Sunday, May 26, 2019

Spin it or slide it?

Old school radio DJs love to talk about how much better everything was back in the day as opposed to the way they are now. I am one of those who love to participate in those discussions. We’d argue about which is better 45 RPM 7 inch singles, 33/ 13/ RMP 12 inch albums, cassette tapes or CDs. Just for the record, MP3 files don’t even come close because they are “lossy” and the quality isn’t there.

One of the hot topics for discussion is about which is best; rotary or slide volume controls. They are called “pots” in the business, short for potentiometers.

Most of the audio boards I used back in my first 15 years in radio and television had rotary pots, that you turned clockwise and counterclockwise to raise or lower the volume. The big advantage to these controls was that one could rest the heel of the hand on the desk and spin the pot with your fingertips. And there was a detent on the pot when it was turned all the way down that put the input channel attached to it into cue mode. Cue mode meant that you could listen to what was being played on a given input through an auxiliary speaker that was not on the air.

Cue mode was used much more back then than it is today because we had to find the first notes on the song by spinning the record and listening to it. Once found, the record could be backed up a quarter turn and be ready to play. On older turntables the DJ had to hold the record with his or her fingertips while the turntable spun underneath, releasing it and turning up the pot when it was time for the song to start. In the late 60s, instant start turntables found their way into radio control rooms and we no longer had to hold the edge of the records. They came up to speed within that quarter turn. My first experience with those was in the WCOS remote studio at Doug Broome’s Drive In on Two Notch at Beltline. We had three Russco turntables in that cinderblock building, one on the left and two on the right.

My first encounter with a slide pot board was at that iconic blowtorch radio station, WAPE in Jacksonville. I never worked for the Big Ape but I spun a couple of records there one day in relief of a friend who had something come up that he had to handle. After only a minute or two on the board I learned the big advantage of slide pots. You could scan the board quickly and immediately tell which pots were turned up. That was harder with rotary pots as you had to find the pointer on them and see where they were. That took twice as long and sometimes resulted in something you didn’t want to hear getting on the air.

Left: My first board design. I designed my first slide pot board at WIS-TV when we added on a new control room and studio in ‘75. The board was built by Audio Designs and Manufacturing (ADM). The board was a custom built modularized custom built console and I was chosen by the station to design the layout. And like the WAPE board and the one I used later at WIS Radio it had a detent at the bottom of the slide that placed the channel into cue. I chose the standard layout of the time, placing five microphone channels with tally controls for the studio speakers and on air lights on the left of the console, then across the board more microphone inputs that without tally controls and a pair of turntable pots next to them. There were three slots were for the cart machines and two more for the reel to reel tape machines. Finally on the far right in the 22nd position was the network.

The slide pot board I used the most back in the day was the one out at WIS Radio. It had down pot cue detents and remote starts as well. Because of the nature of radio music shows as opposed to running audio on television stations, those features were used more in radio. I know because of the many hours spent cleaning the dust out of the pots and changing lights in the buttons. Dust in those early slide pots was probably the biggest problem from a maintenance standpoint. It should be noted that the pots in the ADM console at WIS TV were actually rotary pots with a twisted piece of metal attached to turn the pot. The pot was turned by a fork shaped piece of metal attached to the slider itself.

The advent of CDs in the 80’s spelled the end of the down-pot cue systems on audio boards. They were used less and less because there was nothing to cue up any more. There are still cue systems on modern audio boards but you have to push a button on the input module to listen to something in cue. And heaven forbid you forget to take it out of cue; the sound blasts out of the cue speaker and nothing gets on the air. It must be my old eyes but that little red light is hard to spot in a hurry. Hard to spot, until “Mr. Dead Air” raises his right hand and cackles “I got ya!!”

Heck, I don’t even use the cue feature on the board in my home studio. It takes four buttons and a rotary pot to listen to an input in cue. Not gonna happen.

So, queuing aside, I come down on the side of slide pot boards because of their visibility. At WUSC-FM I can set and forget my microphone and automation levels, leaving me to ride primarily the auxiliary input where my music computer is attached. Occasionally I need the telephone input and the one to the remote Marti receiver.

I’ll be the first live DJ on the air there tomorrow. I sure hope that DJ Goggles will pull the shade down at the end of the Chronic Chillness show this evening. It will be 82 degrees already when I start my show there at 9 in the morning. The air conditioning in the control room is so poor that the sun streaming through that window easily overpowers it. That brick patio and the side of the building will already be sizzling. Oh yes, and the oldies will be sizzling too. Oh MY!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Long Lost Oldies

I was asked the other day how do I keep the music fresh on my oldies shows. After all, there is no such thing as a “new” oldie.

For me, the main way to keep it fresh is to have a large playlist. When I sit down to do a show these days, I have 25,000 to 30,000 songs at my beck and call. That is an order of magnitude over the 200 – 250 songs on most radio station’s play lists. And a huge increase over the 60 – 70 songs that were on the playlists of the old top 40 radio stations. This included the “up and coming” tunes but does not include the one solid gold song that we played every half hour.

So how did top 40 work anyway? The secret was that each week between a fifth and a quarter of the songs on the top 40 got replaced with tunes from the “up and coming” collection which in turn were replaced by new tunes added by our program director. That means that there was always something fresh on the playlist.

The other thing that worked for top 40 was that almost no one listened to an entire DJ’s show from beginning to end. So during a five hour air shift the DJ would play 100 songs, 20 or so per hour. That means that he or she would play the same song twice in a shift. It would be highly unlikely that a listener would hear both plays in one listening. He or she would probably hear the same song between three to five times in a week. The average run time on the top 40 was about ten weeks. So a listener would hear the song between 30 and 50 times before it fell off the charts.

For the DJ however, the number of times they heard the same song was considerably more, up to 500 times during it’s time on the playlist. I can tell you that by time most songs were moving out of “heavy rotation” and ready to rotate off the list I was ready to say; “Goodbye Marcia!” I had to fight the temptation to over play the newer songs because I was not tired of them yet.

Left: A typical clock wheel Back in the day I was fortunate to work at stations that allowed the DJ to choose which songs to play instead of having to follow a “clock wheel” which designated which type of song to play at a certain time of the hour. I had only three restrictions. 1) lead out of the news on the hour or half hour with a “kicker, a fast paced rocker. 2) play a “solid gold” oldie after the weather on the quarter hour. 3) never play two instrumental or female songs back to back. Why couldn’t we play two female artists back to back, you ask? The answer was that the ratio of female to male artists back in the day was much lower than today. So we had to spread them out.

I liked having that free hand because it respected my DJ skills and allowed me to build a mix of songs that was unique to the time of day I was on the air and the show I was building. A good example of this was the All Night Satellite. The music in the 1 AM to 2 AM hour was a lot harder and rockier because the late night audience was out cruising or wanting a pick me up after a long day. The 5 – 6 AM hour leaned more towards “light rock” because that audience was just waking up and trying to ease into the new day. So all this had to be taken into consideration when choosing the next song to play. Oh yeah! I almost forgot! You had to be sure to avoid “train wrecks,” that is two songs that sound terrible when played together. For example; you should never play “Abba Zabba” by Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and “Baby I’m A Want You” by Bread back to back. Ewwww!

But I digress.

Today, oldies are considered a “stagnant” genre by those who don’t know better. So how do you keep an oldies format fresh? Part of the answer is the aforementioned huge playlist along with a DJ’s ear. When I consider playing a song these days, I usually can remember if I have played it recently. If it feels too recent, I skip it, no matter how much I like it. So you may hear the same song on my show every so often but pretty soon it fades into the background and a “new” song takes its place for a couple of weeks.

Well, this is not completely true. My live shows are always request shows, just like back in the day. So sometimes songs get played two shows in a row due to someone making a request because they liked the song the last time it was played.

The other way to keep an oldies format fresh is to add a few “long lost” gems to the playlist each week. This way the playlist keeps growing and the sound never gets stale. I’ll be adding nearly dozen songs never played on the Backbeat show to the mix on WUSC-FM tomorrow. Full disclosure, I get these songs by listening to guys like Dave Hoeffel, Mike Kelly, Phlash Phelps, Pat St. John, Shotgun Tom Kelly and Cousin Bruce Morrow. They never fail to provide new fodder for my playlist. I’m sure I’m not the only oldies DJ that does that.

So tomorrow I’ll be adding songs by Bobby Vinton, Elvis, Frankie Laine, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, Johnny Rivers, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood, Ronnie Dove and The Newbeats. Some of these I haven’t heard in years. Listen carefully and you may even hear me play two female artists back to back. I’m such a rebel!! Oh MY!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Vinyl Records and Live Radio

Back in the golden age of music radio, the most common source for the music we played on the air was vinyl records. Also, with very few exceptions like “Dan’s Dusty Disks” on WAPE, WBAM and WFLI the shows were all live. The majority of these shows were what we called “combo” shows, that is the live DJ operated the audio console and all the other studio equipment while “playing the top of the pops and the cream of the crop for all you cool cats and hot kitties.”

Personally I loved the physicality of doing “combo” shows. There is nothing more satisfying that “slip queuing” a record and “walking up the intro of the song and hitting the post.” Sadly that skill has lost its value in these days of MP3 files and automation systems.

Slip queuing was a technique used back in the days when broadcast turntables needed 10 seconds or so to come up to speed. So the DJ would place the needle of the tone arm on the record, start the turntable and listen to for the first notes on the record with a cue system that was not heard on the air. Once the first notes were heard, the record was backed up to a couple of seconds before the beginning of the song and held with the fingertips while the turntable continued to spin below it. Hence the name “slip queue”, the record “slipped” on the turntable as long as the DJ kept his or her fingers on the edge of the disk. When it was time for the song to start, the presenters lifted their fingers off the record and simultaneously turned up the “pot” or volume control for that turntable and just like magic the song was on the air.

In the late 60s and early 70s, the instant start turntables were introduced. These platters came up to speed very quickly; within a half second or so. This meant that the DJ no longer had to hold the records edge. One simply queued the record up on a turntable that was stopped, backed it up a second before the first notes and then start the turntable and “pot” the music up. What made it even better was the introduction of remote start buttons on the audio board tied to the “on” switch for the turntable audio. That made it much easier and it also allowed for the placement of the turntables out of reach of the presenter while he or she was talking into the microphone. This made life much easier for the on-air jock and reduced the necessity that they be quite as coordinated.

One of the side benefits to the placement of the studio turntables away from the DJ is the reduction of the accidental bumps delivered to the turntable. Until my muscle memory became familiar with the physical layout of a new control room, there was many a time I would swing the air chair around on its swivel to reach back to insert a cart into the cart machines and bump the desk the turntable was on and cause the record to skip on the air. With more space between the air chair and the turntable I could really get down to doing the DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie without fear of making the records skip.

Left: A good example of slip queuing a record. Note the soda bottle on the desk just waiting to spill. Alone in the radio booth at a drive in restaurant, eons ago, I learned another shortcoming to vinyl; records and water do not mix well. I accidentally spilt my ever present bottle of Pepsi on some of the “up and coming” records as I was grabbing one from the pile in the cardboard box that I used to carry them from the studio. Fortunately, I had already removed the news copy and the commercial carts before the spill. There was a water spigot on the side of the main building across the passage way from the booth. I grabbed the records, and quickly washed the spilt Pepsi off them. I tried to dry them quickly with some napkins but there was still a fine film of water at the bottom of the grooves in the records. Thinking that the needle would have no problem splashing its way through that almost invisible film of water, I chanced playing one of still not completely dry 45’s on the air live. To put it mildly, the results were not the best. When a needle hits water in a record it makes an unmistakable and quite unattractive sound.

Fortunately it was a quiet night and the car hops were sitting in their chairs watching all of this happen. Pretty soon they were having a party spinning the records around on their fingers until they were bone dry and could be played again. Yet another time those ladies saved my bacon.

The same is true for records that have been sitting around in the record library for a long time. We call them dusty disks for a reason. We learned very early on, to inspect each record and blow the dust off of the side we were going to play. If you don’t the static noise almost drowns the song out. More than once, I’d wash the record off and play it only after it was thoroughly dried. By the way, you had to be careful washing records. If you weren’t, you could permanently scratch the surface with loose dust and grit. Do you remember those disk cleaning kits? Well, I can tell you that a mild dish detergent, warm not hot water and a gentle washing motion worked quite well. The only advantage to the kits was that their cleaning solutions were alcohol based and they dried much quicker than soap and water.

I don’t know why, but a spinning turntable live on the air had the same power of attraction as a mobile home park to a tornado. Two incidents from my days at WCOS come to mind.

The first, I was on the air in the control room on the second floor of the Cornell Arms Apartments. My buddy, Scotty Quick, was in the production room next door finishing up some late commercial recording. There was a commercial on the log that I couldn’t find so I knocked on the glass window separating the two studios and pointed to the commercial on the log. He nodded “I’ve got it” and I pointed to the record on the turntable that had less than a minute left before I needed the cart the commercial was recorded on. He jumped up, and ran around the corner between us and tossed me the cart. Well, I butterfingered the cart instead of catching it cleanly and both of us looked on in horror as the cart bounced off my hands and formed a perfect ark from them to the record that was on the air. It sounded like WW II had broken out as I caught the cart on the rebound, slammed it into the cart machine and started it without saying anything. My hopes that the cacophony would go unnoticed were dashed as the studio telephone lines lit up with listeners asking what was all that! At the end of the next song, I had to come clean as to why I didn’t play first base in any of my neighborhood pickup baseball games growing up.

My second wayward turntable story involves a stray Beatle wig that somehow had a home on the top of short rack of equipment that sat next to that very same turntable featured in the first story. Quite often, Mike Rast, our news announcer would walk into the control room and kibitz with us with his arm resting on the top of that rack next to the Beatle wig. One day, we had spent the entire 5 minute news cast trying to make Mike laugh to no avail. No matter what we did, Mike maintained his professional demeanor and didn’t even crack a smile. After the news was over and the first song was on the air, he took his familiar place with his arm on the top of the cabinet to gloat that we were unable to “break him up.” As he turned with his eyes twinkling over his half glasses to leave, his sleeve accidentally knocked the Beatle wig off the rack and down onto, you guessed it, the turntable that was on the air at the time. If the cart incident sounded like WW II the Beatle wig incident sounded like Armageddon. Mike swore until his dying day that it was an accident but the rest of us weren’t so sure.

I still miss those days with the records spinning and the control room filled with the unmistakable smell of vinyl being grooved by the needles of those tone arms. I don’t care if it was 45 RPM or 33 1/3 RPM, that was real radio and I miss it still. Oh MY!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Hitting" the network news on the top of the hour

There are a number of Facebook pages out there aimed at old broadcasters like me. We share memories and war stories and keep the old radio experience alive. On one of them, one of the members related a story where he had some friends in the studio with him during his 6 – Midnight shift back in the 70s. One of his friends made the comment that he has an easy job that all he had to do was to sit on his tail and talk. His reaction to his friend was to get up and tell his friend that the network news started exactly at the top of the hour, you got it. Slowly a look of horror dawned on the friend’s face as he began to realize there was a little more to it than sitting in the air chair and flapping one’s gums.

My very first radio gig was at WUSC-AM which was an affiliate of the Mutual Radio Network. Another was at WIS-Radio an NBC Radio Affiliate. Both of these carried the top of the hour Network news and at WIS we carried the half hour news from NBC as well. That was a lot of timing.

Left: A typical Western Union Clock circa 1955-1975. Courtesy Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers. So what is involved with airing network news? The trick is to be ready to switch the network on to the air exactly at the time it starts. So if the news starts at 12 noon, you have to give the station identification always in the form of call sign – city of license, just like that, nothing in between. When giving the ID live it takes about three seconds. Something like this; “You’re listening to WUSC, Columbia South Carolina.” “Easy, peasey!” You think. Well, it would be except for the clock. We didn’t have those WWV radio controlled clocks back in the day. What we had was the Western Union Naval Observatory Time clocks. There was one of these behemoths hanging on the wall over the audio board of every radio station in clear view of the DJ when he or she was sitting at the microphone.

These clocks were connected via a circuit provided by Western Union to the Naval Observatory in Washington DC. Exactly at the top of the hour the observatory would send a pulse out to all the clocks that were connected – there were literally tens of thousands of them. When the clock received the pulse, a red light on the face of the clock would flash and the minute and second hands would both snap to zero.

And that is where the rub lies. None of these clocks were very accurate. Some were fast and some were slow. For example the clock at WUSC was constantly one second fast. So you would see the second hand sweep past zero and reset back to it when it reached one second past. The ones at WIS Radio and WIS – TV were consistently three seconds slow. When the second hand reached 57 the light would flash and the hand would snap forward to zero and keep on ticking.

So being fast was pretty easy to manage, you could live with a second of silence between the ID and the network news sounder. It gave the news some gravitas, at least that was our story and we stuck to it. But if you believed the three second slow clocks you wound up either up-cutting the news or having the sounder interrupt the ID, a big “no no!” So we knew that we needed to start the ID 6 seconds before the hour so that when it ended the clock flashed and the network news began. When you did your first air shift at a new station it was a guessing game until you could see which way the clock swung.

Now that we have figured out when to start the ID, we need to figure out how to get to that point. There were basically three ways.

Method 1 was to “backtime” an instrumental by starting it in time for it to end in time for the ID. Every record had a run time listed on the label. Subtracting the run time from the time you wanted to start the ID gave you the time to start the record while keeping it turned down. You simply turned it up as you were making the segue from the last full song you were playing and you were good to go. This was the easiest.

Method 2 was to find something to talk about after the last song of the hour. This worked well when you had 15 – 30 seconds to fill. There was always some station event to promote or you could cross promote one of the other DJs on the station. This was a little more difficult than “backtiming” because you had to adjust what you were saying as you watched the clock approach the magic moment. The station ID would be the last thing you said at the end of that time.

Method 3 was the most difficult and by far the coolest of them all. This involved you having to calculate the time the record before the last would be ending and then finding a record that fit that time and the station ID. That meant shuffling through a stack of records in a very short time and choosing the one that fit.

There were few things as satisfying as finishing the ID and seeing the light flash immediately and hearing the network news sounder begin as you were turning off the studio microphone.

This is why I tried to “hit” top of the hour at all the stations where I worked, even if they did not have network news. With the exception of the radio controlled and the NIST internet time service clocks on the computers in my home studio, these days the available clocks are not all that accurate. Case in point at one station there are three clocks in front of me that don’t agree with each other. There is no network news but I still try to “hit the top of the hour” on the NIST clock that I use as my show clock. You would never know it because of the delays involved with digital broadcasting. For example, at WUSC-FM, there is ten second delay circuit than can be “dumped” if someone says something “naughty” on the air. There is another seven seconds in the transmitter as it converts the digital signal it receives from the studio into an analog signal for the FM transmitter. If WUSC ever brings back network news, I’m ready! Oh MY!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Doug Broome’s on Two Notch

This week, I was driving on Two Notch Road here in Columbia looking for a body shop to repair some fender rash that my car picked up in a parking lot. I had not been out there in over 20 years and I was slack-jawed at how much things have changed. The one thing that had not was the Burger King that was across from the WCOS radio booth that was in the parking lot of Doug Broome’s Drive In where I broadcast many a “Nightbeat Show” back in the day.

Left: Courtesy Google Maps I missed the body shop driving out, so I pulled over off the street into the empty parking lot of The Medussa Bistro and Lounge. As I turned my car around in the lot in preparation for heading back in towards town, I had the déjà vu moment of all moments. I realized that I was in the EXACT location of that old cinder block building that was my studio for the show. The view out the windshield of my car WAS the view I used to have out the front 4’ X 8’ window of that studio.

As I sat there in my car facing the street and seeing the Burger King, I was transported back in my memory. Day changed to night and the club behind me moved closer to the street and became the main kitchen and dining area of Doug’s. A string of teletrays under corrugated steel coverings appeared in my mind’s eye. The smell of Doug’s “Big Joy” Burgers, french fries, hot dogs and chocolate milk shakes filled my nose.

I could see in my memory cars pulling into the rows of the parking lot, finding the “perfect” open teletray, pulling into it and everybody inside ordering what they wanted. As the car hops rolled out on their roller skates bearing hot food, cold drinks and plenty of napkins, I knew that soon some of those napkins would make their way into my studio covered with mustard and ketchup stains and a few requests and dedications.

I loved getting those requests and dedications, I still do. To me that was real radio! You can have your interactive internet applications but this was real live interactivity where the audience got to “program” their favorite songs into my show. There are some radio consultants today who promote the opinion that requests are a bad thing; they break up the pre programmed sets and they play a song that only one member of the audience want to hear. I say “Hogwash!” If I had a dime for every time someone came to the booth and said “I wanted to request that song you just played but they beat me to it. So please play this other song for me.” To me, that was a win – win!

Earlier in the ‘60s when the WCOS booth was at the older Doug’s on Main at Confederate the audiences were actively cruising between Doug’s and Gene’s Pig N Chick just a few blocks away on Blossom Street where my buddy Hugh Munn spun 45’s on WNOK. But the Two Notch Road location was just too far away to maintain the crusin’ scene. So, most of the folks out in my parking lot came from downtown, Forest Acres and the Dentsville areas, while Hugh split the downtown folks with me and picked up those in Olympia Mills, West Columbia and Cayce. I still had a fair share of the University of South Carolina Students and scored big with the Columbia College crowd. By the way, Hugh and I were close, both being products of WUSC and we knew which of you came to both locations. Don’t worry, it’s all good! Those were good days.

Just off to the left of where I was parked, I could “see” the old A & W Root Beer drive in that was on the corner of Two Notch and Beltline. Occasionally someone would sneak over a request from there despite having to run the gauntlet of Doug’s employees that tried to dissuade them from getting to me. I got to be pretty good friends with some of the A & W car hops who knew exactly when they could get past the watchful eyes and sneak into the back of my booth with apron pockets stuffed with requests. Quite frankly, I believe to this day that Arthur, the manager at Doug’s turned his back on what was happening because he remembered what it was like. In payback I always played a “country crossover” for Arthur; usually a Conway Twitty or a Patsy Cline tune. I lost track of Arthur when I left WCOS in ‘69 but I’ll always remember him as a kind and gentle man who kept me filled with hamburgers, Pepsi’s and fries during those long five hour shifts.

Like so many of our sponsors, Doug’s had a “cash and carry” arrangement with the station. So after signing off the air and hearing Mike Rast start the top of the hour news back in the main control room in the Cornell Arms Building, I would amble across the parking lot to the office and collect an envelope with the payment for the show for the evening. Arthur was much older than I was and it was like spending time with a favorite uncle. I couldn’t stay long because in addition to carrying the cash back to the station to place under our bookkeeper’s office door, I had the collection of 45 RPM records that was the top 40 of that day. The jock that came on when I signed off had about a dozen carts with the top songs of the week to play while I drove the 20 minutes or so back to the station. So by time Mike ended the news, I had better be on my way or the overnight DJ will run out of songs to play.

My mind trip back to the past evaporated in the late morning sunshine and I pulled back out onto Two Notch Rd in search of the body shop. As it turns out, I never found it. I was looking on the wrong side of the road. A quick check of Google Maps revealed that it was on the other side. Oh well, it’s all good, I get to take another trip down memory lane soon. Oh MY!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Working the Weekend Radio Shifts

If you worked in radio and are of a certain age, you probably started off working the weekend shifts. That was the path to that top 40 record show that you coveted. We had an alliterative name for these shifts, but it was rude and I’ll spare you those details.

Like most of the other DJs of my time, that is the way I started. I was hired to be a control operator and “run board” on the Georgia Tech football games at WCOS – FM back in 1965. Most of you won’t remember that WCOS – FM carried the Georgia Tech football games back in the day when our morning man, Bob Fulton was the play by play announcer for the Atlanta School. He was the “Voice of the Gamecocks” at the University of South Carolina for so long that few remember that he did play by play for two other southeastern college teams; the Arkansas Razorbacks was the other one.

At the end of the ‘65 football season the college kid working the Sunday Morning and Evening Shifts on WCOS – AM moved on to other interests and I was selected to take them over. So I ran the mostly pre-recorded shows from 6 AM until noon and then again from 6 PM until 1 AM Monday mornings. I was happy for two reasons. The first one was that left me free to go to school and to do the Dawn Patrol Show on WUSC – AM. The second was the last four hours of the Sunday Evening shift was a top 40 record show. Between the Monday – Friday shows on WUSC and the four hour Sunday Evening show on WCOS, I was in seventh heaven, spinning those 45 RPM records and rocking the air chair. Many an early Munday morning when April Black came in to do the “All Night Satellite” show I wasn’t quite ready to give up the microphone. Besides, I was the only one on the air after midnight, all the other stations signed off then.

Since those weekend shifts were solo shifts, I also had a key to the studios on the second floor of the Cornell Arms Apartments where the station was located. I was big stuff now!

Left: A Coca-Cola vending machine similar to the one in the WCOS Offices This was the time that my lifelong addiction to Pepsi began. In the station offices across the hall from the studios there was a vintage Coca-Cola vending machine. Nellie, our receptionists kept that thing stocked with not only Coke products but also 7-Up, Ginger Ale, Pepsi, and Nehi grape and orange drinks. It was during this short part time employment period that I discovered that Pepsi’s were the better choice; they maintained their fizz longer sitting on the shelf of the table where the cart machines sat, to the left and slightly behind the DJ air chair. Especially on that seven hour long Sunday night shift, the shelf life of an open pop bottle took on the highest priority. Especially when talking a lot those last four hours.

So twice a shift, I would grab the office key from the hook on the wall of the studio near the Third Class Radiotelephone licenses that were required to operate the transmitters. The key was attached to a large piece of plywood in order to keep someone from putting the key in his or her pocket, forgetting it and taking it home. I’d put my dime in, grab the nearest Pepsi, open it with the bottle opener attached to the side of the cooler and make my way back to the studios just in time for the announcement at the end of the record or the taped program that was on the air. With all the hydration, sugar and caffeine, I felt that I could easily go forever.

That got put to the test once. The Sunday Afternoon DJ fell ill suddenly and I got the call from Woody, our program director, asking if I could cover that shift as well. Talk about approach / avoidance, that was a six hour record show, but doing that would mean that I would be on the air from 6 AM Sunday morning until 1 AM the following Monday morning! 19 Hours!!! Without hesitation, I said “Sure Boss! I got this!” Without the help of Scotty Quick one of the other DJs at the station, my best friend and his timely gift of a hamburger steak from the old Capital Restaurant on Main Street I would have never made it.

Now one thing I forgot to mention; while doing the Sunday Evening record show on AM, the weekend DJ was SIMULTANEOUSLY doing a live classical music show on the FM station from 9 until 11 PM. This was accomplished via a record player in the back of the studio and the “B” side of the AM audio console. So just before 9 PM, as the taped program was in its final minutes on the AM station, I had to take a set of transmitter reading on both the AM and FM stations, find a break in the music on the FM Automation, stop it, turn off the stereo subcarrier on the FM transmitter, patch the “B” side of the console to the telephone line feeding that transmitter, give a station break on FM and announce the first selection on the classical music show and start the record. Then when the taped show ended on the AM station, give a station break and read a five minute newscast. And finally start the first record on the AM record show. All this activity was on two channels of one audio console. That was hard even for the young pup I was then. I doubt that I could do that now. I would probably trip over my feet and land flat on my face in front of the rack that held the patch panel and the “Levil Devil.”

At that point I needed a drink. So grab the key and get another Pepsi from the machine in the office. A long pull of caffeine and I was ready for the record show.

These days my longest on air shift is only three hours, 10 AM – 1 PM Saturdays on Our Generation Radio. During the summer months I have another on WUSC-FM Mondays from 9 AM – Noon. All are record shows. No more control operator shifts for me. Besides, the control operator in today’s radio station except for live sports events is a computer. Those are a long way back in the rear view mirror of my memories. Oh MY!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

When you gotta go, you gotta go!

Let me set up the scenario for you. Back in the day, on air shifts for radio presenters were long; five to six hour shifts were the norm.

Most DJs worked “combo shows” which meant that they ran their own audio consoles and often operated their transmitters either locally or via remote control. Except during business hours, they were the only one in the radio station. Automation was still in radio’s future so each “jock” was in perpetual motion selecting and queuing up records, loading the carts for the next commercial or jingle, checking the news and weather teletypes and answering the phone. We had to be there at the microphone at the beginning and end of every record.

The last two elements to the scenario is that the average song length was somewhere between 2 ½ to 3 ½ minutes and that DJ’s had to keep hydrated or they would go hoarse with dry throat. Also with these longer shifts, we often had to eat while on the air.

That brings up the problem, how to output all that input. Making a trip to the rest room and getting back before the end of the record was nearly impossible in the less than 180 seconds of the average record.

Sure there were some songs that were longer; Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today”, and Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” were lifesavers. But for the most part, there were no long songs active on the average Top 40 Playlist for a given week. And this is where DJ creativity came into play.

A typical three cart system The most common method was to record an announce break between two songs in the production room onto a cart and have it in the rack for emergency use. This method was limited by the requirement that the DJ had to say something between every record. This meant that each DJ had to make their own “break cart” with their voice. Also because of that, these “break carts” had a limited shelf life. Once used, a new one had to be recorded. That was a lot of work.

If you were lucky to work for a radio station where the engineer understood the trials and tribulations of you had another tool available. The engineer would rig up a switch that would allow you to “program” three carts to start one after the other starting with a “tertiary queue tone placed at the end of the song. The “announce cart” would be placed in the middle cart and then the second song would start in the third card on the “end queue” of the announce cart. Now you could have a more comfortable 6 to 7 minutes to take care of business.

But all was not lost if you were not so lucky. The third option was to make a short song longer. Let’s take a real world example of how this was done. Valleri by the Monkees was 2 minutes and 16 seconds long when it was released on February 17, 1968 on the Colgems Label (#1019.) Not a particularly good length to manage a rest room run. But at the end of the song is a guitar riff by Peter Tork that is very similar to the one at the beginning. The phrasing of this riff works very well to be the hinge of the edit. So we could replace the riff at the end of the song with the same one from the beginning. And “Boom!” now we have a song that is five minutes long. Plenty of time for the pause that refreshes. Peter, Mickey, Michael (and Davy up in heaven) I apologize, but your song was so good and the need was so great.

There was another problem with the first two methods. Live remote shows. Much of my time at WCOS was spent in a small cinder block studio at the end of the first row of teletrays in plain sight of the folks listening on their car radios. If they heard my voice and could see that I was not in the booth, there would be questions to answer. So for me, reliance on the stretched song was all I had for those emergencies. It was more complicated at Doug Broome’s because the nearest rest room was 200 feet away in the main building of the restaurant. Adding to that was the fact that I had to lock the studio door when leaving and unlock it returning. My record time there was a little under 3 minutes and I was out of breath when I opened the microphone to announce.

The final tool I had for mid show bio breaks was Mike Rast, our intrepid newsman at WCOS. Each hour at 5 minutes until the hour, he did our “News at 55” Newscast. At the end of the news, he would give the station ID and play the “Top of the hour” jingle and I would start the first record of the hour. This was the only time that we did not announce a song. The first song, an up-beat rocker that set the pace for the rest of the hour was called a “kicker.” I could get an 8 minute break if I asked Mike to play the “kicker” from the studio rather than me out at Dougs.

Unless you are a DJ of a certain age, you will never live through the necessity of these radio “hacks.” These days all you have to do is to “connect” two songs together on the automation and go on about your business. Full disclosure, with my aging bladder and a late cup of coffee, I sometimes do that during my oldies shows at WUSC-FM. Oh MY!