Sunday, February 17, 2013

The view from the control room!

There were three in my first control room and two initially in my second. But you couldn’t see outside through any of them. I am talking about windows, of course. I have always found it interesting that the room most connected to the outside world in a typical radio station was usually the one that had no view outside the station.

The control room at WUSC was smack dab in the middle of the studio complex and had three large (4’ x 6’) glass panes looking into the surrounding rooms. To the left was the music library that contained three walls of vinyl albums in shelves seven feet tall. The second window was slightly smaller and set in the corner to the left and overlooked the production control room. The third and final window looked into the news booth which was positioned right in front of the main control room audio board. The reason for the windows into the other control rooms is so the board operators and announcers could visually signal each other while actively announcing. The fact of the matter is that rarely occurred because the news announcers took their cues from the new intros. In fact the main use of the control room windows was for the announcers to try to make the news reader laugh or break up. Not exactly an activity envisioned by the studio designers.

My second air control started off with two 4’ x 6’ windows; the one on the left looked into the production studio where the announcer for the morning show, Bob Fulton, plied his craft, and the one on the right into the FM control room where the news announcer sat to read the news. Unlike WUSC, there was a microphone in each of these rooms that connected directly to the main on air console. Both of these rooms had windows that looked to the outside but there was no such luxury in the main control room. If we wanted to see what the weather was like, we had to go into one of the other control room. So most of the time, we announced the weather conditions by reading the hourly conditions report from the teletype provided by the weather bureau. This sometimes led to embarrassing situations when weather conditions were changing rapidly.

One evening I arrived at the studio to discover that management had opened up the window right in front of the audio console that had been plastered over when the station was built. I could see outside directly from the air chair. Amazing what a difference that made. The day time announcers loved it, the night time announcers not so much. When it was dark, the view outside was diminished to only the lighted areas. One or two of my fellow announcers felt like they were in a fish bowl. The experience came just in time to prepare me for my next control room which was really a fish bowl. Our early evening show was sponsored by Doug Broome’s drive in restaurant we broadcast from a small announce booth on the roof of his first restaurant that was completely closed in except for the front window that overlooked the parking lot. Doug wanted to highlight his second restaurant so they built an announce booth right on the ground replacing two of the parking spaces. This cinder block booth sported three 4’ x 8’ glass windows surrounding the announcer and a back wall that contained an air conditioner and a door that opened directly out onto the parking lot.

When I went out there to do my first show, my reaction was OMG there is nothing between me and the big wide world. That was re-enforced when the kids showed up and surrounded the booth smiling, laughing and waving at me. Within the first couple of weeks, I had been visited by no fewer than two motorcycle gangs driving circles around the booth as I nervously played the tunes. Fortunately they were there to make some requests and dedications and to get a look at the face behind that familiar voice. Pretty soon I had my posse of locals who made sure that nothing bad was going to happen. From that time on, I never worried about those thin panes of glass. Quite the opposite, I was in the middle of a big party every night. I can tell you there were some interesting sights to be seen through that glass.

That glass lined booth was the opposite of the control rooms of the day. Even the competing booth at Gene’s Pig and Chick operated by WNOK had a limited view of the outside world. The other stations all had booths that lacked direct views of the outside world. As I went on through my career, outside windows became a little more common. The window at WIS radio was behind the announcer. The same is true for my current control room at WUSC-FM that overlooks the patio three stories below. I have seen others that were on the side. Radio has become a little more claustrophobic, almost to say “let’s keep the announcer hidden from view.” There was one major exception to that in my experience. The Brennan Brothers knew how to build a showcase when they built WAPE in Jacksonville. The transmitter was the back wall of the control room. There was a compartment over the final tubes that glowed cherry red for a coffee pot. There was a window to the side that looked out over the station’s swimming pool, which stretched under the front wall of the building into the station’s lobby. The lobby was open 24 hours a day and was visible through the window in front of the audio console. It seemed that there was always at least one bikini-clad woman out there swimming and enjoying the tunes. Every now and then, one of them would get out of the water, stand in front of the window outside the control room and make the view just a little more interesting. Oh MY!

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