When a “Talk-Up” Took Talent!

By: Derek Waring
Derek Waring
K5's American Graffiti Gold Weekend

I recently participated in KFIV’s 2013 Graffiti Gold Weekend. This is where mildly (my word and not supported by evidence) aging DJs from the distant past are invited to do a few hours of a radio show during Modesto’s Annual Graffiti Days celebration. So we were ushered into the KFIV studio to brush off the cobwebs lube up the pipes and play some blasts from the past just one more time. Actually we’ve been doing this on a yearly basis for the past few years. Some of us are talking about going union!

It felt good to spend time in a radio studio being a Disc Jockey once again. But, lo and behold, there were no discs to jockey! It’s as if we had moved from a Stearman Bi-plane’s cockpit into the Star Fleet’s USS Enterprise’s bridge. Back in the day we used to go in forty-five minutes early to pull all our records in preparation for our shows. Now, you want music? You just beam it up! It’s all there on the computer at your fingertips. And when we recorded shows then it was done on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Now recording is all digital; whatever digital means! Aside from my heart stopping because I know exactly what it means when my doctor uses the term digital, the nearest I can figure is it means you just talk and play music and trust that it’s being collected somewhere in some form out in space, The Final Frontier.

Nowadays instead of watching a vinyl record spin on a felt turntable you stare at a computer screen that displays what appears to be a “voice analysis” program used by CSI.  And no more listening to the entire record; you hear the end of the record you are coming out of and the beginning of the record you are going into. The space in between these two moments of time is where you put in your “voice track.” If we had done this during my radio days (not heard the entire song) I would not have developed the amazing rhythm and fantastic dance moves that I have routinely dazzled my wife and friends with on the dance floor. There is a plus to not having to listen to everything while preparing a radio show; you don’t have to suffer through commercials.

Back in the days of Boss Jocks and Top 40 Radio there was a thing called a “talk-up.” Let me explain what this means. Basically it means that if you had a record with a twenty second musical introduction before the vocal comes in, you could talk for twenty seconds. If you really hit it right your talk would stop just before the singing started. If you did not hit it right you would do what we called “step all over it.” This of course would mean that you have no worth in life and that as a DJ you should be banished for all time; your name to be published in the “Who’s Who of Terrible Radio Talk-Ups.”

Some DJs made a science out of radio talk-ups. They were true artists and it was a pleasure to hear their work. Some DJs would read from the phone book to fill a forty second intro and that was not so cool. Well, fast forward to present day. The talk-up has been perfected by technology. And here comes the tour de force! Now you don’t have to worry about talking right up to the artist or whether or not you are stepping all over them.  You just talk and when you are finished you left-click your computer mouse on the beginning of the vocal part of the song and drag it to the end of your talk. That’s it. It’s done. It’s perfect! If only we could do this with other things in life!