There was an internet meme floating around Facebook this week asking everyone to list the most influential albums of their teenage years. When I thought about it I realized that the answer was that there were none. By the time I left home for college I still had not bought my first album. That really blew my mind.
Lest you begin wondering if all my music came on Edison Cylinders, my record collection was all 7 inch 45 RPM records with the big hole in the middle. In fact, the first family record player was a 45 RPM RCA Victrola. When I was twelve, I was beginning to wear it out playing my Mom’s and Dad’s records; Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Doris Day and Bing Crosby were their favorites. I was listening to rock and roll on the radio but had not started my collection yet. That Christmas, they gave my brother and me our own record player and three 45’s; Elvis Pressley’s “Hound Dog”, The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie” and Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll”. To this day, I wonder if Mom and Dad knew what a “Party Doll” was, I didn’t until much later.
Those three records began my journey into ownership of a rock and roll music collection. I carried them in a box to all the dance parties and sock hops through grade and high school. There were 33 1/3 RPM albums around but I didn’t own any. By time I left for college, the collection was too bulky to carry along with me. All I brought with me was two suitcases full of clothes. Trust me – when I am on campus on freshman move in day, I always wonder how I survived with just those two suitcases.
There was a guy on my dormitory hall with a radio and he played it loud enough for most of us who didn’t have radios to enjoy. During the day, he played music from WNOK and WCOS radio. At night he played shows from WUSC, all AM stations. One evening as we were hanging out I found out that he was the student station manager for WUSC. I had never heard him on the air because his radio was off when he was at the station broadcasting. When I expressed my interest, he invited me to come down to the station. That turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life; the dawn of my broadcasting career.
WUSC had two control rooms and a news booth full of equipment that sported lots of knobs and dials and six turntables between them; three in the On Air Master Control and three in the production room. The path between them took you through the music library. My first glance of the library left me wide eyed and slack jawed. Two of the walls were lined with shelves 12 feet wide and 7 feet tall. These shelves had bins and bins stacked full of 33 1/3 RPM albums. There was the unmistakable fragrance of vinyl filling the room. Normally you could smell that only when playing records. But there were so many records in there, that wonderful smell was always present.
So, it could be said that my first album collection contained around 5,000 disks. I never did get a chance to play all of them, but I spent many a happy hour trying to. Since the station was off the air most of the day, going on around 4:30 PM and off at 1:30 AM, I was able to spend time studying during the middle of the day in the master control room while listening to an album or two. The production room was occupied during that time by the DJ’s who were on the Night Owl show (11:00 PM – 1:00 AM) recording their shows. That library is mostly CDs these days but there is still a significant vinyl selection.
When I transitioned from WUSC to commercial radio and television in ’65, my first gig was at WCOS (’65 through late December ’69) where all the music was on 45 RPM singles. We had the Top 60 in Dixie (later the top 40) set on top of the old Western Electric audio console in a wire rack. There was a stack of about 10 – 15 “Up and Comers” in the control room and another stack of “Solid Gold Oldies” on the edge of the desk. It didn’t take long for me to memorize the approximate rank of each song on the top 40, because we would have to find that song very fast during “Instant 60 Requests.” We would locate the record, grab it by the edge and center hole, slap it onto the rotating turntable, find the first note of the song, slip que it and hold onto the edge of the record all the while talking to the person requesting the song on the air. I can tell you, there was little as satisfying as executing that instant request live. What a rush. I got as much out of it as the person calling in on the request line. You know what! I still do today!
So, how did I respond to that meme on Facebook. “The most influential albums of my teenage years... were all 45 RPM singles. And there were far more than 10.“ That about sums it up. Oh MY!