Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Heat is On

As I sat here to write this, I glanced up at the thermometer readout; Noon and 84 degrees already! Yup that cool snap we had last week with “The Wedge” is over!! “The Wedge” by the way is a phenomenon where a low pressure center gets trapped between the Appalachian Mountains and the Bermuda High. It brings cooler winds from the north to northeast, cloudy skies and a little rain to the Carolinas.

This past week, I’ve been taking advantage of “The Wedge” to get out of the house for a brisk walk up and down my street every day. Today might be a little more of a challenge. With me getting all these steps in, my Fitbit thinks that I’m some kind of stud and wants me to double my daily goal of steps. I’m not falling for it; I know that the sweat factor is gonna double anyway.

Oh yeah – there is one more thing. With the heat, the mosquitoes are out. My neighborhood mosquitoes are bad boys; I can’t out-walk them. I can outrun them, but not for more than half a block before my arthritis kicks in.

Arthritis is one of the main reasons I’m trying to get serious about getting more exercise. My doctor tells me that now I’ve retired, I no longer have an excuse not to do ½ hour every other day. Did I mention that she was a star basketball player for the University of South Carolina and is a member of the SC Athletic Hall of Fame? She is not gonna take any excuse from me, so I’d better get with the program.

I think I’m beginning to see the positive effects of the walking. My hips start hurting farther down the path than they used to. Once the pain level gets lower, then I’ll respond to the plaintive cries of my Fitbit and increase my goal. Don’t get too excited, Mr. Fitbit, I ain’t gonna double it like you want. At my age, moderation is the key. And it won’t get cooler for a long time.

I know you are thinking that I should join a gym and exercise inside. But not just yet; I have a membership in a gym but going to the gym is listed as a “high risk” activity during the coronavirus age by our state health department. So I’ll wait for a vaccine or herd immunity, thank you very much.

The onset of the perspiration season is going to make me make a couple of changes. I’ve been walking in the mid to late afternoon after completing the projects I’ve set up for the day. I think that will have to change to mornings or mid day at the latest.

The other thing that will have to change is my walking attire. It’s been cool enough to walk in the t-shirt and blue jeans that have been my pandemic attire for the past few months. I’d just pop on my WUSC-FM cap and pop out the front door. But I’m beginning to come back just a little too “dewy” to keep doing that much longer. So I’ll just pop off the jeans and don a pair of my old exercise shorts from my days teaching aerobics at the YMCA. I’ll be the one out there rocking the 80s and 90s exercise fashion. Please don’t laugh.

If things get much warmer, and they will, I just might bring back another hot afternoon tradition from my youth. I might drag the hose off the reel in my front yard, attach the sprinkler and play in the spray a while. If you happen to drive by, there is nothing to see here, keep moving. Oh MY!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Never Say Never

Sean Connery stated in 1971 that he would never again play the role of James Bond. But in 1983 he played Bond again at the age of 52 in the movie “Never Say Never Again.” I guess, that should have been a warning to me to never say that I would never do something. There is a parallel saying that no longer applies to me; “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Oh yes, while we are doing old sayings, I’ll add one more; “Half a loaf is better than none.”

From the very beginning I’ve believed that live radio was the only way to fly, and my on air career has been mostly that. I guess the thing I loved the most about live radio was being “out there on the ragged edge of disaster” as one of my old flight instructors was fond of saying. Live radio is still my strongest favorite broadcasting medium. There was no “do-over” in live radio. When you say something, it is out there, and nothing can bring it back. If you were late for work, everybody knew it. If you flubbed a word, everybody heard it.

My first radio programs, back in 1963 on WUSC-AM were pre recorded as that was how the new DJs got trained. But they were “live to tape” and never edited. Well, I must admit that I retaped my first show over several times but I soon learned to let minor flubs pass as it was too painful to record a two hour show over again because of a mistake in the last announcement. Besides, there was not enough studio time available. We usually had a three hour time slot to do a two hour show. So live to tape it was.

When I completed my training and sat down at the console for my first live show the butterflies in my stomach were as big as “Mothra” in the old Japanese monster movies. But the rush of the experience was so strong that I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I was hooked!

Some of my favorite stories, often told in conversations with other old DJs revolve around things that happened in live radio. Like the time that the AP news copy said “snot” instead of “snow” or the time the Hells Angels came past my radio booth down at Doug Broome’s Drive In to request “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. As usual, the conversations turned to the changes in the radio business, the rise in automation and the evil of all evils; voice tracking.

When I became involved in online radio some 13 years ago all I did was live shows. But I recorded each and every show I did as I did them. As a result my “air check” library takes up nearly a terabyte of disk space on my backup and network drives. A couple of years after I started I got a request from another online station for copies of my Monday evening shows and that began my syndicated show. It was all good. Live, live to tape and syndication in one big package.

A short while later, one of the stations asked if I could produce a show exclusively for them and I took on recording shows again for the first time in 40 years. I agreed to it with the stipulation of doing it “live to tape” and I would not edit out the mistakes. To my surprise, it felt almost like I was doing it live, something that would have been impossible due to other commitments and the differences in time zones. The one thing that I could no longer do was take live requests and play their songs immediately. We old school DJs love doing that. I still take requests on these shows but tell the listener that I’ll play their song the next week.

But there was this big bugaboo – a “no no” that I still would not do; Voice Tracking. Voice tracking is the process of recording DJ patter that would be placed between songs by an automation system. Voice tracking replaced live DJs decades ago on many stations because it was cheaper and the bean counters were always looking to improve the bottom line.

I could always tell early voice tracked stations because the announcements were always “dry” and fit neatly between the end of a song and the beginning of the next with no overlap. Eventually they figured out a way to overlap the announcer and the music. But, when recording the voice track the announcer could not hear the music so there was no timing with or interacting with the song ending. It was all too neat and too artificial to me.

Finally, voice tracking systems allowed the DJ to hear the music that would be playing under the announcement as he or she recorded the track. So now it is not as apparent as it used to be.

I still felt that voice tracking was not for me and I continued to say never.

A few months ago, a friend of mine purchased a rural AM radio station that was about to go dark and leave a community without any radio service at all. I was all in; I asked him if there was anything I could do to help keep this 70 year old radio station on the air. His response was to ask me if I could do a weekend shift for him. I was anticipating that there was a process where I could log into the station and download the commercials and other production elements and do the show live. To my surprise there was no infrastructure at the station that could accomplish that but he offered me their voice tracking solution.

So there it was. It was voice tracking or nothing. I was faced with my arch enemy. Reluctantly I agreed to it because I really believe that community should have its own radio voice.

I am so glad that my first show over there was not recorded because I was pretty awful. I was stiff and unsteady and unable to make the VT software do what I wanted it to do. Slowly but surely I became more familiar with the software’s limitations and developed ways to work with it better. I began to take on more shows over there filling in for the DJs that could not do their shows on a given day or week. I was back to being a part timer, my first gig in radio.

A couple of weeks ago, the boss asked if I could take on his afternoon drive slot and let him take over the weekends. By that time I had become pretty comfortable with the system and found that it was possible to voice track a three hour show in less than an hour. So I agreed. I’m not completely at ease with the restrictions of voice tracking but I’m learning more how to work around them every day.

So this old dog has learned a new trick. Now if I can just get the override levels to my liking, I’ll be a happy guy. Oh MY! (Woof Woof!)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

What do you think?

The unofficial start of summer is upon us. Memorial Day is tomorrow and all over the country people can start wearing white. Everywhere but here in the Deep South, where we wear white all year. Down here, we start wearing seersucker this weekend. Just to be different.

But this year, with Coronavirus, things are a bit different. At least I hope that people are maintaining social distancing. I know, restrictions are being loosened but the virus is still amongst us and is still deadly to at risk folks. Just ask the folks in eldercare, Montgomery Alabama and Rio de Janeiro.

Folks I know that live on the coast of South Carolina are reporting heavy traffic and I am seeing posts of beaches that look pretty crowded, even taking into account that long lenses make people appear to be closer together than they really are.

But I’ve noticed something this Memorial Day Weekend that makes my heart sing. I don’t know if it is because of the slower pace of life in COVID-19 is giving folks more time to ponder the meaning of Memorial Day or what. But I’m seeing a lot of folks discuss the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Let me preface what I am going to say by stating that I highly honor the veterans of this great country, and those who are currently serving in the armed forces. I served in the Navy from 1963 through 1969. I believe these groups of heroes deserve their day. But Memorial Day is not that day.

The Wikipedia definition of Memorial Day sums it up nicely; “Memorial Day (previously, but now seldom, called Decoration Day) is a federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the military personnel who had died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The holiday is now observed on the last Monday of May, having been observed on May 30 from 1868 to 1970.”

Back in 1964 Memorial Day was celebrated on Saturday May 30th as this was before the day was normalized to the last Monday of May. I remember getting up early that day and donning my Naval ROTC uniform to march in the Memorial Day Parade. It was a clear warm day and I knew that I was going to drench my second set of Khaki’s that week, having worn my other khaki uniform the Thursday before; drill day. So instead of carrying my uniform over to the cleaners that day, I waited until after the Memorial Day parade to carry them both over.

I distinctly remember thinking of those sailors who died in the North Atlantic from U-boat torpedoes or in the South Pacific Kamikaze attacks as I marched. I remember thinking of our soldiers who died in North Africa, Italy and Europe. Stories my uncle told me about the guys he knew who died while serving under George S Patton in those bloody campaigns. I remember thinking that this was THEIR day, the day we remembered THEM.

That Memorial Day was my second parade in a Navy uniform in Columbia, The first was on November 11, 1963 a Monday. That day I was proud to honor the living veterans we had amongst us. That day I thought about my Aunts and Uncles who wore the uniform during WWII and Korea. Vietnam was still mostly in the future.

The day we honor our active servicemen is Armed Forces Day. In the United States, Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May. It falls near the end of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May. First observed on May 20, 1950, the day was created on August 31, 1949 to honor Americans serving in the five U.S. military branches – the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. THIS is the day we should be honoring our brave service men and women who are actively protecting our country. You may say that this holiday is not as prominent as the other two. I say back that it is up to us to make it so. Give our servicemen and women THEIR day.

Never while marching in Memorial Day or Veteran’s day parades did I think of being honored but rather honoring others. I would have been uncomfortable with that thought. I have asked active service people over the years and they all felt the same; that each group deserves their own day.

I’m glad to see this year that others apparently feel the same way. I saw a Meme on Facebook a couple of days ago that showed a Veteran standing at the Vietnam Wall on the National Mall in Washington. He has his hand on the wall, and there is a ghostly image on the other side of the wall holding his hand up to the Vet’s hand. On his side of the wall there was a caption saying “Memorial Day is his day!” the caption on the Vet’s side of the was said “Veteran’s Day is his day!” The Meme would have been perfect if it showed active service men and women observing this with the caption “Armed Forces Day is their day!” Oh MY!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Really, 2020, REALLY?!?

First a 100 year Pandemic, then killer hornets and now Tropical Storm Arthur is going to threaten the North Carolina Coast! And we are still two weeks from Hurricane Season! I just knew that I should have liked and forwarded that Facebook Message that I got in January!

I mean, what’s up with 2020 anyway? I’m ready to ask for a refund on this bad boy already. I picked a great time to retire from my IT gig last December. In two days it will have been five months since I turned in my keyfob and parking pass. I still don’t have any idea what retired life is like. And if this is it! I’m going to look for a job! I didn’t sign up for stir crazy. Just plain crazy is ok but cabin fever is not cutting it.

I know, I don’t have any reason to complain. A lot of folks out there have it much worse than I do. I don’t have to worry about not working and having to pay the mortgage. The house is paid for and the monthly retirements checks are coming in like clockwork. But still, I feel cheated out of my retirement.

I had envisioned weeks filled with my radio shows, lunches with friends, maybe walks along the river and trips to places that I have been postponing for the last few busy years.

Radio has been the saving grace so far this retirement. Two big changes one positive and one negative have occurred.

The negative one is that it has been 10 weeks since I did my last live show on WUSC-FM on March 9th the first week of Spring Break. I was already to come in and do a show the following week on the 16th despite the fact that the UofSC extended spring break in order to keep a live voice on the air. But the university made the decision to move to on-line courses for the remainder of the semester and closed down campus for a deep cleaning. So I temporarily moved the show to my online station Our Generation Radio. My listeners who are on Facebook have made the move with me. But there are a number of regular listeners on WUSC-FM who are not on Facebook who have not discovered our temporary home.

The positive change; is picking up a new gig on KLYC-AM Crusin’ 1260 in McMinnville Oregon. I didn’t have time to do a full time five day per week show there, so I have become their weekend help with shows on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The station’s other jocks are a wild and crazy bunch and the camaraderie with them almost makes up for the one with the other jocks at WUSC-FM which has been moved to online instead of face to face. I still miss those in-studio handoffs, though!

One of the fun things about doing these remote shows on distant stations is to become part of the communities in which they are located. McMinnville is in Yamhill County, a mainly rural setting south of Portland north northwest of the State Capital of Salem. I’m getting to know my way around the area which includes a stretch of I-5 the western most major interstate, that is the analog of I-95 on the east coast. Like South Carolina, place names have unique pronunciations; my favorite so far is Wilamina. That rhymes with Myna as in Myna Birds not “mee nah” like most women who have the name pronounce it. The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum is a big local attraction there at the McMinnville Airport. Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” is housed there.

KLYC is dedicated to being a positive force in the community life of Yamhill County, much like many of the old stations that we all grew up with back in the day. They even have a gardening and agriculture show which airs just prior to my Saturday morning show there. I really enjoy hearing them talk about the growing seasons and when it is time to plant and fertilize. I can tell you that the timing of the seasons is really different than here in SC. Every time I listen to the end of the “To The Root Of It” show I am reminded of the old “Bob Bailey” agricultural show that we aired on WIS-TV at 6:45 AM each weekday morning back in the 60s and 70s. I have kidded with the managers and other DJs there that we need a “Swap and Shop” show. I wonder if Dottie Lloyd is still available.

One of the other things that interesting to me is the different approaches to the pandemic. Every community where my shows air has initiated “stay at home” orders and all but one are beginning to relax them now. But it is hard to track the differences with all of them. So on many of my shows, I don’t really get into the lockdowns; instead I concentrate on the music and feel good things that are happening.

The future may be uncertain, but the main constant in my shows is the oldies. For my audiences and for me, they represent happier times filled with sock hops, crusin’ and hamburgers, fries and shakes at the local drive in restaurant. Why am I all of a sudden craving a vanilla root beer float from A&W? Oh MY!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

A Radio DJ’s Covid Enhanced Vivid Dream

As the pandemic plays out, I see a lot of people reporting vivid dreams. I for one have had quite a few of these in the past few weeks. The most recurring one is that I’m wandering around the Horseshoe on the UofSC campus looking for a final exam. And of course, I am not prepared for it.

I’ve had this dream before, many times but in the age of the Coronavirus it has stepped up its game. Instead of being in the warmth of a spring day, it is in the middle of winter and I’m struggling with a hat, scarf, gloves and a London Fog Trench coat. I keep dropping my books on the brick pathway and have to take off my gloves so I can pick them up. When I bend over, my hat falls off and my scarf slips off my neck and piles up on the bricks. You get the picture, it takes me forever to get it all together and once I do, I can only take a few steps before I have to repeat the process.

The class in question is usually my History 101 class which was taught by Dr. Coolidge in the big auditorium on the first floor of Davis College. There were over 100 students in that class and I always sat near the back of that cavernous room. The reason for that was that I was habitually late for class. I had just started working the All-Night Satellite at WCOS and had just enough time to get off work at 7 AM, get home and wolf down some breakfast before the 9 AM class started. I think this is the reason my psyche picked on this particular class. I have yet to make it to that final exam in that dream.

There is one recurring dream of which I have been anticipating the “COVID-19” episode. I call it “THAT DREAM”.

“THAT DREAM” is the one that is talked about by all the old school radio DJs that I know. We often talk about it in gathering such as the Slightly Legendary Old Broadcasters (SLOB) breakfasts. We all have similar versions. We are on the air live at one of our old stations. In my case, I’m at the Western Electric Board in the Master Control Room of WCOS on the second floor of the Cornell Arms Apartment Building on the Corner of Pendleton and Sumter Streets in Columbia SC. I’m new, so my boss Woody Windham is sitting in the production control room watching me through the glass. All of a sudden, the song on the air is ending and I have nothing queued up; no jingle, no commercial cart and no record picked out to play next. I’m forced to open up the microphone and ad-lib while I search for the commercial cart. Alas, it is not in the easily reachable wire rack in front of me, and I’m forced to kick back the air check to reach the carousel rack behind the cart machines. As I do so, my headphones are ripped off my head as the short cord reaches its limit. At the same time, at the other end of the headphone cord the plug pulls out of the jack and it all falls to the linoleum tile with a huge crash. I can tell that the crash was heard loudly on the air because the VU meter on the board pegged at full volume. Without the headphones I’m deaf to what is on the air, and I can’t easily get connected because I just accidentally kicked the loose headphone under the audio board as I located the cart and jammed it in the player and started it. With the mic off now, I can find a record, cue it up but I have to do a cold announcement to start it because I still can’t hear anything with my headphones on the floor.

With the music finally playing I can now retrieve the Tripp headphones off the floor and put them back on. At that time I notice the expression on Woody’s face as he face-palms wondering how did he ever hire such a clutz.

So you can imagine just how much I was anticipating the COVID enhanced version of this dream. It finally happened on Friday night and it was not a disappointment. I had applied for a combination on-air / engineering job at WIS Radio which was noted for its smooth professional jocks with a no – nonsense approach to their shows. They were satisfied with my engineering experience and decided that I would do a live audition for the on-air side of the job. I was sent out to their remote broadcast booth in a restaurant somewhere in Irmo to do a show. When I opened the door to the booth, I was greeted by an old rotary pot grey monster of a board that looked something like the old Collins Board I had used in the past. I say “something like” because none of the controls were where I remembered them and nothing was labeled. So I had just a couple of minutes to figure out what was what. The cart machines had openings only a tall as a CD player, so I couldn’t play the commercials. The turntables were older than the ones that I had at WCOS and it looked like the tone arms would destroy any record that was played on them. The microphone was not on a boom but instead was hand held and resembled a Shure SM 58. Yikes, I would need to operate the console with one hand and hold the mic with the other.

The management of the restaurant was super happy to see me and wanted to know if I needed anything. So I ordered a hot dog with mustard, onion and chili, a large Coke and a slice of strawberry pie. The food was delivered just as I started the show with a record on the right turntable. I got tied up paying the waitress and the song ran out as she left the booth. I grabbed an album and slapped it down on the left turntable, right on top of the whole strawberry pie the waitress had left on it as the song on the right turntable faded out. I grabbed the microphone in my left hand which was now coated with strawberries and whipped cream. What a sticky mess. I flipped on the microphone switch just as the wind screen on the microphone popped off and I was staring at the naked guts of the still working Shure in my other hand.

Needless to say the show proceeded to go downhill from there and pretty soon there was a line of cars filled with people who came down to see my on air struggle in person. As the show finally mercifully came to an end, I could see the station’s program manager and the owner of the restaurant approaching the booth. I just knew that any chance I had of working there was gone. But they were both beaming; the restaurant had the best night ever in the history of their business because of all the people coming by to see the disaster in the making. The program director told me that the ratings were out of the roof and that he wanted me to do the show full time in addition to my full time engineering duties. And one more thing, I was not to fix or replace any of the equipment in the booth, they wanted the show to be the same disaster every weeknight from then on; thus perpetuating my agony. Can you say “Groundhog Day?”

See what I mean about the COVID version of “THAT DREAM” did not disappoint. To set the record straight, I never had to apply for the Chief Engineer’s job at WIS-Radio, I was promoted from the engineering staff at WIS-TV. And I never had to audition for on the air over there, that came to me from the “other duties as required” clause of my job description. When the program director at WIS Radio found out I had air experience he asked me to fill in from time to time when the DJs on the staff couldn’t do their shows. There was never a remote booth at a restaurant somewhere in Irmo and the equipment in the WIS-Radio master control room on the banks of the Saluda River always behaved for me. If not, I knew where I kept my screwdrivers on the workbench in the next room. Oh MY!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Week 8

Tomorrow morning will be the 8th week since my last live show on WUSC-FM on March 9th. The station remains locked down on automation due to the COVID-19 closure of the University of South Carolina. That date is significant to me because it marks the beginning of my social distancing. Aside from trips to get groceries and household supplies or to pick up take-out food orders, and one trip to Lowes to pick up some flowers, the cars have been sitting in the driveway wondering what happened.

Two months of missing lunches with friends, or visiting the folks at the office have taken their toll. I still don’t know how it feels to be retired because I know this is not normal. But I’m getting a little stir crazy.

One of the annual events I missed this year was DJ’ing the annual British Car Club show. This event shares the infield at the old Columbia Speedway with Tartan Day South, the premiere Scottish Games event in the state. I thoroughly enjoyed arriving shortly after dawn and setting my gear up and spinning tunes into the wind. Since the event lasted 6 hours, there were times when I left the computer in Auto-DJ mode and walked over to the porta-potties or over to the food tent for lunch.

There is a unique sound to music being played over a PA system in open air. One of the most striking aspects of that is when you are at some distance from the speakers; the music takes on an ethereal feel, fading in and out as if you were listening to a distant AM station with the skip varying. I loved that, because then I could see how folks were interacting with the music. I was not surprised if I caught a sexagenarian with a bandanna and a white beard singing along. I am always surprised when I see a young 20-something mom dancing with her baby in her arms and not missing a word of the lyrics of a song that has to be 40 years older than she is.

This morning as I was walking into my studio/office to write this blog, I caught that distinctive sound. “What!” I thought, “Somebody is throwing a party in the middle of COVID-19?” When the wind blew exactly the right way I could determine that the music and the language was Spanish, not English. And it all was much too loud to be a family gathering. Curiosity got the most of me, so I fired up the GMC to find out what was going on. I quickly determined that the source was not in the neighborhood so I ventured out to Garners Ferry Road. Sure enough that happy sound was coming from a parking lot church service from the store front church a mile away from the house. There were more cars in that parking lot than the one in front of the Lowes down the street.

My Yamaha 300 watt P/A system with a pair of Peavey PR-12 speakers covers a football field filled with thousands of people nicely with the volume turned up only a quarter of the way. In fact with all the outdoor shows that I have done I’ve never had to turn up that amplifier more than a third. But at even full volume, I doubt that it could throw sound a mile like this one was doing. I couldn’t get close enough to the storefront to see what they were using. It was definitely in the rock concert class. By using the store front as a backdrop the set up created a perfect concert shell aimed directly at my house.

I just realized that the last two paragraphs describing a parking lot church service speak volumes about just how isolated I am these days. I’m not complaining, mind you, I can count my blessings in that being retired I’m not losing income like so many of my friends and neighbors. The only comment I will make about the loosening of restrictions is that because I’m in the at-risk demographic, I’m actually going to have to increase my restrictions to stay safe; masks in public and increased hand sanitation. To me, being an adult is more than being able to do what I want and go where I want, it is also about being responsible.

These next few weeks will be key. The curves are showing signs of flattening but the rate of new infections is still growing. By the way, I am not an epidemiologist or a statistician but I think just looking at the raw total infection rates is misleading. Instead of looking at the total infections, I believe that we should be looking at the rates of infections weighted by the population. Here is what I mean; According to the DHEC Coronavirus web site; Richland County in SC has the highest number of cases in the state at 946, but the rate per 100,000 population is 227.54. Clarendon County has 218 total cases but their rate per 100,000 is 646.02. Richland is actually 8th behind Clarendon, Lee, Kershaw, Saluda, Williamsburg, Florence and Sumter Counties. DHEC switched to ordering their county results to those weighted by populations a couple of weeks ago. This is all based on relatively little testing and DHEC believes the number of cases is considerably higher. The day to day totals are also affected by the fact that not all testing facilities are submitting case numbers to DHEC daily thus skewing the daily numbers. My bottom line is that we just don’t know and I’m a little skeptical of both extremes of the issue.

So, I’ll be holed up in my home studio, doing social distancing radio on all the stations I’m on, all the while being grateful that I can do that. Oh MY!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Headset Hair

When I first got into radio at WUSC-AM at the University of South Carolina I was also on a Naval ROTC Scholarship. Back then, hair length restrictions were pretty strict so I sported a flat top with closely shaved sides. As a result I had little trouble donning and doffing those old Trimm headsets that were the rage in the early 60s.

I was still in the Navy Reserves most of the time I was at WCOS so it stayed short there too. In fact, the barber shop in the Cornell Arms Apartment building was the same one that I used when I first came to Columbia. Willie Saylor, the proprietor and sole barber only knew one way to cut hair; short! So even when I began using those big old over the ear stereo headphones I still remained free of hirsute entanglements.

During my time at WIS-TV I became a little shaggier but I had already set my hair pattern in that I could not stand to have hair over my ears. I think that was a side effect of getting hair caught in headphones as I put them on and off during a show. It was never a clump of hair that would get caught. It was always a single strand. Ouch!! All I can say is that I could never be a girl and have to tweeze my eyebrows! The very thought of it makes me twitch.

By the time the late 70s rolled around I was the Chief Engineer of WIS-Radio and I was occasionally filling in for one of the live DJs, I was a Captain in the Group Staff of the Civil Air Patrol and trimming up more like the 60s than the early 70s. The rage in all the radio studios at the time was the Sennheiser MD 421 microphones paired with their HD-414 lightweight headphones. Those orange padded headphones were really light and could be worn with the longest hair without tangling. They were perfect for AM radio, easy to use and bright sounding. With shorter hair again, I never had a problem getting hung up with those headphones.

In fact my only problem with those headphones was with the jocks that liked to run their headphone volume just below fire engine siren level. The HD-414 headphones were of an “on the ear” design instead of the heavier “over the ear” design that blocked the sound escaping from around the pads. This combination quite often resulted in a sharp feedback squeal that set everyone’s teeth on edge. When one of the DJs insisted that I should do something about that. I handed him a pair of Koss headphones that must have weighed 4 pounds. I was not going to mess with the frequency response of the station just so he could run his headphones loud.

I must confess to the fact that I tend to run my own headphone volume louder than I should, not thunderstorm loud but loud enough. The thing that saves me the most is that the headset volume on the Wheatstone / AudioArts Air 1 console in my home studios has a volume limited to only freight train level. Unlike their D-75 console in the studios at WUSC-FM that could melt down a good pair of headphones. Somewhere a little over a quarter up is plenty.

I have always had fine hair. If it wasn’t for Brylcreem, I would never been able to control my wild hair back in my teen-aged years. Through my senior year of high school I sported a pompadour style that required a lavish application of the stuff. I definitely wasn’t a “little dab will do ya” kind of guy. During my early radio days, I was a “Butch Wax” man but somehow never had so much on that it stuck to the headbands of the Trimm headphones.

Now that I’m longer in the tooth, I’m wearing my “fine” hair a little longer with no hair care products. The hair line is a little farther up my forehead than it used to be, but headphone bands still cross my head in the hair zone. I’ve noticed that as I have gotten a little grayer, the lighter hair is thicker and wilder than my brown hair. In fact sometimes I look in the mirror to shave, I remind myself of the picture of Nick Nolte taken after a night of carousing.

The last time that I’ve had a professional haircut was in late January, before the “stay at home” orders and the curfews rolled in during the Coronavirus Crisis. Up until then, headphones were not a big issue, with just a little matted clump of headphone hair on the top of the head. I’d pat it down with a wet hand and I was good to go. But when it gets straggly, I sometimes catch a hair in the padding of the headband. That will get your attention, I can tell you. Fortunately my “in house” barber does a great job of keeping the mop under control.

So tomorrow morning my trustworthy Sennheiser HD 380 pro headphones will be sitting comfortably atop my Coronavirus styled hair and I’ll be rocking and rolling. Oh - just in case you hear a short burst of feedback, I am still in the habit of hanging my headphones on the microphone when I don’t have them on my ears. You know; old school style. No, the engineer in me doesn’t like that much but the DJ in me loves it. Oh MY!