Sunday, January 27, 2013

Old School Radio

The night before last, I had the pleasure of attending the South Carolina Broadcaster’s Association 2013 Awards Banquet and Ceremony. This is the first one of these I attended in some time and I had a great time visiting with many of the folks I worked with over the years. One of those old friends, “Shakin’” Dave Aiken approached me with the idea that there was a lot of history in Columbia Radio and that someone needed to build a web site similar to some of the others that have sprung up celebrating local radio in other communities. He thinks I am the one to do that. While I am not so sure, I think it is an interesting venture. That got me to thinking about how radio in Columbia SC was in the last half of the 60s.

There were 6 AM stations back then, WIS (560), WCAY (620), WUSC (730), WNOK (1230), WOIC (1320), WCOS (1400) and WQXL (1470.) On the FM side there were fewer; WUSC-FM, WCOS-FM and WNOK-FM. I should mention that there were also four TV Stations; WIS, WNOK, WOLO and WLTR the latter going on the air in 1966.

WUSC-AM was a small carrier current station operated by the University of South Carolina to provide students with their own voice. It was in fact a great training facility that provided a never ending stream of new voices that became disk jockeys, news announcers and engineers for the other stations around the city and the state. WIS was the most powerful station at the time at 5,000 watts and played what we called “middle of the road” music, WCAY was a day-timer that played country music, WOIC was the “R&B” station in the city, what we now call Urban. The other three, WCOS, WNOK and WQXL were all playing top 40 Rock and Roll, and that is where the action was back then. WQXL was also a day-timer and signed off at sundown. That left the evening rock and roll market shared between WCOS and WNOK. WCOS, the station where I worked, was the only station to stay on the air 24 hours a day. That gave us a distinct advantage as we carried the overnight audience into the morning drive day-part, the most important part of the broadcast day.

One of my WCOS 8x10 Glossy "Publicity" photos Circa: 1966

WCOS was located on the second floor of the Cornell Arms building one block south of the State House at the corner of Pendleton and Sumter streets. Amazingly most of the other stations in the city had their studio locations within 7 blocks of there. WUSC-FM a few blocks up Sumter, WUSC-AM in the Russell House Student Union Building, WIS Radio and TV at 1111 Bull Street three blocks to the east, WQXL 2 blocks away at the corner of Gervais and Sumter and WNOK-AM, FM and TV seven blocks up Main Street in the old Jefferson Hotel. In these days of broadcast convergence of ownership this might not sound unusual, but remember this was in the day of “mom and pop” radio ownership and this kind of clustering was very unusual.

As you can imagine, the competition amongst the rockers was fierce and the drive to be number one created some really strong bonds between the disk jockeys at each station. There were contests galore, including the big kahoona that we ran at WCOS, where we hid $1,000 and gave clues every hour as to where the money was. Each hour’s clues were sealed in an envelope and kept in a locked drawer in the program director’s desk until just before the clue was to be announced. He was the only one who knew where the money was hidden. That was an incredible amount of money back in those days and we had a very good ratings sweep that year.

My friend Hugh Munn in the WNOK booth at Gene's Pig and Chick drive in.

Despite the fierce competition between stations there was a strong camaraderie among the disk jockeys at the different stations. Part of that was driven by the common background of most of us coming up cutting our broadcast teeth at WUSC. Over the years we all spent time in each other’s control room. We were a brotherhood, bound by a love of radio and providing a service to the community. It was more than a business, it was a calling. Friday night, sitting in the middle of the banquet hall surrounded by broadcasters from all over the state, I realized that in that respect not much has changed. The brotherhood of broadcasters is still going on, even in this world of corporate ownership and a focus on the bottom line, there is still a love for each other, the work that we do and a sense of service to our community. As Martha Stewart would say; “That is a good thing.” Oh MY!

3 comments:

  1. WQXL - 1964 had Mackie Quave, Pete Knoss, Dave Taylor, me (Jerry D. Pate), Eddie Knox AKA Scottie Quick, then Jeff Flanders, Hal Von Nessen, Dave Aiken (Summer intern)and Dick Anderson. Dean Poucher AKA JP Sidewinder was GM.

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    1. What a line up. I had the pleasure to work with Eddie, Hal and Jeff, Dean, Hal, Dave and of course, you in one place or another. It just goes to show how close knit the Broadcast Community is. By the way, Jane Pigg the owner and driving force behind your first station, WCRE, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement award Friday night at the SCBA Conference.

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  2. Enjoyed this post tremendously! I also cut my "radio" teeth at WUSC. I started Fall '76 in the final semester of the old carrier current station, which I couldn't pick up because I lived at Bates House. Then I was among the first with the low power FM. I was more interested in Top 40 and was getting on the nerves of those progressive purists, so I moved on. Worked at WXAP, the short-lived all-disco station they made from the old WNOK AM, which by then was at Garners Fy. Rd., co-located with the FM and TV (now WLTX). No longer in radio now, but I still have an interest in history. I set up a Facebook page called "S.C. Radio History Project." Feel free to visit, post, and spread the word!

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