Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of participating in a panel of long time broadcasters presented by McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina. The forum was in conjunction with their exhibition, “On Air in South Carolina” which contains the archives of the South Carolina Broadcasters Association.
As I waited for my turn to speak, I listened to the other panel members relate their broadcast history, talking about the stations and other folks with whom they worked; I became aware of just how small a family we are after all. During the panel and the ensuing reception, the names of legendary broadcasters such as Paul Harvey, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite, all the major radio and television networks and some of the most famous stations all over the country got mentioned. All of this came from a small sample of seven guys with a combined 300 or so years working in the industry. I gazed out into the audience, and there were another eight or nine men and women out there that have contributed to the collective effort. If you added together all the experience in that room, it would approach an amazing 1,000 years in front or behind the microphone or camera.
Another thing that came out time and time again was the love and respect that we all shared with each other. During our careers, we were often in fierce competition for ratings and advertising dollars. As the years passed, we found ourselves in competition with former co-workers or working with folks we used to compete with. Five of the seven of us worked at one time or another for the same pair of stations, WIS Radio and Television, but even as the situation changed we remained “brothers in arms” or more appropriately “brothers in broadcasting.” We all shared that dedication to our profession and the fire in the belly of trying to be the best of the best.
We all knew the pressures of the deadline; having to be ready the second the clock topped the hour and the on air light went on. Most of us spent time spinning records as high school or college kids at the local radio stations before going on to television or to other forms of radio. Like no other media, broadcasting was immediate, there was no “do overs,” one something happened it was out there for everyone to see; no editing, no script changes, what was done was done. That was the beauty of live radio and television.
Looking around the room, it occurred to me that we are all to a degree adrenaline junkies. We got off on the pressure of the moment, getting it on the air and getting it there right. I was the youngest one on stage and most of us were still working at least part time. Those who had retired, all did so at a later age than is normal. That speaks volumes about the love of the business.
As, I’m sure it is with other professions, there was a lot of comparison between the way it was in the golden years of broadcasting and today. There was a lot of nostalgia and discussion of how much better it was back then than it is today. Most of the radio stations of the golden age were “mom and pop” stations with very small staffs who worked hand in glove with each other. One of my friends recalled working at a small station in the PeeDee of South Carolina that had a total of two announcers, as he said “It was me and the other guy.” Between the two of them, they covered the entire day. The other guy signed on at dawn, he took over after high school and signed the station off at sunset. On weekends, he worked the entire broadcast day. I had a similar experience right after college; on Saturday Nights, I got off the air at 1 AM, slept on the couch in the lobby of the station and went back on at 6 AM until noon, back on at 6PM and finally off at 1 the following morning. It was a really good thing that I was young, I couldn’t do that today. Fortunately, I don’t have to – there’s an app for that!
So tomorrow morning, I’ll drive back downtown to the WUSC-FM studios, use my RFID keycard to get into the station and greet my co-worker, the AudioVault automation computer. I’ll have a rather one-sided conversation with him about how our weeks were and then kick him off the air to rock and roll for three hours. During this time, due to the fact that we are between semesters, it will be unlikely that I will see any other staff member. Afterwards I’ll queue him up and let him take over. Sorry Otto, that’s what I call him, we will never have the same bond as I do with the guys and gals I worked with back in the day. Oh MY!