Sunday, July 3, 2016

Holiday Shifts!

So, there you are, packing up the car for that Fourth of July trip to the lake or the beach. Picnic baskets loaded - check, swim suits on - check, towels and a change of clothes packed - check. Load the family in the car and off you go. As you pull out of the driveway, the radio comes on tuned to your favorite station, playing the top of the pops and the cream of the crop.

Back in the day, it was the same only different. The old tube type car radio had to warm up first and that meant you were halfway down the street before the music rolled into your ears. Another difference was that there was a live DJ spinning the tunes and entertaining you with visions of ice cream and hot dogs, water skis and bikinis, crystal clear lakes or roaring waves crashing on white sandy beaches. Sometimes he or she would share stories being fed to the studio from folks who were already at your destination, telling you how much fun you were going to have.

Left: Architect's drawing of WAPE Studios showing swimming pool. But what about that DJ; was he or she having fun. Instead of being out enjoying the summer breezes and the cries of the seagulls, they were in a closed in studio, in some cases without even a window to look outside. A few DJs had it much better working holiday shifts. For example, there were the lucky ones who worked at WAPE the mighty 690 in Jacksonville Florida. Their studios in Orange Park featured a large swimming pool that stretched from the front yard, under the wall and into the spacious lobby. From the air chair in front of the Brennan Console, the DJ could look out the side window and see the young folks swimming out front. Even when the station was closed to the public, the underwater entrance under the wall into the lobby was wide open and there would be lots of bright happy faces looking through the glass and pantomiming their requests to the DJ inside. Yes, there were a lot of itsy bitsy yellow polka dot bikinis in the mix, both on the air and in the crowd. To this day, I wish I could have worked there, even if just for one summer.

I remember listing to those DJs; Alan Sands, Dino Southerland and Dan Brennan, and wondering what it would be like. I thought it might be worth giving up a holiday to find out. For, you see, there was no such thing as radio automation in those days. There was always a live body sitting in the control room, taking names and kicking a little wax.

I was lucky, I got to find out. In the winter of ’66 I was just starting my first full time job in radio; the All Night Satellite at the Home of the Good Guys, WCOS, Fun 14 in Columbia. July Fourth, just like this year landed on a Monday. I didn’t quite know what to expect as overnights were usually pretty quiet with a half dozen phone calls each hour. Well, that night was an eye opener; dozens of calls each hour wishing me a Happy Fourth and thanking me for being up with them. Wow! I had a big grin on my face all night long. The hours sped by and before I knew it, Dan the Man, who was doing the day shift that Fourth of July, was walking through the studio door ready to take over.

The next few years I was doing the Nightbeat Show from the parking lot of Doug Broome’s Drive in Restaurant on Two Notch Road. I liked this much better for the control room was in a cinder block building right in the first row of tele-trays surrounded by the listeners. On holiday evenings, the clientele changed slightly, from dating couples to families headed back home after their day at the lake or the swimming pool. The number of knocks on the back door was significantly higher than on the normal days. I got to meet the families of some of my more loyal listeners as the kids brought their Mom and Pop to meet the local DJ.

Because shifts change on the holidays to give some of the DJs time off, I would occasionally work a double. A daytime shift and the Nightbeat show. It seems that the younger, unmarried guys always got that “privilege.” Sure enough, the phones were busy with folks calling from the parties or using the pay phone at the lake to request their favorite songs. I’d always ask what was happenin’ and was rewarded with holiday stories to tell about people having fun between records.

I can tell you the experience was everything I thought it might be as a kid, and more. I didn’t attend one party or go on one trip to the lake; I attended every party and was at the lake with everyone out there. I had a ball. For those of you who have not experienced live radio of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, the closest analogy I can think of is actually being Facebook. Not being on Facebook, BEING Facebook! Live local radio was the social media of the day.

So, tomorrow morning, I’ll don my Fourth of July rockin’ socks and make my way up to the WUSC-FM studios and at the crack of 9 AM, start spinning the oldies and enjoying Independence Day the way the way every old school DJ wants to, taking a trip down the hallways of our memories. Oh MY!

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