Thursday, October 1, 2015

Radio Daze - Part One

Many years gone in the mists of time and memory, the blogger known as Dave-El worked in radio. 

These are his stories.  

Er, why am I writing about myself in the 3rd person? It's pretentious and annoying. Cut it out! 

Sorry. 

Back in my late teens, I got my first paying gig working in radio for the station in my home town. I should say "stations" as it was a one-two AM-FM combo, WTAB and WKSM.  

Between the two stations, our programming consisted of pop music, country music, gospel music, religious programming, farm reports, news, call in shows and sports.  The AM side tended to be the pop station and the FM side was the country station although things would periodically get mixed and matched. 

The two stations ran separately but not always with separate talent. Sometimes one DJ was working the board for two separate lines of programming; it was really important to keep your head on straight for those times. There was a DJ once who kept saying AM station stuff over the FM and vice versa. One time the AM station went off the air and the DJ could be heard cursing about over the FM station. 

More often than not, we would simulcast the same program on both signals which was a lot less stressful.    

Mostly I worked summers and during breaks from college for a couple of years. Mostly weekends but some weekday work. Usually that meant working from 6 PM to 12 Midnight. By 6, we would simulcast on AM and PM until it was time to sign off the AM station at sunset. Then it was onward to 12 when I would sign off the FM station. The idea of a radio station signing off seems unusual today but back in the early 80's and all the years before, radio stations (and TV stations too) would have a specific broadcast day. There is nothing sadder than hearing the dirge like playing of the United States national anthem followed by the deathly silence of dead air.  

Sometimes I would work mornings so I had to sign the stations back on the air. That was a trip, flipping switches and relays to fill the air with whatever we were going to fill the air with that day. There were days I would bring the stations on the air at 6 AM and work until noon, then come back that evening to cover the station from 6 PM to midnight. I actually enjoyed those days. I felt important and I was making OK money for playing records and telling the time and temperature every 10 minutes. Otherwise I would've been at home playing records and telling the time and temperature every 10 minutes for free.   

Once in a while I had to do a mid-day shift and that meant coming in after Lloyd. Lloyd had a really good radio voice, deep and authoritative, real old school radio. But when you met him, you realized why he was in radio. Lloyd was a bit of a man-monster, a poorly put together collection of human parts topped with a slightly misshapen head adorned by the greasiest black hair you will ever witness. Lloyd looked like he escaped from someone's lab in the 1940's. That was 35 years ago. Last I heard he's still alive and still working in radio. The scientist who created him would be so proud. 

Another person I recall from time in small town radio was Larry. Larry was the afternoon guy and the stations' program director. Larry had great pipes and was clearly too good for our little dog and pony radio show. He would later in fact get a sweet gig at a high powered radio station in Myrtle Beach SC. But the real reason I remember Larry so distinctly is that day I had to be his driver. So I drove Larry to a local grocery store where I went shopping with him. He was filling his cart with a lot of frozen stuff, mostly pizzas. After a few more errands, I drove him to his apartment, a modest place infested by few if any rats. This was an experience for me because I had never been around an adult who was single taking care of life stuff. All my exposure to adults doing grown up things were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. This was different, a man who had only himself to answer to. There was a certain sadness to Larry's status but I was young enough to think it was cool, how soon could I live like that? 

One more story about Larry and me, this time back at the radio station. The guy who owned our station owned other radio stations throughout our corner of North and South Carolina and he was a cheap bastard. And the station he was cheapest with was ours. Here's how cheap he was. 

There was a stretch of time whenever it rained, we would go off the air. Why? The transmitter shack, down a winding dirt trail through the pine trees behind the station, had a leaky roof. The owner wouldn't spring for a decent patch job so we did the best we could to mitigate the problem but sometimes a drop of water would come in exactly the wrong place and there goes the transmitter. 

One time I was at the station when the rain knocked us out. I called Larry to report the problem. (It was not like he was listening to us.) He showed up a few minutes later with a bag. He asked me to follow him out to the shack. The rain had stopped but the inner workings of the transmitter were still wet. It would take some time for it to dry before we could safely turn the power back on to it. Out of the bag, Larry withdrew a hand held hair dryer and went to work drying off the transmitter. Once dry, we could safely turn the power to the transmitter back on. 

The station manager was not pleased with this rescue effort, saying we put ourselves at unnecessary risk of getting electrocuted. Well, Larry said, tell the owner to fix the damn roof on the transmitter shack. Inspired by Larry bravado, the owner did just that. 

No, I'm just messing with you. The owner didn't do that at all. Thankfully the station was sold and the next owner did a bit better by things. 

After two years of working summers and breaks, I moved on from WTAB and WKSM. Radio being what it is, people move in and out so quickly. Soon everyone I knew there was gone (except Lloyd, of course) and no one there knew that, hey, there's the kid who comes down from college now and again to help out. 

Eventually WKSM was sold off as a separate entity and became a radio station elsewhere. WTAB moved out of the classic brick building that was home for decades; it still exists in a remodeled mobile home right by the transmitter shack amid the pine trees. 

____________________________________

Next week: I look at my time working in college radio and explore the mystery of why I took on the name of an Irishman.

Meanwhile, look for another blog post tomorrow. Until then, be good to one another.

Dave-El

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