Sunday, January 29, 2017

Radio Remotes

According to Wikipedia; in broadcast engineering, a radio remote broadcast (usually just called a remote) is broadcasting done from a location away from a formal radio studio. According to me, a remote is a lot of blood sweat and tears and a whole lot of fun.

If you look at many pictures of radio control rooms, they are usually set in the middle of their facilities, windowless and dark, the kind of place where Venus Flytrap would feel right at home spinning tunes in the middle of the night. I must admit that my first two control rooms WUSC and WCOS were like that. It was possible to see an outside window from the air chair if you twisted and turned and looked real hard. But you could not see outside while actually announcing.

Left: A WUSC Patio Party Remote. My first experience doing a “remote” was at WUSC, when we dragged a cable across the hall and dropped it out a third floor window to the patio below. We had an audio board, two microphones and a pair of turntables sitting on a folding table and hooked up to that cable which was plugged into the master control console upstairs. What a rush it was feeling the spring air flow around you as we played records and talked live on the air with the students who were passing by. They would stop and sit in the chairs at the tables around us and listen. It became an almost daily impromptu event that we called the WUSC Patio Party. It was probably the best audience interaction I had ever in my career, because there were no barriers or buildings between us.

When I first started doing the overnight show “The All-night Satellite” on WCOS, the control room was completely sealed off from the outside. But a few months after I started, our engineer removed the covering over the window that was right in front of the board and we could see outside from right in front of the microphone. Wow, now I could see real time if it was raining when I gave the weather forecast at “15 and 45.” Still, it was not like being out there for real. I missed the remotes we did at WUSC, at that time I was not yet promoted to our nightly remote broadcast from a local drive in restaurant.

Then one Friday afternoon, our program director called me into the station early to let me know that I would be doing the “Satellite” from the showroom of a local car dealership that night. All I had there was a microphone, an audio board and a radio that I plugged into my headphones so I could hear. There was a control operator back in the studio who played the records and commercials and did the news on the top and bottom of each hour. It was a good thing that I knew the songs we were playing well because the first inkling of what song was playing was when I heard the first note. That was all I needed, if the instrumental intro was long enough, I would walk it right up and hit the post. You would think that there would not be anyone around in the middle of the night, but there was a steady stream of people there most of the night. The slowest hour was between 4 and 5 AM when there was only a handful of folks there. I would call the control room with their requests and of course, the control operator was taking requests from folks who called the station. That was a fun show but alas, it was a onetime event.

Left: Doug Broomes Restaurant on Main Street The next year my longest remote started. I was promoted to the evening show at that drive in restaurant I mentioned a while ago, “The Doug Broome’s Nightbeat Show!” This was one of the most popular shows on the station and was broadcast “remote” six nights a week from one of the two locations the restaurant chain operated. At the same time I was taking over the show, Doug decided to move the broadcast from the top of the roof of his location on Main and Confederate Streets to his new store on Two Notch Road near Beltline Boulevard. They built a 10’ by 15’ foot cinder block studio with three 4’ by 8’ glass windows right down on the parking lot where the first row of teletrays would have been.

This was “remote” heaven. Every night I would arrive at that little studio with an armful of records, commercials, jingles and the weather forecasts. I would flip on the power and arrange everything for the show. I would leave the microphone open until the newscast started at 5 minutes before the hour so that Mike, our news guy, could check to be sure the audio circuit between us was working. One of the car hops would show up at the back door to find out if I wanted something. I can tell you, I had a lot of “Big Joy” burgers, fries and cokes just before air time.

Then it was SHOWTIME and for the next 5 hours the tunes would roll out of that little studio on the parking lot into the night time air. All night long, I would answer knocks on the back door to meet the teenager anxiously standing there with a request and dedication written on a napkin or a page ripped from a notebook. I made some lifelong friends through those short conversations. Later in the evening, when things slowed down a little, I would stand in the empty door and listen to the sound of the song I was playing drifting across the night air from the speakers of the cars. We were all young and life was good. One last thought: to all of you who were on that back row in the cars with the fogged up windows, I could see what you were doing. Remotes! Oh MY!

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