Sunday, July 15, 2018

Workin’ on the air with a cold!

Let’s face it; I was too cocky. I made it through the winter without catching anything. As old man winter departed the state I gave him a high five and said “Better luck next time! See ya, sucker!”

I should have remembered that “Pride goes before a fall!” Something has been going around town for a month or so and it finally knocked on my door last Wednesday evening and said “Here I Am!”

I wasn’t sure that something was going on Thursday morning, so I went to work and pretty much isolated myself from my co-workers. By the time I went home I was pretty sure that I was coming down with a summer cold.

Friday afternoon, I needed to record a show that runs on Radio Tatras International located in Poprad Slovakia. RTI-FM is an English speaking station operated by some of the most famous voices in Europe. So I sat down in the air chair and cranked out a pretty decent show despite being a little groggy. Yesterday, was the same for my three hour live show on my own station; Our Generation Radio. Other than that it has been mostly Aleve, Benadryl and my easy chair. I missed out on two events so as not to infect anyone else. In retrospect, I should not have gone to work on Thursday morning. My only defense was that I was not sure that I was coming down with a summer cold. I’ll know better next time.

Today I’m glad to report that I am Naproxen free and feeling decent.

Left: a typical "Air Chair" of the day WPDQ Jacksonville circa 1968 When I sat down to write this blog, of course this cold was foremost on my mind. Flashing through my memory were those times back in the day, when I worked on the air with a cold, sore throat and even hoarseness. We didn’t have the luxury of letting the automation run the station while we lay in bed. There had to be a live DJ in the station to play the music and run the transmitter. If things were really bad, we could call the boss and he would get a part timer to come in and cover our shifts.

So, a box of Kleenex was added to the cluster of records, carts, copy and logs on the console desk. During the course of the show the trash can under the cart machine was filled with a toxic mess of tissue paper. While the records played we would fold our arms on the desk and lay our heads on them. I was very lucky in that I never fell asleep but some of my co-workers did. But we were all so attuned to the primary rule of no dead air allowed that the first hint of silence at the end of a record shocked us awake. This explains some of the goofy comments that went on the air back in those days. Well, some of them at least. The others were a result of wacky DJs working in wacky times.

As you can imagine; with all of us working on the same console, touching the same knobs and switches, handling the same records and carts and working close to that RCA 77-D Microphone that we shared colds each year. The first DJ to come down with a cold came in to the station with a big bottle of Lysol. Each DJ sprayed and wiped everything down while the first record was playing. The biggest problem was the records themselves as it was possible to ruin one with too Lysol and there were so many to clean. The next biggest was the RCA 77-D as it was possible to spray Lysol through the grill of the microphone case and coat the sensitive ribbon inside. That could negatively affect the sound of the microphone.

Indeed, I came into possession of a pair of those RCA 77-D microphones that we used at WCOS. When I rebuilt them, I discovered stains on the “innards” that smelled like Lysol when I cleaned them. Fortunately, from what I could tell, Lysol was the only thing that penetrated the screen.

One of the other things that made it possible to do a show with a cold was the fact that the consoles in those old studios were at standard desk height and sported a real “Air Chair” which was usually a standard office chair of the day. As crude as that seem by today’s standards; in my opinion; those studios were much better than the “stand up” studios that we have in most stations these days. It seems that during the 70s some bright consultant came up with the idea that DJs sounded better when they were standing rather than sitting. You couldn’t prove that by me. WUSC-FM has a stand up studio and I have tried standing while on the air. Listening to the show playback, I can’t tell the difference between when I was standing and when I was sitting on the bar stool kept in the studio for old guys like me.

Come to think of it, I have never been in a “stand up” studio that did not have a bar stool in it. And rarely do I see a DJ who is not seated on that stool while announcing. Before you say, “Wait a minute, Broadway Bill Lee stands up at WKTU in New York and JoJo Cookin' Kincaid rocked San Diego from Q-106 on his feet”, I stipulate that they did, but if you look carefully at the videos of these guys, I do believe that you will spot a bar stool behind them somewhere. Additionally, those guys pull air shifts much shorter than the ones we used to do. Five or six hours were the norm, not the exception.

So you can count on me doing the DJACBB (DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie) on the nicely padded bar stool at WUSC-FM tomorrow. I can do stand up radio but I’m much more comfortable with my groove thing firmly in contact with the air chair. So I’ll see you cool cats and hot kitties at 9 AM in the morning. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Let’s be safe on the water!

We are catching a break from Mother Nature this weekend. A backdoor front has crossed the state bringing cooler weather and a little cloudiness and some isolated rain showers.

The high temperature forecast for today is 88 degrees and the high yesterday in my front yard was 86. After a couple of weeks of highs in the upper 90s and an excursion or two into the triple digits, I am really diggin’ it. It even got down into the upper 60s last night.

We are also enjoying the lower humidity, 53% as I sit here writing this. And the feel good weather trifecta is complete with a nice little summer breeze between 5 and 10 mph from the east, courtesy of a tropical low off the coast. Ahhh – yes, life is good.

Mind you, I know better than to complain about the weather, especially here in South Carolina, as they say down here, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. Case in point; yesterday afternoon, I was just about to head out on a run to the grocery store when a little pop up rain shower drenched my plans. Fortunately it did not drench the pups that were enjoying the cool afternoon in the back yard. They made it to their dog houses just before I got to the back door to let them in. Whew, another bullet dodged; the smell of wet dogs on a summer afternoon.

There was an accompanying clap of thunder or two but not as bad as they had it down in Charleston where two cells came together and really threatened boaters on the water in the harbor. Those Facebook videos were brutal.

A group of San Juan 21's vying for position at a racing mark. That reminds me of one of my favorite “war stories” about sailing on Lake Murray. I had a full load on my San Juan 21 sailboat that included two US Navy Midshipmen and their families. All in all, five adults and three kids, just about the limit for a San Juan and the supply of lifejackets that I had on board. We sailed out of the Lake Murray Sailing Club in a light breeze similar to today. The water was generally calm with just a few ripples of 3 – 5 inches being whipped up by the zephyr. We were headed south towards Spence Islands under partly cloudy skies with no buildups to the north and west where our storms typically come from. I was sharing the things that sailors do to be safe on the water, always be aware of where you are on the lake, where the other boaters are and what is happening with the weather.

One of the wives, asked me about a cloud building up south of the lake near the town of Lexington. I said, that if that cloud was northwest of us, that would be one I would have an eye on. We were thinking of lowering the sails so the kids could jump into the lake for a little swim, when I took a second look at that cloud. It had only been a minute or two since I last looked at it. But in that time it had grown from a little storm with cloud tops about 20,000 feet to a monster storm with tops well over 40,000 feet. Right at that moment, a wind shear hit us and the wind direction switched from the Northwest to the south.

It was clear that the storm, while 20 miles away had cast a gust front that had just crossed over us. Not only that, but that storm was not moving to the southeast like the rest of the weather, but directly north, straight at us. I estimated that with the assistance of the old Sears Gamefisher 5 outboard motor on the transom that we were about 20 minutes from the dock at the sail club. I also estimated the storm would reach us in about 25 minutes. So we made a quick 180 degree turn and I threw the large Genoa sail on the front of the boat out on the “whisker pole”, started the outboard and revved it up to full speed. We were just going to make it. That was a good thing because I had a 25 ft 8 inch aluminum lightning rod with two big sails attached sitting on top of the cabin of that boat.

It really wasn’t the fault of that little outboard motor. It was old and used infrequently, after all it is was on a sailboat and it was a matter of honor to get where you want to go on a sailboat using wind power only. We were approaching the “little cove” and could almost see the sailing club around the bend of the shoreline when I heard it. It was just a little “tink” but it was a fateful one. The shear pin on the prop chose the moment I needed it the most to give up the ghost. I heard the Gamefisher roar as it was released from the load of the prop. The sailboat settled back from nearly being on the plane, to a slightly bow down configuration of a boat being driven by stern winds.

This was not good! Instead of beating the storm to the club by five minutes it was now going to get to us about five minutes before we could get there keeping to the channel that was deep enough for our keel.

To make a long story short, we lowered the sails, raised the swing keel and took a short cut to the club across the shoals at Pole Key. We were powered by the two active Midshipmen and the old Navy guy who’s Midshipmen days were 20 years in the past swimming for our lives at the end of ropes attached to the bow. We made it to the point on the sail club property where we solidly beached the boat right there and got everyone off and up to the club house just as the storm hit.

There was cloud to ground lightning everywhere around but somehow the aluminum mast was not struck. I know because I watched it during the entire storm. I never even attempted to repair that broken shear pin on that 25 year old Gamefisher outboard. It was time for a well deserved retirement. The next week, the San Juan was back out for the races sporting a brand new Yamaha outboard. It was still on the transom when I sold the San Juan 20 years later. I believe the new owner replaced it shortly after he bought it. What goes around, comes around. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Oldies Hits We Never Knew

Much has been written about the revolt of the pirate radio stations in the UK against the BBC’s limitation of rock and roll on the British Airwaves. There has even been a movie or two done about it. The most famous was the 2009 film “The Boat That Rocked” or as we knew it in the US, “Pirate Radio.” The movie was also called “Good Morning England” in France, “Radio Rock Revolution” in Germany, and “I Love Radio Rock” in Italy.

But this is not about a movie that had multiple titles all over the world but about songs and artists that were hits in the UK but were relatively unknown in the US.

Who is this lady on the left? Probably the biggest of these artists was Helen Shapiro. Although too poor to own a record player, Helen's parents encouraged music in their home (she had to borrow a neighbor’s player to hear her first single sung with “Susie and the Hula Hoops," a school band with her cousin, 60s singer, Susan Singer. In 1961, aged fourteen, she had a UK No. 3 hit with her first single, "Don't Treat Me Like a Child" and two number one hits in the UK, "You Don't Know" and "Walkin' Back to Happiness". The latter did not top the UK chart until 19 October 1961, by which time Shapiro had reached 15. She had a No. 2 in 1962 with "Tell Me What He Said", achieving her first four single releases in the top three of the UK Singles Chart. Most of her recording sessions were at EMI's studios at Abbey Road in Northwest London. Her mature voice made her an overnight sensation, as well as the youngest female chart topper in the UK. Before she was sixteen years old, Shapiro had been voted Britain's "Top Female Singer". The Beatles first national tour of Britain, in the late winter/early spring of 1963, was as one of her supporting acts. During the course of the tour, the Beatles had their first hit single and John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote the song "Misery" for her, but Shapiro did not record the composition. But for some reason EMI turned that record down. What’s worse, EMI decided not to release her songs in the North American market. This is why most of us over here have never heard of her.

Back in those days, the UK and Canada had a policy restricting songs recorded by American artists in favor of versions of those songs recorded by home based artists. As a result, many of those songs were not released in the US.

Another of those groups was “The Bystanders,” a Welsh rock harmony group that recorded on Piccadilly Records. The Bystanders issued eight singles, including their biggest song, "98.6" which topped out at #45 in UK Singles Chart, in February 1967. The version we knew in the US was done by Keith' was the bigger hit, reaching No. 24 even in the UK. We didn’t hear the Bystanders version in the US. You can hear the Bystander’s version of “98.6” on the soundtrack album of “Pirate Radio.”

Interestingly enough, the “Pirate Radio” Sountrack omits four tracks that were included on The Boat That Rocked album and both versions of the movie; "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells, "The Letter" by The Box Tops, "The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis, and "Hang On Sloopy" by The McCoys! Go figure!

We know Cilla Black as a one hit wonder for her “You’re my World” which charted in 1964 in the US but along with her “Anyone Who Had A Heart” topped the charts at #1 in the UK. The song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick in 1963. In the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand, Warwick's recording lost out to the cover version by Cilla Black. Black's version was a UK number-one hit for three weeks in February/March 1964 and was also the fourth best-selling single of 1964 in the UK, with sales of around 950,000 copies. Cilla also had a show on the BBC that aired from January 1968 to April 1976.

Finally, I present The Barron Knights, a British humorous pop group, originally formed in 1959 in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, as the Knights of the Round Table. They started out as a straight pop group, and spent a couple of years touring and playing in English dance halls before making their way to Hamburg, Germany. Bill Wyman, later of the Rolling Stones, has written that the Barron Knights were the first group he saw with an electric bass, at a performance in Aylesbury in July 1961, inspiring him to take up the instrument. In 1963, at the invitation of Brian Epstein, they were one of the supporting acts on The Beatles' Christmas shows at the Finsbury Park Astoria in London, and later became one of the few acts to tour with both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The UK charts in the 60s had no fewer than 6 of their songs; "Call Up the Groups" (1964) # 3, "Come to the Dance" (1964) # 42, "Pop Go the Workers" (1965) # 5, "Merry Gentle Pops" (1965) # 9, "Under New Management" (1966) # 15 and "An Olympic Record" (1968) # 35! Nary a blip on the US Radar screen! But tomorrow I’ll play their version of “Traces” by “The Classics IV.” “The Classics IV” recording peaked at # 2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening music charts, making it the highest charting single for the band from Jacksonville Florida.

By now I’m sure you are asking why bother with these long lost oldies. The answer is simple. One of the criticisms of the Oldies genre is that there is nothing new to hear. Modern covers of these old songs don’t seem to count. But in my humble opinion, finding a long lost oldie, cover or not, is what helps keep the genre alive. They are a part of the history of rock and roll. Part of our history! Oh MY!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Hot Tubes and Static

There must be a million or more articles about which sounds better, AM or FM. I know that is an exaggeration but it seems that way to me.

The term “sounds better” is about as subjective a concept as there ever was. What sounds good or bad is truly in the ears of the beholder. For example Lawrence Welk sounds pretty bad to a Heavy Metal listener and hip hop and rap can’t be tolerated by most lovers of Doo Wop.

Here is my own personal take on it. There is no doubt that FM Stereo has a better clarity, lower noise floor and a crispiness that is not there in AM radio. But there is a soul to an old analog AM signal that just can’t be replicated by FM especially digital FM.

As for that soul, it comes from the fire of the sound being baptized in the glow of a hot final tube or two. The modern solid state AM transmitters don’t quite get it. Alas, there are not too many tube type AM transmitters around these days. They are just too expensive to operate. Those tubes are expensive to purchase, especially the higher powered transmitters. And much more electrical power is required to generate those signals.

The sweet spot of those AM signals was hit when those tubes kicked off just a bit of extra electrons in a blue flicker across the face of the tubes. That is when the sound coming out of those old blowtorches was perfect, perfect for AM that is. Those bass notes had an extra fire, the midrange was solid and the treble was… not there. Well, relatively speaking there was a “treble” of sorts, 6 to 8 kilohertz. In today’s FM world with treble ranging from 10 – 15 kilohertz. What was treble in the old AM days is midrange today. I must admit, that as I get older, I can’t hear those higher frequencies as well any more.

But those old AM car radios had big speakers in them. Those speakers could rock and roll with the double bass line of the Funk Brothers recorded in Studio A at Hitsville, USA on a Motown song, the rich instrumental mix of The Wrecking Crew in the California Music Scene or the hot buttered soul coming out of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. Remember cruizin’ between hamburger joints with the radio turned up loud enough for everyone in the car to get down to the tunes but not so loud that it set of seismic alarms in the neighborhood. That was real, hot and sweaty rock and roll.

I must digress to one of my favorite peeves; boom cars. You hear them everywhere blasting out all kinds of music from rock, to country to hip hop and rap. To me that music experience is similar to taking a sip of water from a fire hose turned fully on. There is no subtlety, no finesse or artistry in that. Do you hear that when you go to a concert where the artists control the balance? No! Most artists prefer a more balanced approach to their music. You really can have power and balance.

End of rant!

Back to that warm AM sound. One of the other things that made me love AM was the fact that there was a little static in the sound. FCC regulations required that the DJ, if he or she was the transmitter operator, to listen to what the transmitter was putting out. What made that possible was the fact that there was no delay in the audio chain from the microphone to the AM receiver. Our headphones were essentially plugged into a radio tuned to the station. We had a much better perception of what was going out on the air through all the compression and processing required to keep the station both loud and legal. There was something magical about hearing the slight hiss of static behind the music and my voice. It almost made me feel like I was one with the station.

These days, the DJ on an FM station normally can’t listen to the transmitter because there is a 5 -8 second delay in the transmitter itself while it converts and processes the digital signal it receives from the audio board and broadcasts it. Most stations also provide a 10 second delay/dump system that allows the operator time to dump offensive material that may have initially gotten past them. We didn’t have that back in the day, and didn’t really need it because even the audience members calling in a live “Instant 60 Request” understood that if they abused their 15 seconds of fame, it would all go away.

I have a friend who retired from radio a couple of years ago that loved to hear the sound of the processing so much that he had the engineer build a duplicate audio chain that fed his headsets the same sound that the main one fed the transmitter. The engineer was fine with that since it provided a hot backup to the components that fed the transmitter and could be instantly patched over to the transmitter in case of a failure. Alas, that studio was torn down when that station moved to a location downtown and new studios without the duplicate audio chain were built.

These days, when I playback a show that I’ve done on WUSC-FM or one of my online shows, I am surprised that I made an error in mixing and that what I heard in my headphones was not what went out on the air. The processor handled the mix differently from what I expected. But that is the world we live in today. I’m just grateful that I have a chance to make those mixing errors. Oh MY!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ice Cream Trucks

I know they are still around but I’ve not seen one for a long time. I can still hear the sound of the Ice Cream Truck as it passed through the neighborhood in my memory.

Summers in Florida can be hot and humid, in fact downright muggy. Days would dawn clear and the morning dew covered the grass and the bushes in the yard. By ten in the morning, the temperatures would rise and the relative humidity would fall a little bit in the diurnal rhythm of a summer day. By noon it would be pretty uncomfortable and lunch time would provide a break from the morning chores and outside activities. Being “Green Florida” the St Augustine grass needed mowing at least once a week. Being Floridians, we knew that the only time to do that was as early in the morning as possible.

But lunch indoors was not the cool experience it is today. For we had no air conditioners, just the attic fan moving the air around our bodies as we ate our sandwiches and drank our cool aid. The cool aid was nice because it came from that big chilled pitcher in the refrigerator, augmented by half a tray of ice from the freezer.

Do you remember those ice trays? We didn’t have ice makers either. We had a stack of aluminum ice trays each complete with a handle in the middle over the cubes. A simple lift of the handle moved the blades in the ice tray and that broke up the cubes and freed them for our use. That was the way it was supposed to work anyway. Sometimes, however it felt like it would take a 500 pound gorilla to move that handle enough to break up the cubes. It was usually my job to fill the glasses with ice and refill the trays with water from the tap. In a few hours we would need that ice for dinner. It took four of these trays to make enough ice for our family on a summer day.

By the time lunch and the mandatory hour long after lunch nap was over, the afternoon sun had heated up the day to a touch above sauna level. Fortunately the heavy lifting of the day was over and it was time to wait for the two daily events that made up summer afternoons.

The first was the standard 3 PM Florida thundershower. You could see it coming. The cumulus clouds built up so quickly you could almost see it happen. The iconic cauliflower shapes of clouds building into thunderheads were all around. They were turning darker and darker until it was like they could hold no more water vapor and soon shafts of rain and lightning poured out of them. A quick check of the time and sure enough it was 3 PM almost to the minute. Every day, same time.

After the rain, it was no longer 95 and humid, it was 87 and so humid that just breathing was uncomfortable.

And that is what made the second event very important.

We’d sit on the back porch because that side of the house was in the shade. The puddles left on the street by the daily thunderstorm were turning into more steam for the sauna of a Florida summer afternoon as we first thought we heard it. Was it real, listening a little longer; YES, there it is. The crazy little jingle that said the Ice Cream man was in the neighborhood. Maybe three streets over, but it was time to hit Mom up for fifteen cents for a Popsicle. Good old Mom always came through, with the money, even enough for a Fudgesicle for her. Mom knows best.

After a quick retreat to the back porch with our booty, and Mom’s too, the next five to ten minutes were a cool sugar infused experience. I think Mom liked it as much as we did. She had a pretty good sweet tooth and it was a good family time experience. My favorite was the Fudgesicle, next was a cherry Popsicle, my least favorite was the banana flavor. In my humble opinion, whoever came up with that idea should have his or her Popsicle flavor designer’s license revoked. Just sayin’!

Pretty soon the Popsicles and family time are gone and the sauna dial is back up to “full on” for the rest of the afternoon. In a few short hours it will be supper time and time for “heat lightning” in the clouds on the distant horizon. The sun is beginning its slow, hot descent into the western sky. The temperature starts to go down which makes the relative humidity go up. Another Florida summer day is done.

There was a time when Ice Cream Trucks were common in Columbia neighborhoods but not so much these days. I think they are a victim of the ending of the age of free range children who enjoyed their entire neighborhoods without immediate parental supervision. Those days certainly seemed safer then. I may be getting older now but I got to grow up in the best of times. Oh MY!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Beep Beep!

No, this is not a story about the Road Runner and Wiley the Coyote or the song by the Playmates. It is a story about something that has passed into the mists of time.

In the 60s, most radio station that did not have their studios located at their transmitter sites connected them by a special telephone circuit that they rented from Ma Bell. These special circuits were routed through a master switchboard operated by the phone company that was called the Toll Test Office. Even if the studio and the transmitter were located on the same side of town and Toll Test was on the other side of town, the circuit was run from the studio to the phone office and then from there to the transmitter.

There were a few stations who operated transmitters so far away from their studios that they could not hear the transmitter from the studio. A good example of this would be the famous 50,000 watt blowtorch in Jacksonville Florida, WAPE – the mighty 690. Their daytime transmitter was located at the “Radio Country Club”, the swimming pool equipped studio building in Orange Park Florida. However at night time, they were required to protect stations in Canada and Cuba from interference. So their night time transmitter was located west of Jacksonville just off Normandy Blvd. near Baldwin. Their six tower directional array created a very tight pattern into Jacksonville so tight that it could not be heard at the studio on the St John’s River. Back in those days, the on air presenters were required by the FCC to monitor what was on the air, live. So for WAPE and other similar stations the answer was to rent a second circuit to carry the on air signal from a radio receiver at the transmitter back to the studio where it was played in the control room monitors and the DJs headphones.

This was true not only for the connections between studio and transmitter but also for inbound signals from the radio networks; NBC, CBS, ABC, and Mutual. Also most “remote” broadcasts from car dealerships, department stores and drive in restaurants used this “hub and spoke” configuration.

The reason for this is that it allowed the telephone company technicians to troubleshoot problems when they occurred.

And so, this is the background for one of the strangest events in my personal radio history.

I was in my first full time year at WCOS – AM in Columbia, SC, playing the tunes on the “Top 60 in Dixie” on the “All Night Satellite” from 1 AM until 6 AM. That was pretty heady stuff, hearing my voice running through the spring based reverb unit at the foot of the console and the hot tubes of our RCA transmitter located a few miles northeast of the Cornell Arms studio downtown. That was made possible by the fact that because the on air signal travelled to my headphones at the speed of light and it was nearly the speed of light in a toll test circuit. The little bit of atmospheric static from nearby summer thunderstorms added to the magic of it all.

One night, I was rocking and rolling the 45’s when all of a sudden, I couldn’t hear anything on the monitor except for the dead air on the transmitter’s carrier. I jumped up to check the remote control panel and confirmed that the transmitter was up and running. “Humph,” I thought, “what happened?”

Just then I heard an ear splitting “beep beep beep” in my headphones. I instantly I knew that it was a test tone coming from a telephone lineman’s test set. They used these little boxes to put a “beep beep” tone on a telephone line so they can trace it from pole to pole. Unfortunately for my tender ears and those of my audience, some lineman working the overnight shift had clipped his test box onto the telephone line that carried the audio signal from the station to the transmitter.

I quickly shut down the transmitter so as to not damage it as the test signal was significantly louder than the station’s audio. So loud that it over powered the signal processers at the transmitter. I called the Toll Test office on the number that I got off the emergency call list on the wall near our RadioTelephone Operator’s Licenses and got a quick response. I told the Toll Test technician that I heard a lineman’s test signal on our air. He knew which station because we were the only one on the air. He knew who I was from my voice because he listened to the show, but had turned down the radio in order to work on another problem.

He connected to our circuit with his test panel and said. I don’t hear anything. I opened the microphone and said “Testing 1, 2, 3, 4,” not very original, I know but he said that he could hear me. In telephone lingo that would be “The trouble is leaving here fine!” I.E. the signal is good through his monitor point. I said turn up your radio and then turned the transmitter on for a moment. “Ouch,” he said, “that’s one of our test sets alright. We have a lineman working on a circuit on Edgewood Avenue near your transmitter. I’ll call him on the two way radio.

For the next 10 minutes, I turned the transmitter on for a moment, and if I heard the tone, turned it off, until finally I was relieved to hear silence. I turned on the microphone and did a station ID, announced that WCOS was returning to the air after some technical difficulties, and spun up the 45 RPM record that has been sitting patiently on turntable number one to be played.

A short while later I received a call from the Toll Test Operator confirming the problem had been located and corrected. He also made a request that I was glad to play for him. No, it wasn’t “Wichita Lineman,” Glen Campbell would not hit our charts for a couple more years. Around four that afternoon, I received a call at home from Woody, our Program Director. He asked what the heck happened. You see, every time I turned on or off the transmitter, I had to make log entry that I had done that. Woody had just sat down to do his show and noticed the entries. He laughed and said that could happen to only you. He told me to be sure to make a log entry on that day’s log explaining what happened when I came in that afternoon. I never did hear from our grizzled old chief engineer about the log entry. He was near retirement and had probably seen that before.

These days, broadcasters no longer use analog telephone lines to connect the studios to the transmitters. On air presenters no longer listen to the output of the transmitters, they can’t. For most stations, there is a delay between what you say on the microphone and when it is transmitted over the air. Part of that is in purpose, a 10 second “delay/dump” circuit so the DJ can “dump” a naughty utterance or song lyric before it leaves the studio. In most FM transmitters, there is also a delay of about 7 seconds as it processes the digital signal it receives from the usually fiber optic connection to the studio and sends it to the antenna. Being and old school guy, I miss not being able to hear the warm live signal complete with all the processing and the shaping of those red hot transmitter tubes. Several times during my Monday morning WUSC-FM oldies show, I walk out of the control room to the drinking fountain in the hallway. I am usually a little startled to hear my voice on the radio in the lobby still announcing the song that is playing. That is one thing we could not do back in the day. Oh MY!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

School’s Out!

This is the week it happens around here; Tuesday is the last day of school in the area for everyone but the seniors who have already graduated.

I remember like it was yesterday that feeling of freedom that coursed through every vein in my body as I packed all the stuff in my locker into my backpack and strode out into the bright sunshine without a care in the world. Well, almost! One of my teachers, a real hard case assigned summer reading, three long boring books. That may be common today but it was something new back then and I had a mind to not do it. It dawned on me that they needed to make accommodations for new students in the class who did not receive the assignment at the beginning of summer. I would read them along with all the new kids when the fall semester started. What a rebel I was back then. I always worked better under pressure anyway.

Of course, there would be the obligatory summer job to contend with. For all of my high school summers, that was a paper route. The first summer it was with the afternoon paper, the Jacksonville Journal. The latter two, was the Florida Times-Union the morning rag. Between my sophomore and junior years I had my own route in a neighborhood near mine. Between my junior and senior years, I was hired by Mr. Roberts who had a huge “motor route” with 500 customers. Up at 4, to meet him as he drove by on the way to the drop spot to pick up and start folding the papers and placing green rubber bands to hold them together. After the couple of hours folding and throwing, the job always ended at the local Toddle House with coffee and apple pie for him. For me it was a Pepsi and a chocolate pie. Ahhhhh! The breakfast of champions.

The great thing about having a paper route for a summer job is that it left a lot of free time for being just a kid. Bike rides with friends and schoolmates who also ran paper routes around the neighborhood were common; like the time we decided to ride over to Cassatt Avenue to find the home that Pat Boone lived in while he was a kid in Jacksonville. Sometimes we would ride to the neighborhoods where the girls we all had crushes on lived. On lucky days, we would be invited to sit on the front porch or in the back yard for lemonade and conversations.

It was during these quiet summers that my love for radio was born. I would lie in the St Augustine grass under the Barren Mulberry tree with my transistor radio listening to my favorite DJs on the two rock and roll stations that were all the rage; WPDQ and a brand new station, WAPE that went on the air for the first time on March 1, 1958. Both stations had that old school radio experience going on, but WAPE had the big advantage; 25,000 watts of power as opposed to the 5,000 watts that the limit for WPDQ, Also adding to the advantage, at least for me, was the fact that I was a mere 5 miles from the WAPE transmitter site and over 10 miles from the WPDQ site. You could hear The Big Ape from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. I could almost hear them without a radio, especially when they increased their power to 50,000 watts and went to a 24 hour per day schedule. Each of these stations had their own unique style; WPDQ was more mainstream; playing everything from standards to doo-wop while the Big Ape mixed in more rockabilly and country crossovers.

With such great local radio, I didn’t listen to “skip” from the far away stations like WABC and WCBS in New York, WLAC in Nashville, WWL in New Orleans, WOWO in Ft. Wayne or WLS in Chicago in Jacksonville, but I did that a lot when I started being involved in radio as a college student in Columbia, SC.

Those early listening days were long before I saw the inside of my first radio station. I could just imagine the beehive of those control rooms with all the excitement going on. WAPE had a swimming pool outside the station that passed under the lobby wall and came up right in front of the master control room window. Hearing the DJs talk about the young ladies in their bikinis dancing to the rock and roll right in front of their eyes definitely caught my teenaged imagination and I knew right then and there that radio was what I wanted to do. Radio and flying jet planes that is. That sounds a little like wanting to be a surgeon or a fry cook, don’t you think?

The jet plane part of my teenaged dream came from the fact that our house in Lake Shore was under the pattern for US Naval Station, Jacksonville and close to the one over at Cecil Field, the Master Jet Base for the Navy. There was always something passing overhead. I am so fortunate that I got to do both; Radio DJ and fly!

The down side of summer vacation was the separation from many of my classmates until Labor Day and the start of school. My High School, Bishop Kenny, was the only Catholic high school in the city. My classmates came from all over the city. While it was true that I also had a lot of friends in the neighborhood, their classmates lived closer than many of mine so there was more demand for their time. Many summer afternoons were filled with pick up baseball games on the playgrounds down at Lake Shore Junior High, now Middle School. In the fall, it would be football. Every now and then, one of the girls in the neighborhood would bring their record player out into the driveway and there would be an impromptu sock hop. Good thing for that too. If I could not dance all summer long, my two left feet would grow two more left feet. Trust me, that is a sight that you could never get out of your mind.

I saw a news story yesterday about store owners not being able to find adequate summer help this year. While many of the kids are working summer jobs to save up money for college; those jobs are competing with a lot of internships and volunteer opportunities so high school students can fill in their extracurricular activities list which is more and more important when it comes to applications to college. Students in the band and on sports teams don’t really take a full break in the summer anymore. It seems a little sad to me in a curmudgeonly way. There is no time for lying in the grass, looking at contrails between the clouds while listening to rock and roll on the radio and figuring out what they want to do in life. Oh MY!