Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Radio Station has gone Paperless!

I’m not sure this week’s blog will be all that entertaining but it will be informative, giving you a glimpse of what went on / goes on in the control room when the microphone is turned off.

Back in the day, radio announcers wrote onto and read from paper almost as much as they talked. We wrote on logs and read copy. There are three kinds of “copy” back then. The first kind of copy is commercials and / or public service announcements (PSA) are on spot copy. This is true, whether we pre – record the commercials or read them live. Some of the copy we have was in the form of talking points that were the foundation of the spot announcements that we ad-libbed. A good example of that were the “Doug Broome’s” commercials; the copy changed once a week or so depending on what food items Doug wanted to highlight that week. I usually kept the Doug’s copy laying flat on left top the audio board where I could read it without having to pick it up. By time the week was out, that sheet of paper was rarely used as I had memorized the talking points for that week. The same was true for the old Taylor Street Pharmacy commercials that Bob Fulton used to record. Bob would come into the production studio every week with a fist full of paper scraps that contained the talking points for this week’s commercials. During his show, he did the commercials live without even consulting the notes.

I used to think that copy writers got perverse pleasure in putting words together that were difficult to read aloud. I had two major downfalls in this area. One was the word “regularly” which showed up regularly in a commercial that I had to read every day. Bob came to my rescue by telling me to break the word up into two; “regular” and “ly”! After some practice, I had it nailed. The other problem phrase for me was the name of “Arnold Palmer!” Think of it. Just say that name out loud three times very fast. The old tongue must travel to the back and front of the mouth twice. Arnie, I’m sorry but I never got the hang of your name. But then a lot of people have a problem with “Rick Wrigley” too.

News weather and sports copy was the other big source of paper that we read. They came to us on yellow teletype paper written in all upper case letters because teletypes did not have lower case. Today that would seem quite rude as all capital letters is viewed as shouting in social media. I saw an article the other day where the National Weather Service was finally moving away from issuing forecasts in upper case only. My weather copy was neatly folded and placed on top of the two switches between the VU meters on the board. I would add the current temperature in pen every hour to keep it up to date. The news and sports copy was kept in a pile near the right side of the console table. Yes, everything had its place. Most of the time we read the news, weather or sports, we were reading it cold. That is, we had not had a chance to read through it before going on the air. We called that “rip and read” and that sometimes led to embarrassing moments live on the air.

So far, we have talked about the “copy” side of the paper flow of a radio station. There is the output side as well. These were called logs and there were three types of logs; Program, Transmitter and Music Logs.

The program log was the legal record of what commercials, PSA, and Station Identifications actually aired. The DJ/Announcer would sign on the program log as he or she sat down to do a show. When the Spot Announcement (Commercial or PSA), or Station ID was played or read, the announcer would write down the time it happened. Spots that were supposed to air next to each other were placed one under the other on the log with blank lines for places where the music or other programming went.

The transmitter log was the second of the three required logs. Again the announcer / transmitter operator signed on the log at the beginning of the shift and off at the end. Each half hour the operator was required to take three readings (more for directional stations) either via remote control or off the face of the transmitter if the studio and transmitter were located at the same pace. WCOS AM and FM was remote controlled so there were six readings that we had to log every half hour. Since the transmitter for WIS Radio was just outside the studio door, we took them off the transmitter itself. At night, though, WIS was directional so we had to take the other readings from the remote meters to the sensors at the base of the three towers. Needless to say, for a few minutes at the top and bottom of the hour we were busy. Especially when we had to make the required power and or pattern changes at sunrise and sunset. So if you ever called me to make a request at those times, I apologize but I was a tad busy.

The third type of log we kept back in those days was the music log. This occurred usually at the times near the performance rights contract renewal with ASCAP or BMI. These were the most onerous logs to keep, because we were required to write down the Artist, Song Title and Record Label for each 45 we played on the air. Oh, yes, and a challenge for me, it had to be legible or I would spend the next afternoon translating my scribble for the music director.

This is the part where I say, “Hooray for computers!” All the news, weather and sports copy is brought to the control room on one or more computer screen. No more frantically grabbing for that paper on the console as the news or weather sounder airs. No more transmitter readings either. Transmitters these days have their own microprocessors in them that assure the transmitter is operating properly. If something bad happens, they text or e-mail the station’s engineer to come fix it. If something really bad happens, the computer shuts the transmitter down. No more program logs either, the automation system keeps a record of when all the commercials, PSAs and other spot announcements and station IDs are played. They also keep the music logs for all the songs that are played from the automation. This is a good thing because the performance rights companies want the name of every song played these days all the time, not just during contract renewal time. There is a log requirement for all the songs that are played off of CDs, records or computers. This is in the form of a small window on the control room computer where the DJ must type in the name of the artist and the song. This goes to the Radio Data Service (RDS) feed that you see on the face of your car or other RDS compatible radio. It also feeds the station’s “recently played” list on the web site and of course the music log. This keeps “Oldies” DJs such as me pretty busy, because our songs run between 2 ½ to 3 ½ minutes long as opposed to the 4 or 5 minute songs that are the norm for today’s hits. It’s all good, though; at least I’m not taking transmitter readings, keeping program logs or ripping news, sports and weather teletype pages, queuing records and tapes and loading commercial cartridge tapes into machines. The rest of the time taking requests by phone and Facebook and choosing the next song in the playlist. What goes around, comes around. One of these days, I’m gonna actually be able to listen to a show I am doing. Oh MY!

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