Sunday, November 19, 2017

Teletype Machines, love or hate?

They were noisy. They were smelly. They were dirty and they voraciously ate reams of paper. And they lived in the newsroom of every radio station, television news room and every newspaper in the country. And anybody who worked around them had a love/hate relationship with teletype machines.

They usually hung out in groups or two or three which created a cacophony of sound that could drown out a rock and roll band. Both wire services, The Associated Press and United Press International as well as the US Weather Service were connected with broadcasters and newspapers via teletype machines. These machines were usually relegated to an alcove along the wall of the news room. At WUSC, my first radio station, we had all three lined up along the back of the news room, next to the news booth. The news announcer would check the machines for the latest news about 15 minutes before the five minute newscast, read the stories and select the ones they wanted to use, separate the rest by categories and hang them on nails on wooden pads attached to the walls over the machines assigned to each category; local news, national news, foreign news, entertainment, and farm reports.

At WCOS we had two; The AP and the Weather Teletypes in an alcove next to the rest room. Aside from Mike Rast, our only true newsman, we would check for the news summary that came over the AP teletype at 15 minutes before the hour, rip it off the machine and hang the rest on the nail just in case it was needed, carry the news copy into the control room and lay it on the corner of the audio console where it would lie until we played the news sounder and scooped the pile of paper up and read it cold on the air. You may have heard the term “rip and read,” This is how we got it.

Interesting enough, we didn’t get the hourly weather temperature report until after the top of the hour. We usually had it by time we finished reading the news and weather. So during the first record, we would tear the update off the teletype circle the local temperature and lay it on top of a couple of switches on the audio board. Normally the temperatures for all the major cities in the state were on that strip of paper; Columbia, Charleston, Greenville-Spartanburg, Augusta and Charlotte. Every three to six hours, we would get a new Midlands weather forecast. That would go on some more switches to the right of the VU Meters.

Just in case one had the inclination to “ad lib” the weather, there was the caveat that someone out there was listening. I did that once and only once during my first job on the overnight show on WCOS. I had more exposure to getting “that” call because I was the only one on the air in the city at that time. Midway during the record following the weather the phone rang and sure enough, it was John Purvis the Chief Meteorologist at the Columbia Weather Bureau to very nicely explain to me why I shouldn’t do that. He was working the overnight shift as well and was a religious listener. I remember that call well, because it was that night that John and I formed a lifelong friendship.

The worst thing about teletypes was having to change the ribbon. Like typewriters they came on spools. They came wrapped in cellophane packages containing two reels on the ends of the inked ribbon. One had to simply open the package, place the two reels on the table, turn the power off the teletype machine, remove the old ribbon and reels and discard them, install the new ribbon and reels, and turn the power back on. It was simple in concept but not so much in practice. For some reason, the ribbon would always catch on the corner of the aperture that held it next to the paper. Then you had to actually touch the ribbon to remove it. To make a long story short, it was a good thing the rest room was right next to the teletypes. The doorknob on the rest room was permanently stained with teletype ink, and so were our hands.

Changing paper was a little easier. Teletype paper came either on rolls or fan-fold paper. The rolls were mounted on a rod behind the printing parts and fed through similarly to the way a calculator printer is today. It was nice but they had to be changed more often that the fan-fold paper which came in big boxes about the same size as 11 by 7 computer printer paper does today. To change fan-fold paper, you had to feed it up through a hole in the bottom of the printer box and then up behind the aperture. It was a major annoyance during a music show to see that purple or red stain on the side of the teletype copy that indicated that it was time to change the paper.

Teletype paper had a rough surface and high rag content. It was anything but slick. Every key strike shook off a minute amount of paper dust which accumulated on all the surfaces around it. After a week or so, if everything wasn’t cleaned, the teletype alcove took on a yellow patina from the yellow paper that was the norm at the time. Looking back on it, I’m surprised that this accumulation didn’t cause some fires, especially from ash droppings from the chain smoking news reporters and DJ’s who were clearing the wires all the time. But I have never heard of one.

During the 70s, teletype technology improved, they became cleaner, quieter and it was much easier to change paper and ribbons. But it was the beginning of the end. Soon, teletypes would be replaced by computers and then the only time the news and weather made it to paper was when it was printed off to be carried to the radio control room or the television news desk.

I must admit to a fascination with teletypes, especially the older ones we had in the 50s and 60s. I will never forget sitting in front of the AP and UPI teletypes late on the afternoon of November 22, 1963 as the alarm bells kept ringing and the latest piece of information about JFK’s assassination clacked out letter by letter in purple ink on yellow paper in the WUSC newsroom. I was grouped into huddle of folks who couldn’t tear ourselves away from that machine. I remember sitting in a hotel room in Des Moines Iowa on September 11, 2001 feeling exactly the same way while watching the news from New York and Washington late into the night. It was one of those “Where were you when…” moments of my life.

OK, There is no way I’m going to end this story on such a down note. So here goes a funny teletype story. It is a true one because it happened to me.

Picture the scene; it was nearly two in the morning on a cold and rainy winter’s night in Columbia. I was alone in the station doing the All Night Satellite show. I had just ripped the two am news summary off the AP teletype and checked the weather machine to see if there was a change in the temperature. Precisely at 1:55 I started the news sounder and grabbed the AP News Copy off the edge of the desk under the Western Electric Console and begun to read… It was the second story that got me. It said – in all caps, teletypes printed everything in caps those days; “DALLAS – AN UNUSUAL WINTER STORM DUMPED FOUR AND ONE HALF FEET OF HEAVY SNOT ON THE TEXAS PANHANDLE!” Fortunately the synapses of my brain changed the word to “SNOW” before it came out of my mouth. Unfortunately I stopped for a second to re-read the line. That was my undoing. I totally lost it, turned off the microphone and collapsed in a helpless bundle of laughter right there in the middle of the news. You know, nothing is as funny as something that happens when you have to be serious. There were long periods of dead air as I tried to regain my composure, open the microphone only to break out in laughter. Finally I gave up and played the one minute commercial, giggled my way through the weather, played the end of news sounder / station ID and started the next record. It wasn’t until the weather break at 2:15 that I had completely recovered. And that’s why I miss teletypes. Oh MY!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

It was the week that was!

Last Wednesday November 8th marked the 54th anniversary of my first radio show. Back in 1963 it was a Friday and I walked into the production studio of WUSC AM just before 2 in the afternoon to record my show that would run from 11PM until 1 AM later that evening.

Left: Ampex 770 Reel to Reel Tape Recorder I loaded that big 12 inch reel of tape onto that Ampex 770 recorder and queued it up just past the white leader tape, loaded up my first two album cuts on the turntables, put the commercial copy on the copy stand behind the RCA Type 77-D microphone, set the timer to 2 hours and 10 seconds and started it and the tape recorder. I sat there with excitement building with every second ticking off the clock. At 5 seconds, I put my finger on the edge of the album queued up on turntable number one and started it. When the second hand of the clock reached zero, I turned the potentiometer (we called them pots) up and released the record which was slipping on the felt cover of the turntable which now had come up to speed. It was on; my first honest to goodness radio show. Next, over the instrumental playing, it was time for me to turn on the microphone and introduce the show and me. Here goes…

…What came out of me in no way resembled a human voice speaking English.

Sheesh! Stop the tape, re-cue the record, reset the clock and start again. To say that it was a good thing this was on tape and not live was a major understatement. Five minutes later it all came off without a hitch and my life had changed forever. I found my happy place; the air chair in a radio studio. I queued up the sixty second Coca Cola commercial on the Ampex 770 that I would be playing in my next stop break coming up in 15 minutes. Till then I gained mastery of the mechanics of segueing records on the radio.

Looking back on it, whoever figured out that the first shows of the new DJs on WUSC would be pre recorded was a genius. These taped shows allowed for our first mistakes to be private instead of out there in front of everyone. The second function of these two hour shows was to extend our broadcast day from 11 PM when the Russell House closed and everyone had to be out until 1 AM in the morning when the tape would run out. The idler arm would fall and stop the tape machine and turn the transmitter off.

By time that I would be starting my first live show the following January, I had completely mastered the mechanics of doing radio and gained the confidence to do the live DJ patter, not without a little nervousness but a lot more comfortable. By the time I left campus that summer to go to Annapolis to board the USS Little Rock for my Midshipman Third Class Cruise to Cherbourg, Amsterdam, Portsmouth England and back to Norfolk, I was completely at ease and was looking forward to coming back to the station in the fall. Even though I was playing “Middle of the Road” music such as Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Mantovani and his orchestra, Frankie Laine and Charles Aznavour instead of Buddy Holly, Elvis, Brenda Lee and Ricky Nelson, it was still radio, and in my mind’s eye, it was cool.

I anticipated a summer without radio but I was wrong on two counts. The first full day at sea, at 4 PM, the end of the normal work day for everyone not standing evening or mid watches, I was astounded to hear a radio station playing over the 1-MC. I immediately searched for WCLG the radio voice of the Little Rock. I found her on the main deck just inboard of one of the watertight hatches on the port side. It was just a pair of turntables, a microphone and an audio board. The sailors who acted as DJs each brought their own 45 RPM records. When the sea was calm enough to play records, the station was “on the air” for a couple of hours every afternoon. I was welcome in the control room enough to fill in for sailors who were assigned a watch during the time they were scheduled to do their shows. I was grateful for that opportunity to play their records and read from the “Orders of the Day” in between. The little stateside news we had from “Stars and Stripes” was a couple of days late.

On days when the seas were too rough for a needle to stay in the groove, the DJs and I would be out on the fantail, sitting between the Talos missile launcher and the Sikorsky helicopter firmly tied down to the helo pad. A small party was held that involved a multi band transistor radio. At sea there would be plenty of short wave signals to hear in multiple languages. But when we steamed into the English Channel the medium wave band would come alive. We were not too interested in the BBC offerings, they were a little too subdued for us. There was some rock and roll coming off the coast of Europe but it was mainly unfamiliar to our American ears.

Early one afternoon, with whitecaps foaming all around us and 10 foot swells breaking across the bow, I approached our little radio group and heard their excited chatter before I could hear the radio. OMG, it was in English and playing American rock and roll and the British invasion tunes that were missing from the BBC broadcasts. The signal at 1520 kHz was almost off the end of the dial of our American built radio. It was faint and faded in and out on a regular basis. Finally, we heard a station id! It was Radio Caroline "The Boat That Rocked" whose story is featured in the 2009 movie “Pirate Radio.” As it turned out the unusual fading in and out of their signal was caused by the boat rocking back and forth in the waves causing their antenna to heel over. We were some of the first Americans to hear the station live over the air since it began broadcasting in March, just a couple of months before we stumbled across it in early June. I felt right at home with Radio Caroline because it reminded me of WAPE and WPDQ the stations I listened to in high school. I was in heaven.

Hearing Radio Caroline inspired me to bring rock and roll to WUSC. At the time WUSC’s broadcast day ran from 4 PM until 1 AM only. During the fall of 1964 I lobbied station management for a rock and roll show. They were reluctant to add rock and roll programming adjacent to their normal middle of the road programming in the evening so we compromised and I was allowed to do a weekday rock and roll show in the mornings between 6 AM and 8AM. January of 1965 saw the kickoff of “The Dawn Patrol,” a show name that I shamelessly stole from Adrian Cronauer who was just starting a show by the same name on the Armed Forces Radio Network in Vietnam. Yes, THAT Adrian Cronauer who was portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam!” By the way, Cronauer attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he helped found the forerunner of the university's college radio station WPTS.

Adrian once told me that I was not the only one who used the show name “The Dawn Patrol” for morning drive at a rock and roll station. At least I was in good company.

The Dawn Patrol on WUSC lasted only a short while because I left at the end of the semester for my Midshipman Second Class cruise to Corpus Christie Texas for Naval Aviation training and Little Creek Virginia to learn how to storm beaches in some of the same landing craft that were used to invade Normandy 21 years earlier. Shortly after I returned to campus that fall, I landed my first job in commercial radio at the top 40 rocker WCOS. During the brief period when I was on both stations, I would occasionally give the station ID live on the air for the wrong station. Finally, I was told to make up my mind and I left WUSC for full time work at WCOS.

Eventually, I left on air work for the engineering side, earned my degree in Electrical Engineering and filled in on the air occasionally when needed. During those infrequent shows, the first few minutes were a bit shaky, just like that very first show in ‘63. But it is like riding a bicycle, a few minutes to get the mechanics and the thought process down and I would “become one with the air chair.”

Left: Shure RE 27 used in today's radio, and RCA 77-D the microphone from my first broadcast. So tomorrow morning, I will begin the 55th year since my first show. Co-incidentally, it also is the beginning of my tenth year doing a weekly show somewhere on the air or online. As I sit down, queue up my first song, liner and jingle, and wait for the clock to reach zero, there is no nervousness, just excitement at being in my happy place, doing radio on my own terms (mostly) and having fun. Life has come full circle and it is good! Oh MY!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

It’s always THAT one!

This morning, when I woke up, I rushed into my home studio full of expectation, just like Christmas morning. You see, last night was the night that we “fell back” into Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time and I was checking to see if the one radio controlled analog clock in the house turned back the hands of time. Because WWV is in Colorado Springs, the “radio” part of “radio controlled,” is so far away. Automatic time change is sometimes iffy.

Left: The clock for whom time stood still! Alas, it failed! Now, I need to do it by hand or wait and see if it will yet do it during one of the saving time reset periods that occur later in the day. I can tell you, that manual resets are a pain with an analog clock. And they are worse in the fall because the hands move only clockwise so you have to go forward 11 hours instead of 1 hour in the spring. If I wait for the clock to finally reset I run the risk of it not being ready when I need it for my live show tomorrow night.

Personally, I think the clock has it in for me. It almost always makes the easy correction in the spring and fails to make the hard one in the fall. Either that or it is trying to remind me to change its battery. So I guess I’ll give it a few more hours and then do it myself if I have to.

You may be wondering why I bother with an analog clock in the studio when digital clocks are much easier to set and maintain. Well, the answer is that I was trained in radio when there were no digital clocks so it is much easier for my fossilized brain to interpret the short hand and the long hand while pulling songs and talking about the top of the pops and the cream of the crop. This is especially true between the half hour and the beginning of the next hour. Math is my friend except when there is too much of it in too little time. Yes, I’m a calculating kind of guy; back timing to the end of the song, calculating the time until the next scheduled event and arranging songs by their length so that the Station ID comes as close to the top of the hour as I can get it. Somehow that reading the clock skill we learned in the second grade doesn’t crowd my brain as much as subtracting digital minutes from 60 to get to the “chime time” of “x” minutes before the hour.

I must admit that I’m so old school that saying something like “10:45” or “52 minutes past the hour” just “grates on my sensibilities” as we say down here in the south. When I hear it on the radio I mentally say “Well, bless your heart!” By the way, it is not a good thing when a southerner blesses your heart!

It’s not quite as important these days that the clock is accurate to the second as it used to be when we had live network news once or twice an hour. Especially when we were playing vocals, we had to choose the songs carefully so that the song ended just in time to announce or play a station id before that top of the hour time tone came down the network. The only thing more satisfying to an old school radio DJ than back-timing to the news was “walking up a record and hitting the post”, but that is a different story.

Back in the day, we had Western Union clocks in every radio control room. These clocks were hooked up to a phone line that received a pulse exactly on the top of the hour that reset them. The station engineer was responsible for the daylight saving time changes. During the fall back change that occurred during my time on the overnight shift, at 3 AM I was standing on the desk of the audio console in my stocking feet, opening the face of the clock and moving the hour hand back to the 2AM. That was no fun in the fall because I would have to do an extra 2AM - 3AM hour (fall back). Just for the record, I never got paid for that hour because they paid according to the times that I signed onto and off of the program log. I was told that I would get it back in the spring. But by time that spring rolled by, I had been promoted to the evening shift from the booth out at the drive in restaurant. That was the best hour’s salary I was never paid. I loved doing the evening show in the middle of the folks who were listening and requesting their favorite tunes.

When I was doing the overnight show, the spring forward time shift meant that more of my show was transmitted at the higher daytime power because the sun rose an hour earlier. The same was true for the evening shift because I had an extra hour at high power before sunset. After the fall back time change, all of my evening show was broadcast at the lower nighttime power. It all sort of washed out because I always thought that the nighttime RCA transmitter sounded a tad warmer and richer than the daytime Gates transmitter.

All of this means nothing to the modern FM transmitters of today. There is no diurnal power change; these puppies crank out the hits 7/24/365. Also, the announcer no longer listens to the transmitter when working. We can’t; there is a delay between what we do and what you hear as the audience. Actually there are two of them, the first is on purpose, a digital ten second delay circuit that can be “dumped” if someone says or plays one of the words that comedian George Carlen first listed in 1972 in his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". The second delay is one that occurs within most FM transmitters as they process the digital signal that they receive to an analog signal they transmit. If the transmitter is also transmitting in High Definition (HD) the delay is required for the HD signal. Some stations like WUSC-FM simulcast the FM signal on their higher quality HD-1 signal. We also have a different programming stream on the HD-2 signal. You must have an HD enabled receiver in order to hear the up to four HD channels. Because of these delays, the on air personality monitor’s the output of the audio board instead. It’s ok but not as cool as listening to the transmitter the same way as the audience.

For today’s broadcaster doing live shows in other countries, things get even weirder, almost to the point of “Twilight Zone” weird. For example, my “Haunted Studio” show that plays at 8 PM British time was heard in the US at 4 PM Eastern time last week. This week it will be heard at 3 PM, even though the time it plays in London remains the same. The reason for that is that the UK and most of Europe switched back to standard time last week and we didn’t until today. All of this makes my head hurt – a lot!!!

But I digress…. We were talking about changing clocks.

OK, I’ve been writing about an hour and that stupid clock on the wall still has not caught up with the time. So I will go grab a DD battery (it’s always a DD battery) and spend an hour getting the clock set to standard time. The issue is the second hand. It has to be right too. Hope someday someone figures out an easier way to do that. But I doubt that. By time somebody does, they won’t be making analog clocks anymore, radio controlled or not. Just my luck, another thing I learned in school fades into antiquity. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Changing of the Shirts

Today started off warmish at 64 degrees, but the temperature will fall all day until it reaches a low of 38 just after dawn tomorrow morning. Right now, at noon it is 54, so it will be jacket time the rest of the day.

In the bedroom where I dress every morning, the closet is so full of clothes, that I keep the ones that I wear daily on hooks on the back of the door. Right now, those are mostly knit golf shirts. I am so thankful that I don’t have to wear dress shirts and ties all the time like I did in the past. But I’ll be transferring the knits to the closet and bringing out the Oxfords and my other dressier shirts.

I refuse to go totally back to dress shirts, and the number of days where I wear ties every year can be counted on the fingers of both hands. Thank goodness for relaxed work dress rules. I rarely work at my consulting job on Fridays but on the days I do, they normally declare it a jeans holiday. We can wear good clean jeans to work as long as we bring a can or box of food for the local food bank. Works for me! I even volunteer to take the food that we have collected all year to the food bank in December. That is such a good idea.

Now, just in case you think that a dress shirt is a dress shirt, I need to let you know that many of my so called “dress shirts” are plaid. And almost all of the rest of them are loud colors. Just when have you ever known me to not be loud? Well, at least since my teen aged years. So my bright Ban-Lons are put up for the winter, and my long sleeves are out. Yes – they do include some flannel lumberjack shirts for the days I don’t go into the station or the office.

In grade school and high school we wore uniforms of white short sleeved shirts and navy blue trousers. In college the shirts became more colorful but were always dressy, often with button down collars. Quite a far cry from what I see on campus these days. For the women, the restrictions were far worse; they could not be on campus in any kind of pants at all. They were required to wear skirts at all times. Although, as a member of the red-blooded male gender, I’m glad to report that those skirts got shorter and shorter over time.

My first real job in radio at WCOS required the wearing of appropriate attire in the studio; a long or short sleeved dress shirt, an undershirt and a pair of office appropriate trousers. Some of the stations in bigger cities I.E. WABC in New York required a coat and tie, but we didn’t. That was a good thing too because sometimes we did remote broadcasts from pretty warm locations.

The studios of WCOS in the Cornell Arms Apartment Building were heated and cooled from a central heating and air conditioning system. As a cost cutting measure, the building management cut off the A/C on many nights expecting the tenants to open up their windows to keep cool. That was a problem for us because if we opened up our windows, the folks in the nearby apartments would call the security guard and complain about the noise. I have to ask just how could anyone expect us to rock and roll all night long and not make noise. You can’t do it, I tell ya! Late at night when I was alone in a warm studio I would sometimes shuck off the dress shirt and do the show in my undershirt.

Then there was the special case of the little old lady with insomnia on the floor above us who would pound of the floor all night long in protest, or so management would tell us. I pointed out that she kept pretty good time with the music we were playing. Just sayin’!

By the time I went over to WIS Television and the engineering side of the business, my work wardrobe for the next 20 years had settled in on the “Engineer’s Uniform”; a plaid shirt and tan slacks. Yes, it was complete with a pocket protector and an occasional lab jacket if soldering or some other dirty task was to be performed. Last January, at the South Carolina Broadcaster’s Association winter conference, I was walking down a hallway with my old buddy Ken when his wife, Paula came up behind us to announce that we were in proper uniform, plaids and khakis. We both simultaneously turned and responded; not quite – no pocket protectors.

My days as a traveling IT Consultant were the most uncomfortable of my career, dress-wise. Jackets and ties were required whenever we were on a customer site. We could get away from the jackets when on location at a company owned facility. It was a pain to pack all that stuff into a carry on. I refused to check my baggage as that added an hour to the unpaid travel time checking and retrieving my luggage. To say that I was on a first name basis with many of the TSA agents at several airports in the country would be an understatement. My jaw dropped when an agent in San Diego said, “Headed, home, Rick?” as I approached the gate with my ticket and driver’s license still in my hand. I expected that in Columbia, but for an agent in San Diego to remember me was quite a shocker.

It wasn’t all bad. There were plenty of weeks when I worked from my home office instead of traveling, thanks to the advances in cell phone and Virtual Private Network technology. Those weeks were when I wore t-shirts and shorts all day. Some of my co-workers stayed in their jammies all day but I could never bring myself to do that. I also always went out to lunch usually with friends and former co-workers to avoid the dreaded cabin fever. What can I say; the organism adapts to its environment.

So, tomorrow, I’ll head out into the 38 degree morning air in my blue Oxford WUSC dress shirt, blue jeans and Halloween rockin’ socks. It’ll be fun walking from the parking garage to the studio under the canopy of oak trees that are just beginning to turn. I’ll be dodging the falling leaves and paying attention to the acorns that will be bombarding my path across the same patio that I walked across to do my very first radio show nearly 54 years ago. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Radio Disk Jockey Rules

Every now and then Facebook coughs up a gem. This happened last Thursday when someone posted a link to the WABC Performance Policies written by the legendary Rick Sklar when he was the Program Manager at the height of the station’s popularity back in 1965. His DJs at the time included "Cousin Brucie" Bruce Morrow, Dan Ingram, Harry Harrison, Chuck Leonard, and Ron Lundy who were easily heard during the evening and night here in Columbia SC. I might add that Bruce Morrow can still be heard on Sirius 60’s on 6 several nights a week.

As I started to read the WABC Rules, I realized that they were not significantly different from the ones I abided by here at WCOS. Thinking back to other stations that I used to listen to before going into the business, I can tell that these were pretty universal and paint a pretty good picture of what Top 40 radio was like back then. And what I miss the most about music radio today.

The first few sentences from the memo say it all.

“A WABC disk jockey has to say very little to be successful, but he must say the right things and say them in the right way.”

“When a WABC disk jockey speaks he speaks with tremendous excitement, enthusiasm and DRIVE!”

“EVERY TIME the red lights in the studio signal that your mike is live this has to be one of the great minutes in your life! You let the audience know it!”

“You are paid to be happy. You are paid to be enthusiastic. You are paid to smile.”


There are twelve more pages included in this memo, but these few thoughts on a common theme captured what was to me the essence of listening to Rock and Roll radio and even more important to those of us who were DJs in the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s! We called this projection and you would not believe how physical this was. When the music was playing, we were bouncing around in the studio chair while loading up the next commercial cart, queuing up the next jingle and slip-queuing the next record. I call that the DJACBB, or Disk Jockey Air Chair Behind Boogie.

We typically did five hour air shifts those days in the medium size markets such as the one that WCOS was in. By becoming one with the music and the show this way, our shifts felt like they flew by. This was even truer when the telephone was active with requests and dedications or when we were at remote locations such as Doug Broome’s Drive In or Gene’s Pig and Chick. Remote shows from drive in restaurants were the Holy Grail for the aspiring radio DJ. For, you see, we were in the middle of our audience with great one on one contact, seeing happy excited faces as they knocked on the back door of the radio booth, requests in hand, carefully written on small scraps of notebook paper from their school books or napkins, sometimes with splotches of ketchup or mustard on the corner. I understood completely that these scraps of paper contained the requestor’s utmost hopes and wishes.

How do I know this? Many nights, after the show was over and I was powering down the turntables, cart machines and audio board, I would be able to count the lipstick stains left on the windows by the young ladies who’s dreams came true thanks to that special request. Just in case you were wondering, no, the “cool cats” didn’t kiss the glass but they did catch my eye and give me the “thumbs up” as they left the parking lot that evening.

Another mainstay of the DJ patter from Rick Sklar was the WABC Chime time and the WABC temperature. Every other song played on WABC ended with a chime sounder and the DJ was required to say “WABC Chime Time is…” and then give the time. Alternate records did not end with a chime sounder but the DJ was required to announce the WABC temperature. My boss, Woody Windham had a great acronym for that “TT,BB” he would proclaim; “Time, Temp – Boom Boom!” We were to say everything we wanted to say over the tail of the song that was ending and the intro to the next song before “Walking up and hitting the post” on the record that was starting.

“What does all that mean?” you may ask. Most songs of the day had a fade ending to them. As the music trails off, the DJ does his “outro” then if one is scheduled for that break, plays the commercial, Public Service Announcement or promo (promotional announcement.) A jingle may be used in place of the announcements or in addition to them. In that case the jingle is always last to prime the pump for the song that followed. As the new song started, the DJ would talk over the musical intro and finish the instant the vocalist sang his or her first word. Hence “walking up the record and hitting the post!” That is almost a lost art these days, as almost no one still on the air still does this.

Other WABC rules covered the non music features such as news, weather and sports. In my case these days that would be my “on this day in history” or “celebrating birthdays today” WUSC show segments. They were kept short and quick and always followed by a “kicker,” an upbeat fun song. WABC also had rules about playing the #1, #2 and #3 songs each hour. That doesn’t work so well today since all of my songs are over 40 years old. But there is an “A-list” of very popular oldies, what is called heavy rotation these days. You may hear an oldie that you have never heard before or haven’t heard in a long time. That is to keep the playlist from getting stale. But you will always hear a heavy rotation song every half hour.

Rick Sklar made one thing very clear; “Let me re-emphasize that when you speak in these short bursts of sustained energy you say very little. There is no place on WABC for the talkative jock.” The ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s radio experience was all about the music. The jock’s responsibility was to mix it all together seamlessly and entertain the audience. To me is like being a musician playing a live concert and the music, carts and tape machines are keys on the audio board, the musical keyboard with the announcer’s voice being the solo!

In an interview recorded in 1982, when WABC switched from music to talk programming, Sklar said:

“Everything has to end, that's life, WABC is … like anything else it's part of life, couldn't go on forever. But … it was a wonderful thing … it was a one-of-a-kind … I don't think there'll ever be another station quite like that. I mean, the scope of the thing was so huge, was so grand; everything that was done was on such a massive scale. We gave out buttons, we gave out 14 million with the WABC call letters and if we spot you we'll give you $25,000. You know, this stuff is … it's just not done today.… We'll miss it.”

We lost Rick Sklar on June 22, 1992 due to an error in the operating room for a minor procedure. He was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame the following year. His legacy embodied that radio experience that we all enjoyed as kids and young adults. I miss the fast paced energy and fun that was the radio experience but I’m sure that Rick is up there programming that heavenly rock and roll station. I wonder if Wolfman Jack is one of his jocks. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

I can smell it

It all started around noon last Wednesday; that certain aroma that means the beginning of Fall here; peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, Kielbasa with peppers and onions and anything bad for you that can be made worse by frying. The State Fair is here at last.

My first experience with a state fair happened in 1963 when a bunch of us on my dorm floor in the old “H” building of the Honeycombs made our way down to the fairgrounds to check it all out. As a kid in Jacksonville my family had gone to the circus a couple of times but this was my first experience with a state or county fair. I really didn’t know what to expect.

I was overwhelmed with the food booths and wanted to try everything. I quickly discovered that Fisk Fries and cotton candy don’t really mix well. Add a foot long hot dog to that and a real gastronomical disaster is in the making. A couple of turns on the rides came close to ending the night early. After spending some time in the grandstands watching the rock and roll band playing, we were ready to explore the darker west end of the fairgrounds.

That is where the houses of horror and the “hootchie cootchie” shows were. The crowds thinned out the further we went and there were no longer children in the crowd. It was more groups of young men and dating couples taking the opportunity for that kiss in the Tunnel of Love or that tight hug as the gorilla jumped out of the cage and everyone ran screaming out of the tent and laughing once they were “out of danger.” In case you never had the experience, watch the James Bond Movie “Diamonds are Forever.” The scene where Jill St. John eludes the FBI agents is straight out of the old State Fair playbook.

I must have lived a really sheltered life before that fair, because that was the first time I ever saw a burlesque dancer in real life. Of course, I saw them in movies before but never face to face like that. Sure enough, my buddies and I rounded a corner to hear the sound of the Coasters 1961 song “Little Egypt (Ying Yang).” There was no ruby on her tummy or a diamond big as Texas on her toe, and no picture of a cowboy tattooed on her spine Saying Phoenix, Arizona, nineteen forty-nine. But she did the “hootchie cootchie” just like in the song. I never saw more that night than one would see on a beach today. But it was quite an experience in my young life.

In the late ‘60s my fair-going experience changed from being part of the crowd to working there. I got to know a lot of carnies while doing live radio and televisions broadcasts from the fair. They certainly had a different outlook on life. Sure, there were a few of them who disrespected the fair-going customer as “marks,” but the vast majority viewed us locals as their customers out looking for a good time. During that period which lasted until 1991, I was broadcasting out at the fair at least once or twice each year.

Between 1997 and 1999 I was co-captain of the State of South Carolina Technology booth at the rear of the Cantey Building. During those years I was out at the fair all 12 days, plus the three days it took to set up the displays before opening day and the Monday after to disassemble the technology and carry all the equipment back to the various State Agencies that participated in the activity. Those years, I became one with the State Fair. I finally had a chance to sample every fair food offering from elephant ear to fried Snickers. Lordy, I couldn’t do that today. By time the 2000 State Fair arrived, I had left State Government and was running a project in a Fortune 100 company out of Seattle Washington and Ann Arbor Michigan. I must admit that I was a little homesick when I saw the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines the following August during my traveling years.

It wasn’t until last year that I set foot on the fairgrounds during the fair again. This time in yet a different role; I was asked by AARP South Carolina to be the DJ for their Dance Party on Senior Day. As I drove through the Number 1 Gate and parked behind the Rosewoods building, my nose was assailed by the aroma of the State Fair. This time the eau du cattle barn was a little more pronounced because the parking space was behind the scenes between the building and the cattle exercise areas. It is said that the sense of smell is the one that evokes memory the most. It sure worked for me. I could see in my mind’s eye all those things I had seen over the years; my college hall mates, my broadcast co-workers, and all the folks who worked tirelessly to bring technology to the people in the SCINET booth in the Cantey Building a few dozen yards from where I was 16 years before.

This Wednesday, thanks to AARP, I’ll be loading my speakers, stands, amplifiers and Oldies laden computer into my car, and doing it all over again. As it did last year, I’m sure it will feel like the old days of doing the Nightbeat Show on WCOS Radio out at Doug Broome’s Drive In Restaurant. “Taking names and kicking wax” I call it. That is taking requests and playing records. By the way, ZZ Top is playing in the grand stand that evening. I wonder if I’ll see Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons or Frank Beard, they would fit right in with the crowd! Life comes full circle. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

It’s Almost Time

October has arrived and some of my antsy friends are asking where is Fall already. As I write this at noon on October 8th the temperature in my front yard is 83 degrees and climbing. Don’t worry, friends and neighbors, fall will get here.

The question is; when will it get here. When I was growing up in Jacksonville, the first cool days of fall arrived with Halloween on October 31st, just in time for those costumes which were too hot for earlier in the month. I remember one year, as I planned for my Halloween costume, I decided to go as a “greaser.” I wore a white t-shirt and blue jeans and had a pack of candy cigarettes rolled up in my left sleeve. A little Brylcream slicked back my hair in something like a ducktail. I say “something like” because I’ve never had hair long enough to do a real “DA.” That year, Halloween in Jacksonville was really cold; must have been near 50 at dusk. Hey! In Jacksonville, 50 degrees is cold! At 45 degrees I would have my heavy coat, gloves and scarf on. It is Florida after all. Unfortunately, I did not have a leather jacket to keep the costume authentic. I did put on two t-shirts that evening but I still froze while trick or treating. I sure earned my candy treats that year.

Cool weather usually arrives up here in South Carolina a couple of weeks earlier; most often the second week of the State Fair. Not soon enough for me. The summer khakis of my Naval ROTC uniform were starting to really get to me. And of course, the heavy tunics and pants of the University of South Carolina Gamecock Band were real hot boxes. But come fair week, putting on a light jacket to head out to the fairgrounds for fun and food that was bad for you was a highlight. Some of the best times I had out there was doing radio and television remotes live from the fair.

So on October 18th, I’ll be out at the fair, spinning some tunes for the AARP Dance Party 10 AM – 3 PM in the Rosewoods Building. If you are in town that day, come on by and say Hi!

As you can see from this picture of the crowd at last year's AARP Dance Party, it was warm! Last year, it was not cool on “Senior Day” the day of the party, the second week of the fair. In fact it didn’t really cool down until around Halloween. I suspect that will be the case this year too as this summer is in the top ten warmest summers on record and my meteorologist friend, Jim Gandy told me last Thursday that we will be having a mild winter this year. Wait a minute you say, “How can this summer be one of the warmest when we did not break 100 degrees all summer long?” The answer is simple; the nightly low temperatures continue to rise year after year. That means the average temperature is trending warmer. So the weather here in Columbia now is more and more like what I used to see in Jacksonville growing up.

Another thing that I noticed this year was that there were more summer days with tropical looking skies, as opposed to the typical haze filled atmosphere that we’ve been seeing the past few years. Sure there were still some “white sky” days this summer but they seemed to be diminishing. I just had a flashback of frolicking around the isothermal layer in a Piper Cherokee 140, playing tag with the few small puffy clouds that always hung out there. In the summertime, that boundary marked the change from the bumpy, thermal driven air at the surface and the smooth cooler air where the outside air temperature was at 32 degrees or lower. Now that was good flying, but you had to keep your head on a swivel looking out for someone else up there having fun.

So today, it is cloudy, warm and very muggy as the tropical moisture is swept into the southeast by what used to be Hurricane Nate which made a first landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana and then a second one on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi overnight. Hoping my friends out there are ok. It looks like we will be getting rain for the next couple of days with our highs nearly 10 degrees above normal and our lows 20 degrees above normal. As expected, this week with the State Fair beginning on Wednesday is forecast to remain warm. We’ll see if fall arrives on time next week. I think I will be happy that the dance party on Senior Day is inside with plenty of air conditioning to keep us all cool. No, I’ll not be wearing my “greaser” costume but I will be easy to spot. I’ll be the one with the corn dog and elephant ear. Oh MY!