Sunday, July 14, 2013

Remote Broadcasts

In broadcasting, the term “remote” refers to a show that is entirely or partially produced from a location outside the station’s studios. Broadcasters call them a “remote” or a “live remote”, or in news parlance, a “live shot”. These days, especially in television, remotes in the form of “live shots” are relatively easy to do, fairly inexpensive and therefore pretty common. These live shots are also relatively short consisting of a reporter doing a “stand up” at the scene of a newsworthy event. The reporting is augmented by previously shot footage of the event and maybe an interview that is cut into the live shot back at the studio.

Back in the day, remotes were different. They usually were longer shows and were generally completely encapsulated at the remote site. WHN in New York which entered agreements with more than thirty New York City jazz nightclubs, including the Silver Slipper, The Parody Club, the Cotton Club, the Strand Roof, and Club Moritz to do regular remote broadcasts from the clubs. These big band remotes would become a staple of the old-time radio era, lasting well into the 1950s.

Left: WUSC "Patio Party" Remote

My first remote was in early 1964 just a few months after my first radio show. WUSC was on the third floor of the Russell House Student Union at the University of South Carolina. We cobbled together a pair of turntables a small console and some speakers on a card table on the patio below the station and connected it to the station by a telephone wire through an open window. These remotes were broadcast on sunny days in the spring and fall when it was nice outside. It was an instant success; the students passed by our table on their way to and from the student union and many stopped to make requests. The patio featured a number of picnic tables under umbrellas where many students hung out. Because there was no promotion budget for the station this was a great way to let the students know that there was a radio station on campus that was aimed at them. The DJs loved it because it was a good way to mix with our audience and form bonds.

Left: Doing the "All Night Satellite"

When I made the transition to WCOS in ‘65, remotes continued to be a big part of my professional life. My first job there was as a control operator for the remote broadcasts of the Georgia Tech football games who at that time were being announced by our morning DJ, Bob Fulton. Yes, this is the same Bob Fulton who became the “Voice of the Gamecocks” at USC. After football season, I began doing weekend shifts in the studio doing my own show and also running the board occasionally for Bob. Shortly after that, April Black our overnight DJ left the station and I moved over to fulltime and did that show for a little over a year.

Both WCOS and WNOK our primary competition had nightly remotes six nights a week from local drive in restaurants. These restaurants both closely resembled “Al’s” from the television show “Happy Days” and the one depicted in the 1973 movie “American Graffiti.” They were the social hot spots for teenagers from the mid 1950s until late in 1968. WNOK was affiliated with Gene’s Pig and Chick on Blossom Street and their show was called “The Blossom Street Beat”. WCOS was with Doug Broome’s Drive In located at the corner of Main and Confederate, and later his second restaurant on Two Notch Road near Beltline. Since these were “permanent” remotes, the restaurants built small control rooms on their premises. These small control rooms were connected by telephone lines back to the studios. They had everything we needed; a full sized audio console, two (or three) turntables, a couple of cart machines and of course the microphone.

Left: My friend Hugh Munn doing a broadcast from the WNOK Both at Gene's Pig and Chick

The WNOK remote studio was built into the building off the lobby and access to the DJ was controlled by the restaurant staff. The WCOS remote studio was built on the roof of the restaurant at Main and Confederate and access was restricted by a ladder up to the roof. But the second WCOS remote studio was built in a cinder block structure that replaced the four parking spaces closest to the door of the restaurant. The DJ on the air there could easily see the kids in the cars on the same row as the booth. Being on the ground, everyone had easy access to the announce booth by coming up to the back door and knocking on the door that was always locked to prevent someone from bursting in while the announcer was talking on the air. They could tell when it was OK to knock by looking through the wrap around window that covered three of the four walls of the building.

After about a year and a half, our evening DJ left WCOS and Woody moved me from the all night show to the Doug Broome’s show. I can tell you that I was in Hog Heaven. I inherited an audience that was 10 times larger than the one I had on the “All Night Satellite”. Because I was used to doing remotes at WUSC, I had no problem doing them at WCOS. Some DJs had difficulties with remotes because of the distractions from the live onsite audience. It was a challenge balancing the onsite audience with the much larger one that was listening from their cars or radios at home. But for me, the transition was easy. I was able to stay “ahead of the curve” for the show most of the time.

Left: An RCA Audio console similar to the one in the WCOS booth at Doug Broome's Drive In

I say most of the time because the level of distractions coming from the audience at Doug’s was several scales of magnitude above the ones that I experienced from the students on the patio at WUSC. From the occasional couple passionately making out in the car next to the window of the booth, thinking that I couldn’t see the occasional home run, to a visit from the local “Hells Angels” motorcycle club to hand deliver a request for “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, I took it all in. Somehow I managed to keep my cool on the air.

Today, when I walk across the patio of the Russell House on my way to my Monday morning show on WUSC-FM or sit down to my home studio to do my show on Our Generation Radio, my memories are flooded by memories of those great “remotes” back in the day. It is a shame that today’s audiences don’t have the opportunities to make the same memories. Oh MY!

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