A BRIEF, INCOMPLETE HISTORY OF RADIO
by Dan O'Day with illustrations by Bobby Ocean
A READER ASKS:
"Following your advice in an earlier column, we've looked
for and actually hired part-timers from several unusual places.
(One was a waiter our GM had while trying to pitch a potential
client, another a door-to-door salesman who came into the station
lobby.) But when they get on the air, they seem to clam up and
become much more boring than they were before we hired them. When
training 'newly discovered' part-timers, what are the most important
things to start with?"
TELL THEM STORIES...
...about how & why you got into radio, who influenced you,
your best radio moments, what you still hope to achieve. War stories
about broadcasting despite impossible conditions, accidentally
locking yourself out of the studio, on-air flubs. Stories about
personal connections that have been made with listeners: The girl
who called to request her late grandmother's favorite song...The
fan who sent you chocolate chip cookies on your birthday...The
listener who berated you for mispronouncing the name of his favorite
Stories about transistor radios under the bed covers and at the
beach. Endless struggles to control the car radio buttons. "Would
you PLEASE turn that down" and "Wait, I want to hear
this!" Novelty records and girl groups and Motown and Stax
and Cadence and Elvis from the waist up and hearing "I
Want To Hold Your Hand" for the very first time.
Stories about lovesick teenagers dedicating songs back & forth
to each other. About children turning on the radio before they're
even awake, feverishly hoping to hear those magic words from their
local disc jockey: "No school, snow day...."
About loneliness and a solitary voice reaching out to you. About
making a complete stranger laugh or reflect or remember. About
baseball games from far away on car radios. About someone driving
across town or across country, with only you and your radio brethren
Stories about Larry Lujack and John Records Landecker
and Robert W. and Wolfman Jack and Gary Owens
and Dr. Don and Kenny Everett (ask someone from
the UK about Kenny) and those crazy young jocks who brought American-style
radio to Europe in the 1960s by taking to the seas in honest-to-God
pirate radio ships (imagine broadcasting under the worst possible
conditions; now imagine doing it while seasick).
Stories about bad news and everyone immediately turning on the
radio. About sad news and where you were when you heard it. About
practical jokes and misunderstandings and mild or wild revenge.
About getting fired, packing up the U-Haul, and being scared all
over again. Getting angry, getting older and "the good old
days." Static-y voices criss-crossing in the night. Fifteen-hour
air shifts, flaky jocks, disappearing engineers.
Stories about legendary radio people you almost met in an elevator
at a convention. The major market PD who did you a favor; the
request line caller you can't forget. Practical jokes on the news
guy, disappearing stationery, and a bedroom full of promo records
that one day will be worth something.
Staying up late talking radio, swapping tapes, "borrowing"
ideas, "embellishing" your ratings, deepening your voice,
losing your voice, losing your place, losing your keys, losing
Wire service copy paper, 15-inch reels, pin-controlled automation.
Caffeine addictions and junk food and whatever the station could
trade for. Old friends, borrowed headphones, uncontrollable sleep-deprived
laughter. Razor blades, splicing tape, grease pencils. Draping
the tape edit over your shoulders until it was safe to throw away.
Cue tones, cue sheets, in cue, out of breath.
Slip-cueing, back-announcing, and hitting the post. Egos, rivals,
and friendships. Imagination, excitement, Orson Welles
and Jack Benny and Ma Perkins and Franklin D.
Roosevelt and Arthur Godfrey and Don McNeil's
Losing jobs, gaining weight, changing names. "How do they
do that?" and "Listen to this!" Storz, McClendon,
Drake...and Chuck Blore's Color Radio. Play-by-play
and blow-by-blow; sports scores and election returns and Number
One on the charts this week.
7-7-7, First Ticket, Hooper, Pulse, "You don't look anything
like you sound!"
"What am I doing with my life" and 7-day workweeks and
"I can't believe I get paid for this!" Slow starting
turntables, nickel on the tone-arm, the cart machine sticks.
Stories about hotlines, hot shots, skimmers, phantom cume, time
checks, time warping, ratings, feelings, winning, showing off.
T-shirts and coffee mugs and iridescent frisbees. Billboard and
Claude Hall and Cashbox and Record World and R&R and
Bill Gavin's green pages. Floods and tornado watches and
power outages and school lunch menus. Lost dogs, lost accounts,
Jiving, shouting, rhyming, whispering. Hiccup remedies, lemon
'n' honey, and good old-fashioned adrenalin to save the day. Embarrassed,
elated, delighted. Hi-Low, Name It And Claim It, and Dollar-A-Holler.
Playlists and station surveys and Good Guys. Q, Zoo, and Boss.
Bob & Ray and Mike & Elaine and The Monitor
Jingles, stickers, Chickenman and The Oidar Wavelength. Silly
stunts, intense rivalries...Passion. B-Sides and label colors
and songwriter credits. Favorite songs, favorite artists, favorite
Newspaper wars, live remotes, and meter readings. Shouts, stingers,
sweepers, stagers, stabs. Make-goods, live tags, rip 'n' read
and backtiming to the news. Allan Freed and Dan Ingram
and Cousin Brucie.
Beat the Bomb and Lucky Bucks and Battle of the Bands. Pinning
the needle, pegging the meter, riding gain. Feedback and wrapping
the capstan and "Hold on a sec, I gotta go on the air..."
Sign on, sign off, warming up the filament and Compression, Compression,
Gates board with rotary pots; Automax and Volumemax. Intros, outros,
ramps, talk-ups. False endings and records popping & skipping
and carts jamming. Philosophical Differences and late night resume
photocopy sessions. Tight board, good pipes, will relocate. The
big break, bad luck, skip waves, skipping town with the air staff's
Cueing past the splice, heavy phones, cue burn. Solid Gold, Hot
Nine at Nine, Hot 100. WABC and KHJ and KLIF and WOWO and WLS
and making it to the big markets.
Friday night countdowns, Saturday Swap Shops, Sunday drag racing
twin spins, doubleplays, triple shots and instant replays. Romantic
entanglements, broken hearts, big dreams, small wins, and "Garbage
Mouth Leaves Cleveland."
"NO ONE is to touch these carts! And that means YOU!"
"Were you listening when...?"
"What'd ya think?"
"You should have been there."
Then explain to that new jock:
Now you are there.
What are you gonna do with it?