My Memories of  KCEY
By Eric Rench (Danny Knight)
(Photo 2)

KCEY Production Room April 17, 1975
(Courtesy Eric Rench)
(Photo 3)

KCEY Control Room April 17, 1975
(Courtesy Eric Rench)
This document describes in great detail the three surviving photos that I have of the studios of radio station KCEY, 1390 A.M., in Turlock, California.  These photos were taken during my on-air shift on Thursday, April 17, 1975. 

Feel free to edit as you wish, as this is only the foundation of a book that I plan to write about KCEY, circa 1975.  I assume that the audience will be very small, but I’m writing it more for myself, my children, and my grandchildren… yes, I’m a grandfather!  These writing definitely capture a bygone era of radio, that sadly, will never return.  In writing down my memories,  I hope to bring the glory days of KCEY back to a new generation of radio fans, and disc jockey “wannabees.”  Basically, all I ask is that I receive credit on your web site.  I would also be grateful for links to my personal web sites, although they have nothing to do with KCEY or Modesto radio.

The first two photos describe “Danny Knight,” and the KCEY control room.  The third photo describes the production studio.

I am in the process of writing a “mini book” about my years at KCEY.  This information will be incorporated into the chapters of “Danny Knight,” Control Room, and Production Studio.  You have truly lighted a fire under me!

The control room was small, probably only about 10 by 18 feet or so.  The walls featured that vertically-lined, off sound-absorbing tiles that were so popular with radio stations in the 1970’s, and they were painted flat, dusty, light mustard yellow.  Occasionally, painted highlights could be found, such as the trim around the window just behind the mixing board, that faces the large, unused, studio.  The furniture was made locally, and the counter top was constructed of Formica, in sort of an off-white color.  The floor was tiled with dark brown linoleum, and the metal office chair had dark green, plastic cushioning, and had only for legs, as was common in those days.  The studio was shabby, out-of date, but fairly comfortable and fully functional.

Photo 1

This is a photo of me, Eric Rench, a.k.a. “Danny Knight” on the air in the KCEY control room, during the days when the station was located on Quincy Ave.   I was actually on the air and speaking into the mike, when this photo was snapped by Bob Neutzling, a.k.a. “Bill Martin” and sometimes referred to as “Billy the Kid.”  At the time, Bill was the program director, afternoon jock, and part-time salesman at KCEY.  This photo was taken at 1915, as I recall that I was reading the weather for the “KCEY Weathervane” which always occurred at 00:15 past the hour.  The exact date escapes my memory.


Caravan of
Country Hits
Danny Knight  (Photo 1)
There are some interesting details that are sort of blurred, yet visible in the background of the photo.  To the extreme left of the photo, you’ll notice a rack of equipment.  That is the old automation system that KCEY used before Milt Hall purchased the station, back in the days when they advertised themselves as “The Mighty Casey” and tried to beat KFIV in the top-40 format.  You can’t see it in the photo, but below the control panel there was one of those round carousels that held songs recorded on to standard audio cartridges, a.k.a. “carts,” used in the automation system.  This equipment was not used, and to my knowledge, it wasn’t in operating condition.  During the broadcast day, KCEY was live at all times, with a disc jockey spinning records, playing jingles, promos and spots on carts, and reading “rip and read” news, sports and weather.

Partly visible behind my left ear, you’ll notice an Ampex rack-mounted reel-to-reel tape deck.  KCEY had two of them; the bottom panel just had a piece of sheet metal covering over it.  These tape decks were standard broadcast tape decks and had three speeds:  1-7/8 i.p.s., 3-3/4 i.p.s., and 7-1/4 i.p.s., with a reel capacity of 7-1/2” which was pretty much standard.   We used the tape decks mostly for religious and public service programming on Sunday morning.  We’d receive tapes from various religious organizations as we featured a block of religious programming on Sunday morning from 0600 to 1200; Milt Hall was very religious.  For those who are interested in taped programs, all of the syndicated religious programs would be played at 7-1/2 i.p.s.  I would go live, on-air, spinning the country hits until my relief arrived at 1400.  I didn’t have to be back to work until 1600 the next day, so I had an evening off to hit the bars.

I made quite a few tapes in the production studio of songs played back-to-back with canned announcements, so I could put them on if I had an especially hot “groupie” on the phone, or had other pressing business.  Most of my tapes ran for about 15 minutes or so; you could do that at night as your spot load was low, the program director wasn’t listening, and nobody really cared as long as the records were playing, the spots were getting played, and there was no “dead air.”  As for as the format clock, I ignored it during the rare times I played my “custom” tapes.

The photo shows a tape queued up and ready to play on the top tape deck.  During my evening shift, I always had both decks queued and ready to play, as you never knew when a “hot” woman would call the request line.  Such is the mindset of a young and dumb, 22 year old single guy.

To the right of the mike is the rack that contained the equipment used to control the transmitter.  Using this equipment, you were able to take meter readings every half hour, as required by the F.C.C. at the times, and turn the transmitter on and off.  It also contained control equipment for the private line that KCEY leased from Pacific Telephone that carried the audio feed from the studio to the transmitter, some 15 miles distant.  I have no idea of the speed of the line, as I didn’t know much about telephony in those days, but I DO know that the frequency response was highly upgraded from the typical telephone lines of those days.  I would guess that the audio frequency range was probably from about 100 to 8000 Hz; such for the quality of A.M. radio in the 1970’s!  No wonder F.M. took over for music lovers. 

Anyway, we took meter readings, which consisted of plate voltage, amp readings and phase angles and entered the data into an engineering log.  Just like station identifications, this data had to be read and entered into the log at 00:00 and 00:30, plus or minus 2 minutes in order to comply with F.C.C. regulations.  You entered the data into a paper log using a ball point pen.

KCEY operated at the power of 5000 watts day and night.  We had a three-element array, arranged in the shape of a 30-60-90 triangle located about 15 miles east of Turlock, near the small community of Montpelier.  Our antenna patterns were directional, both day and night,so to be a jock on KCEY you required to have a valid F.C.C. First Class Radiotelephone License.

During the day, we used two of our antennas and broadcast in a pattern that protected KFIV, 1360, in nearby Modesto.  Our main lobe radiated to the southeast, but we had a minor lobe that narrowly Modesto and broadcasted our signal to the west; during the day, KCEY could clearly be heard in San Francisco.

Things got interesting at night, as we used all three towers to beam our main lobe shifted directly west, we had a minor lobe, probably with an e.r.p. of only a few watts, that broadcast our signal to the east.  Naturally, Turlock and southern Modesto received KCEY’s signal with full strength, as did the dairy farmers to the west, who religiously tuned us in as they were milking their cows, which was a good thing, as KCEY and Modesto were our main source of revenue.  But since our signal was focused west, it wasn’t unusual for us to receive QSL card requests from listeners in New Zealand, Australia, and all over the South Pacific Ocean.  Since I was an amateur radio operator, and a broadcast band DX-er (Did I pick the ideal occupation??)  I usually volunteered the job of replying to the verification requests.  We didn’t have a station QSL card, so I just typed up a verification letter on the IBM Selectric typewriter, on KCEY stationary, that was located in the front office, on Terri Theis’s (a.k.a. June Day; more on her later) desk.  Sometimes Milt would spring for postage, sometimes he wouldn’t.  I can remember many times when I paid for postage out of my own pocket; such as the identity that I felt for broadcast band DX-ers.

To regress, I got interested in broadcast band DX-ing at the young age of I-can’t-remember, using a 5-tube superhet receiver, but I was probably all of about 6 years old, as I can vividly remember jocks, call letters and formats from the late 1950’s, when I was just a little kid.  Later, I got into ham radio and earned the Novice call of WN6WLD at the age of 12; let the call die as I discovered GIRLS, but came back as N6MPM a few years later.  Just for the record, I’m WS6L and have been that way since 1985.  So during my days at KCEY, I was always happy to receive the DX reports, check them against the engineering and program logs, and happily issue a verification report.  I really enjoyed that duty.  By the way, most of that duty I performed while on the air, playing a record.

Photo  2 KCEY Control Room

This is where it gets good, as this is the control room of KCEY, showing the board and many of the conveniences that the jock on the air had available to him.  The word “him” is not meant to be “sexist,” as aside from June Day’s spots and promos, all of the on-air staff was male.  Keep in mind this was in the mid-1970’s.  Also note that the clock to the right of the photo reads 10:02 P.M. so the photos were taken while I was “on-air,” and on duty. 

I’ll start at the left-bottom corner of the photo and work around upward, and clockwise.  After taking a tour of a modern radio station control room the other day,  (KCCL 101.9 FM) KCEY’s control room looks like it belongs in a museum.  I have to be honest that when these photos were taken, KCEY’s equipment was old, and well-used, even by 1975 standards.  When they moved to their new studios in 1978, the station was equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.

In the bottom left corner, there’s a Motorola microphone attached to the console.  KCEY used to equip their vehicles with two-way radios for news reports and actualities, but by the time I came to the station, this equipment had long fallen into disuse.  The radio was mounted under the desk, and it was actually an old G.E. “Progress Line” rig from the early 1960’s, that transmitted on the VHF “high” business band.  I never did find out what frequency KCEY had used, as I wasn’t all that interested.

Next to the microphone is the panel where the stations’ phone lines appeared.  KCEY had one request line, which was 209 632-1390 and five business lines; the numbers I don’t recall.  If you wanted to dial out, you pushed the button of the line you wanted, waited for dial tone, and dialed the number on the rotary dial.  No touchtone pads in Turlock in 1975!  Only the request line and the “main” number were published in the phone book, and the extra lines were mostly used by the sales staff to make calls.  As customary with most radio stations of the era, one line was a “hot line” unpublished, and super secret, that was only used when one staff member wanted to contact the on-air personality.  When you saw the light blink of the “hot line” you answered immediately.  You just answered the line by saying “hello,” just in case you got a wrong number.  No called ID in those days either!

The second rotary dial was for the request line, 209 632-1390 (1390 was our frequency in KHz; cute…) and it only appeared in the control room.  When receiving a call, it didn’t light a light above the microphone like the other lines did; it emitted a “buzzzz-buzzzzz” each time the line would ring.  If you were on the air and you were talking without any music or other sound effects, it could faintly be heard, although I doubt any of the listeners noticed it, such was the fidelity of A.M. radio in 1975.

Now I LOVED the request line, as I was 23 and very single, and that was the line that the “groupies” called on.  I’ll talk more about the request line in another chapter, as I’m trying to discuss the technical details of the control room.  Actually, I was the only dj that liked the request line, as the others tolerated it, at best.  Bill Martin (Bob Neutzling) hated it so much that he always took it off the hook.  The telephone switching equipment wasn’t electronic, so the mechanical equipment wouldn’t busy out the line automatically if it detected an off-hook condition like the switching equipment does today.  So when Bill was on the air, and a listener attempted to phone in a request, he or she would receive endless rings until their patience was exhausted and they hung up.

Directly above the telephone equipment, on the console, is where the number 1 and number 2 turntables were installed.  KCEY had a total of 3 turntables and number 3 is on the right side of the console, just in front of the stack of cart machines.  KCEY’s turntables were broadcast-standard, manual turntables, with speeds of 33 and 45 rpm.  The switches to turn them on and off were located on the console, just under the pot on the mixing board that corresponded to the particular turntable.  If you’ll look closely at the photo, you’ll notice a 45 rpm record is playing on the number 2 turntable, and another 45 rpm record is cued-up and ready to play on number 3.

About 75% percent of the music we played was on 45s, and the remainder, mostly “oldies” was on 33.  To always ensure the turntable was on the correct speed (you can’t believe how easy it was to forget to change the speed!) I always had number 1 set to 33 rpm, and numbers 2 and 3 to 45.  I don’t recall of ever starting a record on the wrong speed at KCEY, so my system worked for me. 

Above the first turntable, and to the far left of the photo, about 75% of the way up, you can see a stack of records.  The current playlist of 45 rpm records were contained in heavy paper sleeves, and housed in the rack at about a 30-degree angle which kept the record in the sleeve when it wasn’t being played, yet provided easy access for the jock.  Besides the current playlist, the rack contained each jock’s weekly “Pick of the Pickins’.”  I will go into great detail in the chapter “Format and Music” when I get around to writing it.

To the right of the record bin, is the rack which contained the pre-recorded commercials that were the lifeblood of the station, recorded on carts.  The carts for the intros and station jingles were stacked on top of the cart machines, and you could usually find them, if you were lucky. The sales had made it easy for us, as they had standardized the spots to either 30 or 60 seconds; the vast majority of spots were the 30 second version.  This cart rack did not revolve, like a “lazy Susan,” as it was stationary.  It was homemade, and painted the typical KCEY orange.

To those who aren’t familiar with “carts,” dj-jargon for cartridges, I’ll talk a little bit about them.  They were about the same size as an 8-track tape, the de-facto standard for boomboxes in 1975, and they looked similar on the outside, but that’s where the similarity ended.  Naturally they were built to broadcast standards, as they had to endure a lot of punishment from the jocks, and were frequently thrown against the wall during a temper tantrum!  I guess they must have been constructed to “mil-spec” standards, as about the only way to break one of them was to throw it on the floor and stomp on it!  The cars used for the 30-second spots had a 40-second loop of tape on it, and the 60-second carts had 70 seconds of tape on them.  The carts would cue themselves up only a few seconds after the spot ended, so you could reuse the cart machine if you needed to, if there was a heavy load of commercials, which frequently happened during the holidays or the days ramping up to an election.  KCEY also had a few carts in oddball times, such as 20 seconds, 120 seconds and 300 seconds.  I managed to acquire a few of the 20-second carts that I would use on my show for “drop-ins” as I’ve always been a fan of surprising the audience.  More on that subject in another chapter…

Taped to the wall, behind the cart machine, is a crude, hand-lettered sign of the local communities served by KCEY.  Naturally, most of the towns were located in Stanisluas County, but we had quite a few listings in Tulolumne County, to the east, and a few in neighboring San Joaquin and Merced Counties.  Every once in a while, you were supposed to say a line like “KCEY, serving the BIG Valley and the town of Patterson…” or something similar.  The Halls thought it made the listeners identify with us a local station, or something like that.

In the center of the photo is the mixing board, which was where everything came together in the KCEY control room.  All audio peripherals were fed into the board, and all levels were adjusted, using pots, which are the large, round knobs seen in the photo of the board.  The board is a Gates 10-channel broadcast mixing board, state of the art around 1965, but somewhat dated, although very functional, during my stay at KCEY.  The board was painted in a gunmetal grey, with darker grey highlights, clearly seen in the photo.  The 10th channel wasn’t used, and the knob had been removed.  I understood that the 10th channel fed the audio from the other 9 channels into the primitive compressor/limiter, which compressed the audio to the proper frequencies before being multiplexed to the phone line.  Note from the single meter located at the center of the board that this was a monophonic mixing board, which was very typical for A.M. radio in the mid 1970’s.

The pots were numbered, 1 to 9, from left to right, and were assigned as following:

#1:  Microphone, the big ol’ Shure mike hung up in the upper center of the photo.
#2:  Phone patch, which was seldom, if ever used.  Reportedly, it was formally used for live news events, in conjunction with the defunct V.H.F. radio, but I was never used during my time at KCEY, and I didn’t have a clue of how to use it.
#3:  Turntable number 1; note the on/off switch below the pot
#4:  Turntable number 2; note the on/off switch below the pot
#5:  Turntable number 3; the back of the chair hides the on/off switch
#6:  Cart machine #1, which is the bottom one in the stack of three
#7:  Cart machine #2, which is the middle one in the stack
#8:  Cart machine #3, the top cart machine
#9:  Reel-to-Reel Decks:  You could only operate one of them at a time, so there was a A/B switch to switch between decks.  Creatively, you found ways to work around that limitation during times when tape decks were used for programming.

I honestly wish I could remember what the function of the many switches located above the pots, but my memory escapes me.

To the center of the board, and above it, is the big, Shure microphone, a direct product of the 1950’s.  It’s mounted on a gooseneck, with its connecting cable wrapped around the gooseneck, and the arrangement allowed the dj to adjust the mike just about any way he wanted to.  I always preferred the “close mike” technique, so I liked to adjust the mike so I was almost kissing it.  I used the “kiss the mike technique” that one of my earliest mentors had taught me.

On the mixing board, just above the row of switches, the engineering staff had mounted a sort of continuous rack, where printed information could be displayed.  In the photo, the material on the left is unidentified, but in the center there is a clear, plastic envelope that holds the latest weather.  The book to the right contains public service announcements, station promos and the few commercials that were to be read by the dj.

The window directly behind the board and the mike opens to an unused studio, that at one time hosted on-air broadcasts, as evident by the piano and organ that were in the room.  During my time at KCEY, this room wasn’t used, and hadn’t been used for broadcasting for many years.  KCEY used it for storage as there were many cardboard boxes neatly stacked up along the walls that contained station records and other paperwork.  Spare parts and broken equipment was also stored in this room. 

Just above the window, to the left, look closely in the photo, and you’ll see the music format clock.  This will be the subject of a complete chapter, as I plan to write many pages about the music that KCEY played, the format, and the format clock.  Simply said, the “clock” was a circle, which represented an hour, divided into pie-shaped slices.  Each “slice” was a time period corresponding to the time of the hour.  For example, the “KCEY Weathervane,” which was the local weather report, was read at 00:15 after the hour, therefore there was a slice of the clock that reflected it.  The “KCEY Sports Scoreboard” aired at 00:45, and was on the clock, as was the Mutual Network news on the bottom of the hour.  The rest of the clock represented the music according to category, e.g. current, dj picks, newer “oldies,” oldlies, and very old oldies.  I’ll be talking in great detail about KCEY’s clock in future chapters.

Every radio station that I ever worked at had a “clock” to some degree.  Naturally, the clock was a closely guarded secret and would be removed even during a visit of a casual visitor.  However, to the trained ear, it wasn’t difficult to figure out a station’s clock after listening to the station for a few hours.  Many radio stations, particularly those who played rock music, had a slightly different clock according to the time of day, as it was reasoned that the older audience was watching TV in the evening, therefore a lot of “Top-40” rock stations would slip in an album cut or two during evening and night time hours.  KCEY’s format was country, and the clock never changed.

The paper attached to the wall above the public service announcement book is the latest memo from management.  The Halls were always very good communicators to the staff, and the doors to their offices, particularly Milt’s, were always open.  The memos were about anything and everything, but mostly concerned station operations.  I’ll never forget a memo that was very general and directed toward the entire on-air staff, but in fact it was a very thinly-veiled memo aimed specifically at me.  The subject of the memo addressed that you should be a good ambassador and representative of the station to listeners, attempt to play requests whenever possible, but not to encourage groupies.  I got a laugh out of that.  Pretty soon the memo sported all sorts of graffiti concerning some of my extracurricular activities.

You can’t miss the large clock on the wall behind the stack of cart machines.  Note that it reads 10:03 P.M., so between the record playing on the left and the time on the clock, this photo was taken while I was on the air.  The clock had to be very accurate, down to the second, as we needed accurate time in order to back-time into the Mutual News at the bottom of the hour.  I’ll talk more about back-timing in another chapter.

Near the middle right hand side of the photo is the stack of 3, Sparta play-only cart machines.  During the 1970’s, many broadcast stations used Sparta machines as they were simple, reliable and less expensive than their chief rival, Harris.  Like the turntables, each cart machine had a button below its pot on the board that you pressed to start a cart.  The switches were fast, reliable and absolutely silent, so you could start a cart when you were talking on the air, and the listeners wouldn’t hear a “click.”  Some djs were of the “old school” and preferred to press the button on the front of the deck; you had that option if you wanted.  Three cart machines were adequate, but a fourth would have been much better, as even with three machines, occasionally you had to do some juggling of the carts.

As I’ve mentioned before, KCEY did not have any of their music on cart, like a lot of radio stations did.  During my spare time, I dubbed a couple dozen songs, mostly oldies onto cart, and kept a few of them handy, in case I forgot to cue up a record, or I was just lazy.  I also managed to dub onto reel-to-reel tape a few “mini-programs” where I would play several songs, and make announcements as if I was live on the air.  Due to the constraints of our format clock, about the longest segment I could air would be about four songs, and then I could only play these late at night when the boss wasn’t listening and the spot load was light.  I made these tapes so I could have a few extra minutes in case something came up, or if I just was bored.

Note the stack of carts on top of the stack of cart machines.  Those are station jingles and the intros to the “Weathervane” and “Sports Scoreboard.”  There really wasn’t an official place to store these jingles, so they ended up on top of the cart machines.  I guess that was as good of a place as any to store them.

At the base of the bottom cart machine are a stack of 5 carts.  Most djs, myself included, would pull their spots from the cart rack and stack them up in the order that they were called for on the program log.  Depending on the spot load, you would pull your spots by the half hour, or the hour.  Naturally, this activity was performed when I record was playing.  Looking at the photo there are only 5 carts and the clock says that it’s only 3 minutes past the top of the hour; I would guess that I only had 5 spots during the 10 – 11:00 P.M. hour.  In fact it could be the remaining spots until station sign-off time at midnight, as I liked to pull carts as far in advance as possible.

The piece of paper on the desk, with the pen is the program log.  KCEY’s secretary, Terry Theis, a.k.a. “June Day” was responsible for putting in the spots in the time slot that the client had paid for, and the log entry gave the spot’s name and the number of the cart, which was stored in the cart rack, to the left.  After the spot was played, the dj would check it off and write in the time the spot was aired.  The spots were typed in the log by Terry, using the IBM “Selectric” typewrite at her desk, but the jocks would check off the logs using a ball-point pen.  More on the program log in another chapter.

Just to the right of the carts, note the ash tray with a pipe resting on it.  Today, how many workplaces allow you to smoke?  Throwing all health concerns aside, in today’s computerized, microprocessor-dominated, electronic world, can you imagine smoking in a modern radio station control room?  In KCEY’s control room, the cart machines were transistorized, but all other equipment utilized vacuum tubes.  By the way, I quit smoking for good in 1982.

You can’t really see it, but there is a Ľ” headphone jack on the right side of the vertical surface, where we’d plug in our headphones.  I always preferred the smaller, lightweight mono headsets, as they were compact and easy to get on and off.  It seemed like I was always forgetting to put my headphones on until the last minute, and I even went on-air a few times without my headphones.

Number three turntable appears to the right of the photo.  I always kept the speed at 45 rpm, so I’d never start a record at the wrong speed.

In the extreme lower right of the photo, there are two stacks of 45 rpm records, in their sleeves.  These are “oldies” that I had pulled from the record library to play, and I used to sort them out by time, as it always seemed that I needed a record of short duration as I was back-timing into the news at the bottom of the hour.  The stack of records to the left are under 2:10, the ones to the right are longer.  In 1975, it wasn’t hard to find country records that were quite short, as the era of the 3-minute country song was just beginning.  More on the format and the music in another chapter…

That’s it, a tour of the KCEY control room, circa April, 1975.

Photo 3

KCEY’s production studio.  I didn’t spend nearly as much time here as I did in the control room, so I can’t provide as many details.

The production studio was located next to the control room, and was separated only by a door.  Supposedly, the production studio could be pressed into action as the control room, in the event of a catastrophic failure of the control room, which never happened in the years that I was employed by KCEY.  Everybody said it was just a matter of grabbing records, commercials, moving next door, and throwing a switch that was in the control room.  However, with only two turntables, two reel-to-reel tape decks and two cart machines, it would have been interesting to be forced to broadcast from the production studio.

The mixing board was in-house-made; a nice way to say homemade, by a previous engineer who I never met and never even knew his name.  That large box sitting on top of the board, on the right-hand side is a phone patch, but I never had the opportunity to use it, so I can’t provide details of its operation.