Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lovin' Live Radio

Every now and then, I think back across the years to the funny things that have happened in radio studios back in the day. When I do that, I just have to write about them. Here are three stories.

Before I made the transition from college radio to commercial radio, a friend of mine, George Alexander, from the class before mine got a part time job at WNOK. He was the weekend DJ doing a live show from Gene's Pig and Chick, a local drive in restaurant. He was a little nervous about doing the show and asked if I could come along and help him manage the flow of requests and dedications that the kids bring to the door of the small announce booth. Somewhere in the middle of the evening, a guy came up to the door with a live monkey hanging on to his arm. George wanted to see the monkey up close so he asked me to let them into the booth. The record that was playing was running out so George asked everybody to remain quiet while he announced the next record. That was a big mistake! In order to prevent feedback, the control room monitors are automatically turned off when the announcer turns his microphone on. So the sound in the studio was suddenly, abruptly and completely silenced. The monkey, a little nervous about being crowded into a noisy, cramped room reacted to the silence by howling at the top of his lungs. At which point everyone burst out of the room slamming the door and leaving George and me with shocked expressions, trying to think about how we were going to explain to the station management what a monkey was doing in a live control room. Lucky for us, management never caught wind of the great "monkey on the air" incident.

A few years later, I was a fledgling DJ sitting in the back of the studio at WCOS talking to my boss, Woody Windham as he did his afternoon drive show. During the top of the hour newscast, Woody put on a Beatle wig that was in the studio and tried to break up our newsman, Mike Rast, by making faces at him through the window between the AM control room and the FM studio where Mike stoically read the news. Woody was rewarded by getting a chuckle out of Mike. After the newscast, Woody tossed the wig onto the top of a stack of equipment next to the main control room turntable. After the news, while the first record was playing, good natured Mike sauntered into the control room to give Woody the "evil eye" as only Mike could do it. Long lanky Woody leaned back in the air chair completely relaxed, with his hands interlaced behind his head joking with Mike and me. As Mike turned to leave the room, somehow the news copy in his hand dislodged the Beatle wig from the top of the Gates 101 Spotmaster and it fell directly onto the turntable, dislodging the tone arm from the record and onto the felt cover of the turntable. The noise it made on the air was horrific. Woody jumped from his reclining position to turn off the offending turntable and talk while re-queing the record. All the audience heard however, was the sound of the three of us was laughing uncontrollably.

The last story is all mine. I was alone in the station on a Saturday evening in February, 1968 doing the Nightbeat show under the air name of "Johnny Foxx". Mike had the evening off so I was reading my own news and weather. We were a "rip and read" operation. That meant that I would rip the news off the AP teletype and read it cold on the air. That particular evening, AP made a typographical error. I will never forget what the news wire actually said. "An unusual winter storm dumped over 4 inches of heavy snot on the Texas panhandle." Now, my "editor" brain automatically made the translation from snot to snow. But when it registered with me what the copy actually said, it broke me up so badly that I was unable to continue the newscast. I tried several times to regain control but eventually gave up and played the news commercial, somehow laughed my way through the weather and gratefully got the first record after the news on the air. Now, that not seem very funny to you, but when you are alone and must keep your composure, the smallest thing becomes hilarious.

I guess these incidents are good examples of why I love live radio so much. In this hum-drum, automation driven and controlled world of commercial radio today, finding that rare live local DJ out there plying his or her trade is a bright spot, where things are immediate and sometimes unexpected. That is something special! Oh MY!

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