Sunday, March 24, 2013

50 Years, Live!

Tomorrow morning, I am doing a special show on WUSC-FM; my semiannual fundraising week show. During the fundraising weeks, the station management wants us to do a theme show, something special. While casting around for an idea, it came to me that this year, 2013 is a milestone year for me. This coming October will mark the 50th anniversary of the first time I did a radio show. So for this fundraiser and the one in the fall, I will be highlighting 1963. I can’t believe it, 50 years in broadcasting. All but 6 of those involved either full time or part time.

If a DJ were to tell you that he or she was not nervous the first time on the air, they would be lying. I can remember my first show like it was yesterday. The show was called “Night Owl,” it was pre-recorded and it ran from 11 PM until 1 AM. That was the show that the station used to break in all their new DJs. I loaded the big 10 inch reel of tape to the Ampex recorder, pulled the albums I was going to play, queued up the first track and checked the microphone level. All was ready! The moment of truth was at hand. Nervously I pushed the record button and heard the tape snap tight across the record heads. I turned the potentiometer, called “pot” in the business, up and the music filled my headphones. I pushed the switch for the microphone and with my heart in my throat, said “Good evening and welcome to Night Owl on WUSC. I’m your host Rick Wrigley and for the next two hours, I have some great tunes to wind down your day.”

I would like to say that I did that perfectly, but it didn’t work out that way. I had to stop and re-do that show opening three times before I had it the way I wanted it. That is exactly the reason they put the new guys on the recorded shows. It would be about a half hour of segueing records before my next announcement which included a station break and a commercial for Coca-Cola. By time that announce break came, I couldn’t go back and start over again so it was “live on tape” from there on.

For the next two months, all of my shows were taped. I graduated up from a Wednesday night to a Friday night “Date Night” show. This was next to “prime time” for our station following the live request show that immediately preceded it. By the following January, I was ready for my first live show. I can tell you, it was almost like starting all over again. That tight feeling in the pit of my stomach was back. But it wasn’t long before I was back in the swing of things and comfortable behind the “mic” again.

When it got warmer later that year, the station did a series of afternoon remote broadcasts from the patio of the student union. That moved us from the quiet anonymity of the control room to the hustle and bustle of the very heart of student life, right outside the door to the only cafeteria on campus at the time. That little nervous feeling came back again, but soon it was just a memory as I got caught up in the live, in person interaction with the audience. Of course, for this show, we played more contemporary music than we did in the later shows. I thought my nervousness was gone forever.

That was not to be. When I was hired by WCOS, it all came back. Now I was in the big time, commercial radio; top 40 rock and roll and being paid for it to boot. It was time to be perfect. That feeling was back as I pushed the mic switch for my first announcement. What I discovered was that that nervous feeling was going to be there the first time I worked at a new station but each time it would be less intense and last a shorter time. WAPE, WIS Television and Radio, SCETV and back to WUSC, FM this time, that familiar feeling was there. And not just in front of the microphone and camera too. Whenever I was involved in a live production behind the scenes, I felt that same little twinge as the show started. Especially for the television shows I did for the networks, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, CNN and ESPN the tension was there as the clock wound down to going live. But it would immediately dissipate as I got involved in the mechanics of doing the show.

So tomorrow morning, when the automation finishes playing the PSA and Station ID and waits for me to start my show opening, deep down inside that familiar feeling will be there, no longer apprehension or nervousness, but anticipation of starting a live show again. There is nothing like being live, there is an energy that you can’t find anywhere else. It will not be perfect, but it will be live and that is the fun of it, the reason I still do it after 50 years. Oh MY!

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