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!