Just imagining the terror of your clock's alarm not going off was enough to keep you awake nights during your first weeks as Morning Show host on your local station. Getting up at 4:30am meant going to sleep at 8:30pm, so who knew what a social life was? But you did it for your new love. Radio.
Still half-asleep after showering, and guided the last leg of the journey by the slowly blinking tower lights, you make your way down the long dusty road to the station. Swinging into the parking lot, your headlights illuminate the early morning fog in the tower field. The damp, sweet, earthy spring air is a little crisp as you walk briskly toward the station’s front door. Now decidedly awake, you’re getting ‘up’ for the show; your mind chugging away on points of possible interest. There were none of today’s ‘show prep’ services, no Internet… and, oh yeah, no partner; you flew solo.
Now, just as when Dorothy’s house landed in Oz, there is a transformation. As you pull open the door, the undisturbed early morning rural chorus is replaced by the abrupt chatter and static from police radios and the rhythmic ‘chum-chum-chum-chum’ of the teletype machine(s) from the newsroom down the hall. The musk of the dew laden grass dissolves into the drier workplace scent of steel furniture, cheap carpeting, oily office machines, pencil shavings, Spray-Nine cleaner and stale cigarette smoke.
A Look Back at Local Radio in the 1960s
By Mike Harrison
Hanging up your jacket, you switch on a few lights as you head back toward the transmitter room. Putting a new page up on the log clipboard and signing in, you hit the transmitter’s FILAMENT button. The big noisy fan cranks up to speed as you walk toward the kitchen area. In the days before Mr. Coffee or 24-hour convenience stores, you cleaned, reassembled and filled a percolator, and then waited 10 minutes for it to perk. Most probably though, you drank instant, then waited for some of the office staff to arrive with some form of solid food.
The next stop is the newsroom. If you weren’t lucky enough to have a newsperson, you’d be thankful that during the night, neither the teletype paper nor ribbon had run out or become jammed. You rip apart the night’s news copy and set aside the items you’ll be needing and then head for the Control Room.
With your news items from the wire and the Program Log in hand, it’s about 5:55 as the dull thump of the thick, heavy studio door tightly closes out the sound from the adjoining area. The soundproofing gives the studio a very hushed and dignified aura. A room where ‘official business’ takes place. The heavily insulated walls retained the unmistakable scent of “Eau de Radio.” The scintillating aroma of hundreds of record albums inside their cardboard jackets; a full new reel of recording tape threaded up on a reel to reel tape machine which, along with the console, was loaded with hot vacuum tubes. Punctuated by the energizing scent of freshly brewed coffee and a dirty ashtray, it was the air of professional broadcasting.
Ever curious, you turn the air monitor way up and, because you haven’t signed-on yet, faintly hear skip signals from other stations on the same frequency… is this one in Kansas? There’s no time to find out, so you turn the monitor back down. Now, in cue, you make sure the network feed is good. You’ll use the network newscast at 7:00, but for now you use the feed to check the accuracy of the studio clock. It’s about 5:58 as you pull the sign-on cart from the rack, slap it into the cart machine and pot it up on the board. You cue up the first record, check the clock, and decide you have time to cue up the second song as well. Now about a minute before six, you reach up to the transmitter’s remote rack and punch PLATE ON. The meters light up and swing into life. Nudging the power up until it reaches normal, you enter your first hour’s transmitter readings on the log you prepared earlier.
It’s now 05:59:30; the network feed is silent. At 59:40 they’ll send a 10-second tone burst. Will the clock be accurate? The :40 tone starts at :43; the clock is three seconds fast. The tone is out at :53, then, at 06:00:03, you hit the sign-on cart. When the sign-on announcement reaches its end, you smile, open the mic and, before you can get a word out, the chair squeaks. “It’s about a minute past 6. Good morning… you’re up early today; glad you could join me…” For the next four to five hours, you’re ambassador, entertainer and informer to the community, and you’ve just invited thousands of people into your home.