To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” January was at least interesting times for radio and television back in the day. The last few months of the year were a time of increasing activity and effort. The retailers were all gearing up for the Christmas sales that reached a crescendo between Thanksgiving and Christmas day. The broadcast sales people had a heyday selling commercials right and left as everyone put in the big push.
Particularly in radio, this meant more and more commercials on the air competing with the public service announcements, promotional announcements, news, sports and music for air time. The losers during this period were the promotional announcements and the music. We could not reduce the public service announcements as the minimum time spent doing those was regulated by the FCC. The time each hour dedicated to news and sports remained the same year round. The number of minutes playing commercials grew to the maximum limit of 18 minutes per hour. So the number of records we played was what took the hit. It seemed that the savvy record producers were on to this so the number of new releases, except for Christmas songs was lower during the last part of the year than any other.
So, for the DJ who lived for spinning records, the last part of the year was “The Worst of Times.” It seemed that we spent more time playing commercials than records. That wasn’t really true but it seemed like it to us. Adding to the load were the last minute commercials that came in just under the wire. There was no time to get them to the production team to get them recorded, so the continuity folks wrote the commercial copy and passed them on to the DJ for live voice announcement. I know, commercials were the life-blood of our radio station but reading three sixty second commercials in one stop break was a real chore. We couldn’t just read them, we had to punch them, make them sound interesting as if you could not live unless you had one of whatever we were selling.
Most of us worked five hour shifts back in those days so at the end of a shift full of Christmas specials voiced live we were usually pretty tired and just a little bit hoarse, despite swigging down two to three Pepsis per shift. This wasn’t helped at all by the cold or flu that we all shared from working so close to the same microphone. Sure we would wipe the screen down with some antiseptic spray along with all the knobs and switches on the audio console, but the bugs were smarter than we were back in the day. Our tired and bloodshot eyes looked to Christmas Day for more than one reason; it also was the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ahhh – January! “The Best of Times!” All of a sudden, the program logs were empty except for the show sponsors, who maintained a yearlong presence. The spot advertisers had spent their budgets and all but disappeared for a while. They would be back as we cross into February getting ready for Valentine’s Day. But January was a FUN month for DJs. Lots of time and lots of new releases coming from the record companies. Wall to wall music reigned. It was not unusual to get 22 to 25 songs played in an hour, thanks to the much shorter songs back in the day. In January we could really rock it, take names and kick some wax! Who cared about the ice and cold, we were hot and having a great time playing the top of the pops and the cream of the crops for all the cool cats and hot kitties.
So while December was the worst of times and January was the best of times for the DJ, it was the opposite for the station owners and managers. They were making money hand over fist in December which was a good thing, because that commercial boom had to cover the bust that came the first part of each and every year. At least back in the day, when the stations were owned by Mom and Pop operations that recognized the contributions of everyone on the staff, we did not worry too much about the layoffs our modern brothers and sisters sweat out every year these days. I looked at the logs for last Monday’s WUSC-FM show and my average was 21 songs per hour, partially due to the longer songs I played from the 70s. I’m gonna try for 22 tomorrow, Rock and Roll! Oh MY!