Sunday, February 1, 2009

Radio Days

You've come a long, baby. Not just the guy sitting at the control board spinning records on a Christmas morning, but the entire radio industry.
Today they use computers to program entire programs - music from CD's or computers - prerecorded announcements - the whole shmere.
I recall when radio began its big change. It was in the late 1950's or early 1960's. Stations began to get less personal. They'd run a top-forty format and sometimes even automate the programs running records out of a quasi-jukebox machine.
It seemed as if radio had simply become a machine and a lot of the homefolks way of life went down the tubes.
When I was quite small I used to listen to a character by the name of Uncle Don. He'd read out the names of birthday children and in my case, he would tell me to look behind the piano and I would find a special gift. Even in the greater metropolitan New York area there were personal touches like that. I won't describe what took 'Uncle Don' off the air but he said something he shouldn't have when the microphone was still on. There was a very personal way about radio and early television, before the days of tape and CD recordings where you never know from one moment to another when the person or persons on the air would say or do something unexpected. It was a time of spontaneity.
Off and on in days ahead I'll try to expose some of the things I was personally involved with when I worked either full time -- or when I was moonlighting to make an extra buck or two. By the way, my first radio job paid thirty dollars a week putting in long hours writing commercials.
By the time I left full time radio I had graduated to 90 or so dollars a week - which was good money for the time.
The picture above was taken on Christmas morning in 1949. Radio work takes no holidays -
as the old saying goes, 'The show goes on' and dead air in radio doesn't pay the bills. We might have had one non-portable tape recorder - a couple of 16 inch turntables (record players) a control board to switch turntables, control microphones, and to turn on and off inputs from remote locations. It was strenuous work because when a record ended you had to make an announcement, or play a commercial on a recording, and have the next record or commercial ready to 'cue' on one of the turntables. It was real work to stay ahead on the schedule - and you worked from a predetermined schedule that planned ahead every commercial and program.
There was nothing automated unless you had a program on a sixteen inch disc - a program that might last fifteen minutes or a half hour. This included programs like detective stories, or westerns, or music programs by big name bands. Those old sixteen inch transcriptions were a blessing -- they afforded the time to eat a bite or two - or for an urgent pit stop.
At any rate, I'll be sharing some of the adventures I lived through in radio. Hope you'll check in for our next exciting adventure.

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