Sunday, March 29, 2020

Radio Listenership Is Up!

I saw a piece from the BBC, that reported that since the spread of the Covid-19 virus that radio listenership in the UK and the US was up and that the automated music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora were down a little bit.

This news does not surprise this old school broadcaster one bit, not even worth raising one eyebrow, much less both. And, although I have nothing but a couple of anecdotal data points to draw this from; the increase in listenership is outside of radio’s “prime times” the morning and afternoon drive time slots.

My take on why this is happening is that people are starved for a mix of information and entertainment. The fresher and more local the information is, the better. And the entertainment needs to be more upbeat to provide a respite from the seriousness of the news. Add to that a personal connection with a presenter who has his or her finger on the pulse of the community. What can do that better than live local radio!

Now, the typical corporate radio programmer might disagree about the drive time. My point is, that in this time of social distancing and shelter in place orders there are fewer people in their cars during the peak drive times of the day. More are listening from their homes and more are listening to online stations that tend to have more live shows than the terrestrial stations do these days with many local live shows being suspended in the name of public safety.

Again this is anecdotal data, but some stations that have provided capability for their DJs to do live shows from home are reporting stronger than normal numbers and stronger audience reaction than normal. The other big change is that instead of the studio phone line, the feedback is coming from social media, Twitter and Facebook.

Even stations that do not have the capability to provide live DJ interaction but have the capability to do voice tracking are doing better, as long as that voice tracking is done at the last minute instead of days earlier. This way, the information that is on the air is pretty much up to the minute.

One thing I believe is that the demeanor of the on air presenter is key to being successful during these times. Facebook and Twitter has been run amok with distressing news and angry reaction to it. More than a few of my FB friends have disappeared from the service because they have been overwhelmed by the bad news and vitriol. I’m not saying that we should ignore the gravity of the information but we need to balance it with good news. One thing that I am doing in my periodic updates from the data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center is to include the number of people that have survived Covid-19. At the time of this writing - 11 am Eastern on March 29, 2020, 145,696 people have recovered, 2,612 in the US alone. I also scour my resources for “feel good” stories to go along with my “feel good” music.

I have no idea if this uptick in radio listening will continue after Covid-19 has run its course. I hope that it reverses the trend of fewer live presenters and more automation by corporate radio back to more live and local. If that happens, I’ll be a happy guy and I doubt that I will be alone in that sentiment.

There is a significant positive personal side effect to this approach for me. Although tomorrow will be the third week in a row that I’ll not be broadcasting my oldies show on WUSC-FM due to the station suspending live shows, I’ve found that I seem to me more at ease with the isolation than I probably would be otherwise. I truly miss the interaction with the student DJs there and my audience over the phone but I am not as stir crazy as I think I would be, knowing how social my nature is.

Among the factors in this are my online shows on multiple stations around the world, even though most of them are pre-recorded. My daily shows on Crusin’ KLYC 1260 out in Oregon helped out too. It will be interesting to see how I do next week now that we’ve brought on a new DJ out there and I am reverting to my weekend only shows there. But honestly, I could not have sustained that much time on the air there more than a week or so longer without giving up some of my other on air activity.

I’ve been asked many times why can’t I broadcast on WUSC-FM from my home studio like I do my other shows. One of WUSC-FM’s main guiding principles is to provide an in studio platform for the student DJs, to educate the DJ as well as the audience. So providing a way for a DJ to do a show remotely is correctly not in their list of priorities. Besides, I think I’m the only DJ currently on the air there that has a home studio capable of doing such a broadcast. Providing that capability is much more complicated than just throwing a switch; it is not fair to ask them to provide the effort and expense for just one show a week.

But there is one thing that I can do for the folks who listen to the Backbeat show there every Monday. For the duration of the social distancing event, I will continue to broadcast my WUSC-FM show on http://ourgenerationradio.com 10AM until noon Eastern time and as usual I’ll be taking requests but instead of over the phone I’ll be taking them via my Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/rick.wrigley Oh MY!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Social Distancing on the Radio

I don’t know how many times I’ve said “holy cow” or something similar to that this week but I can’t count them on my fingers and toes. At the same time, I realize how lucky I am in that I’m retired and pursuing my retirement activity in broadcasting without significant financial worries.

Broadcasting can be a lot safer from my home studio rather than sitting in a workspace that is serially shared by a number of other DJs the way it used to be. Some of my fellow broadcasters have lost their show times on local radio stations due to access to their studios being restricted to “essential personnel” who ride heard on the stations’ automation systems.

That’s a big difference from the way it used to be before automation systems when a live body in the air chair was required if you were to stay on the air. As much as I love live radio and wish there were more of it, I remember the down side also.

One of those memories was of the winter of 1967 when the bug hit the DJs at WCOS pretty hard. Most of our part timers were college students and they went down first. But not before contaminating the equipment in the control room, so the bug hit the full time staff pretty much all at the same time. I am pretty sure that it was a flu bug because the symptoms came on pretty fast, for me during a 5 hour on air shift. If it were a cold, it would have taken a couple of days. I’m going with that self diagnosis because I was young and immortal back then and did not see a doctor. Yeah, the WCOS Good Guy became the WCOS Tough Guys that week, or more precisely we became the WCOS Hoarse Guys. Not a single one of us had any voice left. But the show must go on, sick or not. One of my fellow DJs even brought a pillow from home that he laid on the desk in front of the audio console to put his head on while the records played. I used my winter coat. Somehow, we got through that.

So far only one of my retirement radio gigs has been affected by COVID-19; my Monday morning Backbeat show on WUSC-FM. The campus of the UofSC had been locked down and in person classes have been replaced by online classes for the rest of the semester. Live shows on WUSC-FM have been suspended until further notice and the robots have finally taken over the station. At this time, I have no idea as to when we will resume live broadcasting.

All of my other radio broadcasts (live and pre-recorded) are continuing normally since they all originate from my home studio through the magic of the internet. I have even picked up some extra hours on KLYC in McMinnVille Oregon in the interim while we train a new DJ over there. The local staffs of the stations I am on in Poprad Slovakia and Skegness UK have vacated the main studios to remotely control their broadcast day from their homes as I do for OurGenerationRadio.com. So far most of my other DJs have been able to maintain their show schedules.

I need to point out that it is easier for online broadcasters to weather this period of social distancing than it is for the terrestrial broadcasters because the tools that control the stream are already internet enabled due to the nature of streaming media. Most over the air radio stations have encapsulated their broadcast equipment with private networks for security reasons. There have been several dramatic instances of what can happen if someone hacks into their network, some have resulted in fines for the stations and jail time for the hackers.

In the past week or so, many of my old broadcasting friends have asked why don’t I broadcast my WUSC-FM show from home. This need for security is the main reason. As far as I know, I am the only DJ on the air there that has the setup and technology to go live remotely and it is not fair to ask the station to build out the infrastructure to do that for only me. There is also an expense to that and the fact that the IT technicians who would need to be on site to accomplish the task are not there and have other pressing tasks to accomplish remotely needs to be considered as well.

Doing these online shows and KLYC have helped me to not become quite at stir crazy as I would be otherwise. And for that I’m grateful.

At this time we have no idea as to when the UofSC leadership will relax the campus lock down and give the live DJs access to the station. But there is one thing that I can do for the folks who listen to the oldies every Monday. For the duration of the social distancing event, I will be broadcasting my WUSC-FM show on http://ourgenerationradio.com 10AM until noon Eastern time and as usual I’ll be taking requests but instead of over the phone I’ll be taking them via my facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/rick.wrigley Oh MY!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Beware The Ides of March

This has been one heck of a week; change to Daylight Saving Time, a full moon, Friday the 13th, COVID-19 and now today is the day that Julius Caesar got the point, the Ides of March! Holy Cow!

And as if to pile it on, the University of South Carolina has closed their campus to enable social distancing and that means that WUSC-FM has switched off all live radio shows and gone to a completely automated schedule. So instead of preparing for tomorrow’s Backbeat Show today I guess I’ll watch some March Madness on TV this afternoon. Wait, What! Oh Never Mind.

It’s been said often that when God closes a door, he opens a widow. And my window is that I’ll be filling in on the 10AM – 1PM (Pacific Time) on Cruisin’ KLYC 1260 in McMinnville, Oregon and KLYC.us on the internet! KLYC is an oldies station so all is right in the world.

Well, that is not completely true. All is right if you don’t consider toilet paper or as my Brit friends call it “bog roll.” During our regular Saturday afternoon grocery run we found absolutely no TP in our regular grocery store. They normally have hundreds of packages but the cupboard was bare yesterday. I wasn’t too concerned because there was several days supply in the house but some more would have to be found before next week’s shopping trip. We got a tip from a worker at the local Target that they expected a shipment overnight last night and a quick trip there this morning resulted in a score. We’re good for the next week and a half at least.

What’s up with the TP shortage anyway? There is absolutely no reason for the current run on TP. COVID-19 doesn’t create an increase in the demand. But some idiot on the Internet can! Some socially distanced dude (or dude-ette) thought it would be funny to post something about a TP shortage and got a viral response. Many more knock off posts followed and sure enough, it wasn’t funny any-more. Hopefully we’ll all regain our sanity and start working through our hoards before the cat shreds the family fortune while everyone is out looking for more.

Of course I have absolutely no proof of all this but I do have one sobering thought about this mess. In addition to the TP post, I see a lot of posts questioning the veracity of the COVID-19 crisis, calling it a hoax and denigrating the entire social distancing reaction to the spread of the virus. I’ll just say this, if I were an enemy of the free world and wanted to disrupt western culture, creating an artificial shortage and sewing doubt in medical science would be sure fire attack vectors.

But I digress.

Tomorrow will be one of a handful of Mondays where I’ll not be spinning oldies on local Columbia radio in over ten years. I missed one that fell on a Christmas day a few years ago, one when I was sick, one when the Russell House staff forgot to leave my access on during a time when the Student Union was closed and three in 2018 when I was in Scotland. That gives me a grand total of six shows missed out of 530 weeks on the air since January 4, 2010! I’ll take that 1.1%, but it still feels strange.

I saw a meme on one of the group pages for radio broadcasters on Facebook yesterday that stated that radio personalities were the original practitioners of social distancing. We do it every day. It’s true, it may sound like we are out there in a crowd having a party all day long but in reality we sit isolated in our control rooms with only electronic connections with our listeners; radio and telephones and these days the Internet. As a result we love “remote” broadcasts like the old “Nightbeat Show” sitting in a booth right there next to the first row of tele-trays at a drive in restaurant. Old school DJs also love taking requests and dedications over the phone for the same reason; that two way human contact.

So, my earworm for today is The Ides of March’s 1970 hit “Vehicle.” Did you know that the band began in Berwyn, Illinois (a near western suburb of Chicago) on October 16, 1964, as a four-piece band called "The Shon-Dels." They changed their name in 1966, to The Ides of March, a name suggested by bass player Bob Bergland after he read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in high school. And now we are back to Caesar getting the point! Oh MY!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Ridin’ The Radio Range

One of the duties of old AM radio engineers was to perform something called field intensity measurements on directional radio stations.

A quick explanation of directional AM radio is in order. Directional AM radio stations have two or more towers. These extra towers may be energized part time or full time in order to “channel” the signal in one or more directions. The need for directional stations was to protect other stations on the same frequency that were licensed before the directional station was built. The majority of these stations were directional at night only because AM radio signals would travel farther at night than in the day. Many non-directional stations had to protect these earlier stations by reducing their power at night.

An example of a non directional station in Columbia, SC is WCOS which operated at 1,000 watts daytime and 250 watts nighttime while I worked there. WIS Radio (Now WVOC) was a directional station that operated at 5,000 watts both day and night but at nighttime the signal was channeled to the east-southeast (105 degrees) by the three towers.

Broadcast Engineers (now called Broadcast Technicians) who worked at directional stations had a few more tasks than their brethren who worked at stations with only one tower. One of those tasks was to perform weekly field intensity measurements at designated monitor points. Each Friday afternoon, I’d put the station into the directional pattern and joke with Gracie, our station receptionist as I stepped out of the front door of station with my trusty Field Strength meter tucked under my arm like a lunchbox that I was going out to “ride the radio range.”

The week that I began working at WIS Radio, our brown and tan Potomac meter similar to the one shown on this page arrived to replace the old black and grey one that the station had been using for years. For the first few months, I took both meters out and took readings from both of them to make sure that the new one was reading the same as the old one. I never got rid of the old one because I wanted a stand-by in case the new one failed. I needn’t have worried.

WIS had four monitor points, two on either side of the Saluda River so it took me about 90 minutes to drive to each of those points, fire up the meter take the reading, record it on the log and calculate the percentage difference from the reading it was supposed to be. That took only a couple of minutes at each monitor point. Because there was only one bridge across the river near the station it took me about 45 minutes longer than it would have otherwise as I needed to backtrack my path to cross the river via I-20 which at the time meant that I had to drive all the way down to I-26 to get to it. At the time there was no exit to I-20 from Bush River Road, the main drag near where the station was located on WIS Lane.

I should note here that the FCC required these weekly tests be performed at least one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset, so that the daytime radio propagation conditions existed. Some of my fellow Broadcast Engineers caught grief from station management about needing to set the station to nighttime pattern for these readings but I was fortunate that I never had that problem; my management took these things seriously. Now, the DJ that was on the air was a different story. When I put the station on the directional pattern, I would walk into the studio and note it on the transmitter log, which he kept at other times. Without fail he would bellyache to me that I was costing him listeners. My response was just as savage. I told him that it was not a problem, that he had no listeners anyway. It was all in good fun and part of our friendship.

I dearly loved the quiet time driving my bright red Karmann-Ghia around Richland and Lexington counties between monitor points. Those were good times for me to mull over a problem that I was having with a piece of equipment or to plan in my head the next project I was going to take on at the station.

My number 4 monitor point was just off of Highway 378 a block off of I-22. It was in front of a mom and pop Lawn and Garden Equipment Shop. The owner was a man in his late 60s who had a gruff countenance and a heart of gold. I looked forward to that stop every week, as I was taking the reading, he would head out of the shop with a couple of ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola and we would sit in the rocking chairs in front of the store and share a five minute conversation about any and everything.

A month before I left WIS Radio, when I made my “radio range ride” the shop was closed and he was not there. The next week was the same. Two weeks later both he and his wife were at the store but he was confined to a wheel chair after having a serious stroke. He had come in that afternoon to tell me good bye and that he was going to sell the store. To this day, if I am out driving in the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of the city, I can still see him in my mind’s eye sitting in that rocking chair wearing his denim overalls and white t-shirt, working on that green tinted bottle of Coca-Cola and mopping the heat off his forehead with his bright red bandana. Oh MY!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Radio Springs Into March

It’s hard to believe that it’s already March around here. It’s time for the radio sales guys to wake themselves from their post holiday slumber and start rousting the stations advertiser base for new commercials. The record promoters are beginning to sniff around with new songs for the spring. Well, that’s the way it used to be.

January and February were easy months for radio DJs back in the day. The program logs were sparsely populated with commercials since the sponsors blew their advertising budgets on the Christmas season and many of their customers were bound up in their homes under piles of blankets, venturing out for groceries and work only. It was not unusual to see a program log sporting commercials only from the ship-owners who sponsored the programs. Good examples of these sponsors from my past were the Taylor Street Pharmacy, and Doug Broome’s Drive In Restaurants.

Station owners were always a little nervous during January and February because the income from sponsors barely kept the stations in the black, and in fact sometimes the stations ran in the red during the first part of the year.

March was when it all began to change. The pace of sales went up. The new Spring song releases came in and we all geared up with the first promotional activity for the year; usually station contests to get the audience re-engaged. I must say, that at WCOS, Woody our program director was genius in that he installed the “Instant Request” as a year round feature. At first it was the “Instant 60 Request” and later when we shrunk the “Top 60 in Dixie” to “The Fun 40” it became the “Fun 40 Request.”

Either way it worked the same; We would play a “sweeper” that announced that it was time to make an instant request, we would choose a caller from the bank of blinking lights on the phone, put them on the air live, talk to them a bit and then ask them what song from the playlist they would like to hear. When then said the song, we would drop in cold a stinger that said “Here it comes!” and immediately play the record. We used the same stinger for both the Instant 60 and the Fun 40 requests. It was a classic.

Over the years, I’ve been asked many times just how we did that. Don’t get your hopes up… I’m not going to spill the beans. I think some mystery and magic from the old days should be maintained. But I will share this. Doing “Instant Requests” was the most nerve wracking thing I ever did on the air. It required a good knowledge of where a song was on the top 40. But most of all, because it was live and there was no delay you were at the mercy of the caller to behave and not curse on the radio. I was lucky, that never happened to me, but I’ve heard some of my fellow DJs get bombed by a caller.

So because of the “Instant Request” we had a head start on the other stations getting the audience re-engaged for the contest season.

Once we got the contests running again, and we could see the phone lines filling up every time we came out of a record we knew the well was primed.

BTW, we also know that many of you out there dialed our phone number Alpine-2-2177 on your rotary phones, all but the last 7 which you would hold with your finger until you heard either a contest or the “Instant Request” come on the air. We also knew that for some reason – the listeners who were also in the Alpine exchange had an advantage over those in the Sunset exchange, those on the UofSC 777 exchange or the other exchanges in town. So we would occasionally put all the incoming lines on hold and release them a few seconds after the request/contest began to level the playing field a little.

The other audience engaging thing that we did was the station promoted concerts. These eventually became the “Woody with the Goodies Hoparoonies!” as Woody took over the responsibility and the risks of promoting them personally. During the summer months, it seems as if we had one of these every month in venues all around the city such as the Township Auditorium, the Shriner’s Club and one or more of the buildings out at the State Fair Grounds. I loved these “Hoparoonies” because I got to meet so many of the rock and roll artists of the day either backstage or in the studios.

Once I began doing the “Nightbeat Show” in the evening out at Doug Broome’s I missed most of the shows because I was on the air during the performances. But I got to see much of the audiences as they would come by after the concert for a burger, fries and shake. Oh!… also they would drop off a request for a song by the artist who was in town that evening.

One more thing about March aside from the “Ides of March” is the fact that Daylight Saving Time begins in March. We “spring forward” next Sunday. The grogginess that I feel from the time change was offset by being able to stay on the daytime transmitter an hour later in the evening. I loved the reach that the higher daytime power gave the station. The only thing more magical than that was late in the evening when “skip” conditions formed up and I would occasionally hear from listeners from all over the eastern half of the country. I’ll never forget that night when Mike Rast called me out at Doug Broome’s to pass on a request from a listener in Peterborough, Ontario just across the lake from Rochester, New York. I don’t remember what it was they wanted to hear but you had better believe that I played their song and gave Peterborough a shout out!

Speaking of skip; last week KLYC, the station in Oregon where I do a show on Saturdays, received a message from a guy listening to the station in northern Sweden. How cool is that!?! Oh MY!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Analog vs. Digital Clocks In the Radio Studio

In 2018, viral stories spread across the internet that in the UK, they were removing all the analog clocks from classrooms because today’s students could not read them anymore. As it turns out this story was mostly false. According to Snopes - What's True: UK sources suggested that schools there could minimize disruptions during standardized examinations by replacing analog clocks with digital versions in examination halls, because some students had difficulty estimating time remaining from the former. What's False: Schools throughout the UK are not replacing analog clocks with digital versions in all classrooms because modern students cannot tell time.

Left: Analog clock on my studio wall. My personal take on this is that at least for me, doing a radio show with a digital clock is more difficult than doing one with an analog clock. That is why I have a big old analog clock in my home studio.

Probably the biggest reason that I like analog is that I am an old school DJ who announces the time regularly is a part of my banter. My old boss, Woody Windham used to bang at us “TTBB” all the time. “TTBB” stood for Time, Temp – Boom Boom. One of the first to push TTBB was Rick Sklar the legendary program director at WABC in New York City. Rick was so adamant that his DJs “TTBB” that every song in the playlist had two copies on the carts they used, one cart with the iconic chime at the end and one that did not. The operating engineers at WABC alternated playing songs with the chime and songs without. When there was no chime the DJ announced that WABC Temperature was XX Degrees. Woody did not do that at WCOS since we played the songs off the 45 RPM records, but there was a button on the desk of the mixing console that rang a doorbell chime next to a small microphone mounted on the wall of the studio. I’m a little surprised that Milton, our engineer never had to replace that button that was pretty much worn down by all the WCOS chime time announcements.

I admit that digital time is easier to read in the first half of each hour than analog. But in the second half of the hour if we wanted to say 23 minutes before 10 instead of we would have to subtract 37 from 60 to come up with the time. That took work for the already overloaded brain DJ brain to do in an instant.

In school we learned to read analog time so well that a glance at the analog clock in the second half hour told us the number of minutes before the hour almost as quickly as the number of minutes after the hour in the first half hour. We got it directly off the clock with no calculating required.

Most of the studios of old had Western Electric analog clocks with sweep hands for the seconds. These clocks received a pulse over a telephone line that reset the clock at the beginning of each hour. Once we got used to the idiosyncrasies of each clock we pretty much knew how many seconds before or after the top of the hour on that particular clock the reset would occur. The most accurate of those old clocks I worked with was at WUSC-AM which reset at ½ second before each hour, giving me just enough time to turn the “pot” up for the Mutual Radio news on the top of the hour. The worst one was at WIS-TV where we had to fade to black from the station ID slide and punch NBC up on the switcher at 2 ½ seconds before the hour. At least at WIS when switching in a local station break we knew that NBC would be dark for exactly 75 seconds so we could verify the time when we switched out of the network by noting the time that the network started the blackout.

By the way, the local stations had to be careful to start their breaks on time too. Because there was no internet to send messages with, NBC and the other networks would often communicate last minute changes via showing slates containing the messages on the network feed after a moment of “black” during the local breaks. So, if you were the switcher at the local station you also had to remember any message that is being shown while switching in the film, videotape or worse case the slide/audio tape announcements that comprised the local break. Oh, and remember; “Never flop a mirror on the air – use your fader bar!”

Just to tell you that an old dog can learn new tricks. When I started doing my oldie show on WUSC-FM, I walked into a studio that did not have an analog clock. There is a digital clock built into the face of the AudioDesigns D-75 mixing console in the main control room. So immediately I needed to up my digital clock skills since TTBB is so ingrained in me and I felt silly telling everyone that it is 11:48 or whatever the time said at the moment.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the clock in the console was not very accurate. This past week it was nearly three minutes off compared with the time on my computers. Having clocks that don’t agree is at the least confusing to a busy DJ so years ago I developed the habit of placing an old station envelope to hide the inaccurate clock. John, our station engineer came to the rescue by putting up a large digital clock display on the monitor where the Automation Display and the RDS and logging application reside.

I still wanted an analog clock display somewhere in front of me and fortunately my music source SAM Broadcaster has an analog clock window. So I put it up and now I’m all happy and smiles. Well, mostly, that analog clock display is a little hard to read with these older eyes.

One last comment about the analog clock in my home studio; it is a radio controlled clock that is constantly updated by WWV the US official time source out in Ft. Collins Colorado. It is also battery operated and I can always tell when the batteries need changing when I cross check the clock with internet Network Time Protocol (NTP) before each show. I fear that as the frequencies (2.5, 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz) that WWV uses become noisier that I will eventually have to switch to a more expensive clock that reads NTP over my local Wi-Fi network.

So tomorrow, I will be TTBB’ing my way through the Backbeat Show on WUSC-FM. If you hear me stumble a bit with the time and it’s the second half hour, you will know that I had to “do the math”. No matter, it keeps me on my toes. Oh MY!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Day Broadway Almost Ended My Radio Career

I can tell the story now because the statute of limitations has run its course many times over.

During the 50s and 60s popular music was heavily influenced by Broadway. Who can forget the music from the musicals Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar that invaded the top 40? But there were so many more offerings. “Funny Girl”, “Fiddler On The Roof” and “Hello Dolly” all spun off top 40 songs in 1964. A decade before songs from “My Fair Lady” and a decade before that “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific” all made their way to the radio.

The Broadway play that may have had the biggest influence on the pop music back in the 60s was “West Side Story!” The 1957 recording of a Broadway production of the musical West Side Story was recorded 3 days after the show opened at the Winter Garden Theatre. The recording was released in October 1957 in both mono and stereo formats. In 1962, the album reached #5 on Billboard's Pop Album chart. It certified gold by the RIAA on January 12, 1962. “West Side Story” was made into a movie in 1961 and the soundtrack album released as a Columbia Masterworks album in October of ‘61. Five of the albums songs: “I Feel Pretty”, “Maria”, “America”, “Tonight” and “Somewhere” would become pop hits by the time the decade ended.

I had seen the movie as a high school student and like so many red blooded American boys of the day had become smitten with Natalie Wood in the role of Maria in my sophomore year.

So you can imagine my joy when I walked into WUSC’s immense library of 33 1/3 records and saw that bright red album cover adorned with the black drawing of a fire escape on the wall of a New York tenement. Yes! I finally had a copy of that Columbia Masterworks LP to play on the radio.

I need to take a small diversion here to bring in the snake in the grass of this story. There are certain words in the English language that were banned by the FCC as being obscene. George Carlin did a routine called “Seven dirty words that you can’t say on the radio” that pretty much summed up the forbidden utterances. I’m not going to list them here but you can look up “Seven dirty words” on Wikipedia if you want the gory details. There were others but these seven words are still on the FCC list of things that can get a radio station in trouble with the FCC. If the FCC finds a station in violation of its rules, it has the authority to revoke a station license, impose a fine or issue an admonishment or warning. Just ask Howard Stern if you don’t believe me. The last I heard the standard fine is $60,000 per violation today. So you get the idea that this is pretty serious business.

The third element to this story was my own naiveté. I had seen the movie out at the Lowes Normandy Drive in while on a double date and did not note anything untoward. Perhaps, the fact that it was a double date and I might have been distracted just a bit also came into play.

So I was almost brimming with glee that sunny afternoon during a live show in early 1964 as I grabbed the album out of the pile of records that I had retrieved from the library for my show. I queued up “I Feel Pretty”, the second track on side 2 of the album. I was ready to go. When the song before it ended I announced it and then began playing it on the radio.

Something was very wrong; instead of hearing Maria singing, I heard a gang of boys getting ready for a rumble. Sure enough, I had the record on the wrong side, I had queued up the second track of side 1 not side 2. The song that was playing was “The Jet Song” by the male ensemble that played the street gang in the movie. For a second I panicked I had not heard the song since the movie and was worried about the lyrics. Wait a minute, this is a soundtrack from a movie of a Broadway play, there was no way there would be a problem. I would just correct the song title after the record ended. That was a big honkin’ mistake. As I opened my microphone over the last four words of the song, to my horror, I heard “The whole (f-bomb) street!” I was totally speechless. This was live radio; there was no delay, no way to avoid getting the offending words on the air. What the audience heard at the ending of “The Jets Song” was a couple of seconds of silence; what we call “dead air” in the business and then a sloppy spin up of the next tune.

The station’s music director happened to be in the other room at the time and he walked into the studio to tell me how special that was. There was no marking on the album warning us not to play that particular track. He asked me to make sure that song could never be played again and I took out my pocket knife and carved three “X”s across that track. I spent the rest of the show waiting for a knock on the control room door to let me know that there guys from the FCC wearing sunglasses and trench coats that wanted to have a word with me. I didn’t sleep much that night either.

Some 15 years later, while driving around with the regional FCC field engineer taking intensity measurements of the directional AM where I was working at the time, I told him my “Jets Song” story. He told me that under those circumstances, it they had a complaint that I probably would have gotten a warning. Oh and one more thing, I needed to have my towers repainted. Oh MY!