There are a lot of blogs and fan pages on Facebook that discuss the changes in radio over the years. Many of them are run by my fellow old fogeys that see nothing good in what has happened to our industry. While I agree with a lot of the discussion that misses the old Mom and Pop radio stations, having worked with both the old and new technologies, I see both good and bad in the changes.
Left: A typical Radio Station Control Room in the '60s Back in the day, with 45 RPM records, cart machines, analog telephone lines and reel to reel tape recorders, being a radio DJ was a pretty physical occupation. While a song was playing on one turntable, one had to select and cue up the next song on the other turntable, read the program log and enter the play times for the last commercial set into it, find out which commercial “spots” were to play in the next break and load them into the cart machines, locate the next jingle in the package and queue it up on the reel to reel machine. All this had to happen in the average song length of 2 ½ to 3 minutes. That left precious little time to think of what to say the next time you turn on the microphone. Several times per year, it was ASCAP/ BMI logging time and on top of all this, you had to hand enter the song title, artist and record label of the song that was on the air into the paper music log. To make it more exciting, the style of top 40 radio back then required the DJ to talk or run a jingle between every record and the next one. One of the stations required the DJ to actually open the microphone and talk after each song. Whew, no wonder I was so skinny back then.
These days, most stations operate in song blocks with “stop breaks” after every two or three songs. That is, the automation automatically segues the songs until the “stop break” is reached and the automation stops so the announcer can do his or her thing before pushing or clicking on the start button to begin the next block. Commercials, other announcements and production elements are programmed into the song blocks, so all the DJ has to do is to talk when it is his or her turn. All the music selection, commercials and jingles are handled and logged by the automation system. It is always ASCAP/BMI time and the music logs created by the automation are gathered by the music director and sent off to the performance rights licensing companies at the end of each month.
There are a lucky few DJs these days that get to operate the automation in “DJ Assist” mode. The automation presents the commercials and other announcements to them on a screen. The DJ ties these elements together to form a spot break and then selects the songs he or she wants to play from the library of songs that have been entered into the automation by the station’s music director. This gives the DJ or the on air team, in some cases much more time to prepare what they are going to say in the next “stop break.” In some cases but not all, I would argue that they have too much time. This gives rise to some of the silliness you hear on the radio these days. It also tends to completely disassociate the on air team from the music they play.
In fact, in some cases, the same on air team could be broadcasting to several stations around the country using a practice called voice tracking. The songs are often different between announcements on Station A and Station B. In fact, one could be “Adult Contemporary” and the other “Light Rock.” This tends to make many of the stations around the country sound the same.
For me the sweet spot is when the announcer, doing a live show, has access to the automation in “DJ Assist” mode and uses all that machine power to tie the music together in a narrative that includes the audience who participates by calling in requests and memories of their times with the songs.
Left: A screen shot of the modern Rivendell Automation System. I am fortunate to have all this technology at my fingertips on my shows. At WUSC-FM the announcements and station breaks come from the automation system in “DJ Assist” mode. The music and personalized production elements come from my own laptop computer running the same broadcasting software that I use on my on line shows. The laptop sits in the copy stand on top of the audio console and is controlled by a wireless mouse on my left. The automation is controlled by one of the two mice on my right. The one other thing that I have to do is to enter the song title and artist into the automation’s reporting system so that they can appear on RDS equipped radios, the station’s web site and most importantly into that ever present ASCAP/BMI music log. This extra typing is made up by the fact that the system has the ability to find a song by doing a search of the database. That gives me a little more time to research an artist, song or other piece of information to tie it all together. This all makes me a happy camper, for you see, this show is done old school style, no music blocks and something special between every song. Oh MY!