. But fortunately our parents knew better and insisted that we quit for the school year. To their credit, every route manager I had understood and did not take it out on us that we were quitting. Besides, he needed us or our younger brothers next summer. Hmm… I never thought of there being a gender bias in newspaper circulation but I never ran into a girl paper carrier back then.

Despite summer jobs and all the fun activities the thing I would miss was the down time with nothing to do but read or lie out under the tree in the tall green grass in the back yard with my transistor radio. I would tune back and forth between WPDQ and WAPE listening for my favorite tunes. Sounds of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers always drifted from that tinny 2 inch speaker as I watched the clouds build up in the tropical blue sky until they reached critical mass and the 3 PM thundershower would drive me to the back porch. In the early afternoon, I would always listen to “Dan’s Dusty Disks” on WAPE. Dan always played “Solid Gold” records, the songs that have disappeared from the charts a couple of years ago. Back in those days, I though Dan was coming live from that Orange Park studio, much later I discovered that Dan’s show was pre-recorded and the tapes bicycled between the Brennan stations; WAPE in Jacksonville, WBAM in Montgomery, Alabama and WFLI in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Dan’s Dusty Disks” was my favorite show. I guess I was into oldies even back then.

There was also a sense of anticipation to the final days of summer. Soon with school starting there would be football games, running with the cross-country team, band practice and the fall social season. There would be more parties and dances, a few final trips down to the beach or the lake with classmates before the weather got too cool to enjoy the water. It was time to meet new classmates that would be joining us in the classroom. And, because we were All-American Boys; it was time to check out the new girls in school, even as the girls who were already in our class were checking out the new boys in town. There were very few of us who were in a committed dating relationship, and many of them changed during the summer. For the rest of us, it was “playing the field.”

Although I hated homework as much as the next kid, I loved learning new stuff; fractions, trigonometry, algebra, physics, chemistry and biology were all fun to me. Today, these are called STEM but back then they were fun. I get amused when I see those Internet memes that say that one never uses this stuff today; I use them almost daily in my life, just not in a formal, academic way. I contend that EVERYBODY does. You say “No Way” my response is “Yes Way!” Consider this; you are driving down the street at 35 MPH when the light turns yellow in front of you. You push the brake pedal and start slowing down. You increase of decrease the pressure on the brake in order to stop at the position you want on the road. How does your brain know how much pressure to place? What it is doing is using trigonometry to estimate the distance to the location and then applying calculus (gasp) to control your deceleration (called the first derivative in mathematics) to determine if more or less deceleration (called the second derivative) is needed to come to a stop where you want. You may not remember how to work fractions, but your brain is a mathematical genius in applied trigonometry and calculus. So don’t sell yourself short!

But I digress!

Left: NAS Jacksonville, Today Those final few days of summer freedom were the sweetest. I never complained that I had nothing to do. There was so much to crowd into these final two weeks before every waking moment would be crammed with school related activity. The last daydreams of the year will be had. Mine were usually related to playing records on the radio or flying one of the Lockheed P-3 Orions that was turning from their downwind leg to the base leg in the pattern overhead. They were headed for runway 10 at NAS Jacksonville next to the St. Johns River a couple of miles down Roosevelt Avenue. Looking back, one of the joys of my senior days is that I’ve realized both of those daydreams. True I never landed a P3 at NAS JAX but I have flown a brown and tan colored V-Tailed Bonanza with my dad and brother aboard through that downwind leg of that pattern right over that same back yard where I once lay gazing at the airplanes overhead. We were en-route under Navy Air Control to Herlong Field on the Westside, from the Daytona Beach International Airport. That’s close enough! Oh MY!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Radio Station Play Lists!

So, when was the last time that you sat back and enjoyed an incredible mix of songs that some DJ did on your local radio station? Before you scratch your head trying to remember, I submit that time was probably a while back. Now before you toss up your hands and exclaim here comes another old school DJ complaining about the state of the radio business these days; that is not what this is about. I recognize that the business has changed and that corporately controlled play lists and automation have pushed more and more into the national radio experience, even to the point of tightly controlling the play lists of the relatively few live DJs still on the air.

What this is about is the freedom in song selection that used to reign over the AM band. It’s not completely gone; it is still around in pockets, usually on college and community run stations. When, I come across one of these gems, even if the genre is not one of my favorites that pushbutton remains depressed while I enjoy the skill of the live DJ creating that mix, even if it includes a “train wreck” or two. For those of you who may not know DJ lingo, a train wreck is when two songs are played back to back that really don’t go well together. Sometimes it is a matter of the music key in which each of the songs are written, sometimes it is the musical beat. For example, “Diary” by David Gates And Bread doesn’t really match up well with “Fire” by the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. A good DJ knows that he or she must put something in between them to “cleanse the palette” of the listener’s ear.

In the old “Wild West” days of top 40 radio, the typical radio station play list consisted of the Top 40, a few songs that were bubbling under that list, usually called “The Up and Comers” or “The Future Hits” and a small collection of songs that have come off the Top 40 at least a year ago. These songs were called “Golden Oldies” or “Oldies” even back then before all our music was called Oldies. Other than a few restrictions concerning playing two female artists or two instrumentals back to back, kicking off the musical segment after the news with a “kicker” or fast song and playing an oldie after the weather at 15 past and 15 till the hour, we were pretty much left on our own about music selection. Despite being limited to around 100 songs or so, I could easily go through a five hour shift without repeating a song.

The by-product of this is that each DJ on a station had a slightly different sound to his or her show. For example, the playlist for my evening show was laden with more hard Rock and Soul, while my buddy’s mid day show tended to be filled with more pop and what we call “Light Rock” today. Why was this? My audience tended to be more high school and college aged kids while his was more housewives and office workers; the young folks being in school. Sure I played Oliver’s “Jean” and he played Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” every so often. But we made a conscious effort to match the music to the audience.

He had it a bit harder than I did making musical choices. He was able to take requests only once every half hour or so during “Instant 60 Request” times, while I was out at Doug Broome’s in a constant wash of requests from the part of my audience that was on site with me. I guess that is when I developed my love of taking requests. It was the interaction with the audience that floated my boat. He was a bit more isolated in that he could not take phone calls. They were intercepted by the receptionist in the front office who was given the command to tell the caller that you could only request a song during an instant request.

Left: A typical Radio Format Clock Wheel. Man, those were heady days with nearly unlimited freedom to explore the relationship between songs. Slowly that gave way to the broadcast “Clock Wheel” that narrowed down the choices the DJ could make during each five minute slice of the hour. Added to that the concept of heavy and light rotation meant that the same songs were popping up every couple of hours or so. In my opinion, that is when the nature of the audience changed from one that stayed with a DJ most of his or her show to one that was in a constant state of flux with folks tuning in for a while then tuning out. Back then, I had certain audience members who stayed with me for the entire 5 hour shift, listening at home and work and in their cars.

These days, a significant portion of my DJ friends who still have control over the music they play start their shows with their queue completely filled with carefully selected songs. That is not my style. I love the spontaneity pulling songs as I go. I rarely have more than 10 songs selected for a show when I kick it off and those are mostly new songs I’ve pulled from my music library to add to the on air play list for the first time. The other exception is songs for a special segment that I’m going to feature, like the Glen Campbell Tribute I’m planning for tomorrow. The rest of the show is request driven; because that’s the way I roll. There are a few artists that I can’t play on one station; The Beatles, Aretha and the Stones for example. They are still getting air play on other local stations. But that still leaves me a lot of room to mix up the oldies for “all the cool cats and hot kitties.”

This is why I consider independent stations and community and college stations to be the gems of creativity strung across the radio band. Look across your dial, they are out there in nearly every city. I’m proud to be a small part of one of the top 10 college radio stations in the country, doing oldies on WUSC-FM (90.5) a paramount of musical diversity and the only place that plays oldies in that 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s radio experience. Charleston SC has a great example of community radio; WYLA-FM (97.5) features primarily local and regional music, contemporary and independent music in many genres.

So the next time you tune across that dial and encounter a live DJ who has control over their play list, stop and listen for a while. What you will hear is a dying art form; a live DJ mixing tunes on the fly. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh MY!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Static!

According to the dictionary the noun static is defined as crackling or hissing noises on a telephone, radio, or other telecommunications system. My own definition is that sound that makes all the music we used to hear on the radio real! I don’t know about you but when I was growing up in Northern Florida, there was no time in the year that you couldn’t hear the faint snap crackle and pop of static in the background of our favorite songs while they were being played on the radio. Of course this was when AM radio was king and everything was recorded on vinyl which had a “static” all of its own.

Maybe up north, there was no static on the radio but down near ground zero for the highest level of storm fury, there was always static. It never occurred to me to be annoyed by static’s interference with my favorite tune of the day. In fact, I sort of missed static when playing a song off of vinyl. Somehow it didn’t seem so alive, you know; kind of flat and well, “static” in the sense of the adjective “lacking in movement, action, or change.” Sure there were scratches and pops on vinyl but they always came in the same place on the song and my mind integrated them with the percussion or rhythm lines in the song. It became part of the performance.

But static coming from the atmosphere or as we used to call it back then, the Ether, was random and changed from a weak background noise in the dead of winter to almost as loud as the tune itself when a summer storm was lashing the earth nearby. I’m not saying that I enjoyed loud static; I didn’t, especially if it was too much and I couldn’t hear the song that was playing, but when it was just the right amount it added something to the pleasure of the listening experience.

What was the perfect static to me? It was the static that came from distant thunderstorms late on a humid afternoon. Just around sundown, you could see the flashes of “heat lightning” far off near the horizon accompanied by a burst of static on the radio. One never heard the actual thunder that was audible to those closer to the storms. And that was fine with me. What stands out in my memory is sitting in the car at a drive in movie listening to the radio as twilight deepened and the time the movie would start was approaching. Anticipation of the start of the movie increased when you could hear the radio station switch from the day time to the night time power levels. Most of the time that meant that the static would get louder relative to the music, but in my memories when the radio station was WAPE and the movie was the Lowes Normandy Drive in, the music got louder instead. That unusual condition was because the drive in was much closer to The Big Ape’s night time transmitter a little farther out the highway than it was to the day time tower down in Orange Park.

Back in the AM days, the FCC required the announcer to constantly monitor the transmitter, usually done by having a radio plugged into the speakers and headphones that we used. I quickly developed a sense of space and distance present in the sound of my own voice when it came back to me drifting over a low bed of static. It was almost a mystical experience as if I was being blended into the natural noise of the Ether, surrounding the earth. Almost as if my music and I were becoming part of the Earth’s song. I could feel my voice driving down the telephone line and through the hot tubes of the transmitter then pushed up the tower and out into the universe to travel forever across space and time, all because I could hear the crackle and pops of the distant thunderstorms. Some of those storms were in places that I would never see; Cuba, the Bahamas even South America. It made me feel more alive and connected to my listeners than I ever would on the pristine, static free signal of an FM or digital station.

Because of the delays in FM and digital broadcasting, it is not practical for the DJ to listen to the output of the transmitter; instead we rely on monitoring the output of the audio console that we are using to mix the different elements of our programs; microphones, CDs or Audio Files, telephones, ETC. We hear the pure, unprocessed sound but not really what the audience hears. I know of at least one DJ that disliked not hearing the station’s processing of the audio that was fed to the transmitter that he convinced the station engineer to build a second identical audio processing train that fed only his headphones.

I admit that sounds a bit extreme, but I completely understand where he comes from. A really good DJ knows how to work the sound processors by slight adjustments of the mixing levels at his or her command and it makes for a slightly better performance. Performance is a really good word for it too. Over the years, thanks to my musical training in high school, I began to think less of operating a console to more like playing a console being similar to the process of playing a piano. And like a pianist on a stage in a concert hall, what he or she hears is what the audience hears in a concert hall. Only my concert hall has a little static in the background.

Unfortunately, in today’s world that can’t happen. On my digital stations, there is processing between my audio console and the encoders that carry the signal out that I can’t hear. The same is true of the FM station where I do my weekly oldies show. Fortunately for both of these, I have the ability to record the shows and listen later to what you hear real-time. I am always amazed at the small differences I hear in these recordings that I did not hear as I did the show. Slowly but surely I can fine tune the actions that I make on the mixer to improve the listening experience; a little more music level here vs. a slightly louder microphone there. But I still miss the ability of doing that on the fly on the old AM stations.

Sometimes, when playing a particular oldie on the FM or the digital stations, if I sit quietly, I can almost hear the crackle of a thunderstorm two states away, I know it is not real and I know my audience can’t hear it, but I can, and that makes me smile. Oh MY!