As a veteran of early 1960’s radio, I sometimes find myself amazed at the current state of radio operations. Of course, I haven’t actually been inside a radio station for decades, but judging by what I glimpse in magazine articles or on TV, modern operations are fully computerized — sometimes even automated — and in many cases programmed from remote sources.
Quite a contrast to the days when America was populated by thousands of small radio stations, many of them one-man operations for long stretches of the day. I worked at a couple of those, and even the larger of the two was still pretty small potatoes. I’m sure our listeners in those days would have been surprised to know what was sometimes going on behind the scenes.
A good example would be our news operation, which consisted mostly of the DJ reading obituaries from the local newspaper. I do remember that we had a news teletype machine for a while after I started, but it disappeared. This was a period of extreme belt-tightening for the station (which might have been why I was hired, considering my low wages) and the owner decided that local folks weren’t interested enough in news for him to pay the fees.
We also used the newspaper to get the weather forecast, although we did add on the current temperature — but that created another problem. Our studio was a converted room with soundproofing covering the windows, except for a small opening through which we could see a thermometer mounted outside. Unfortunately it was often in the sun, and we reported temperatures much higher than they should be. How did we know that? Because we discovered we could see the real temperature on the bank sign across the street. It was a problem that kind of solved itself though, because we started ignoring our own and using the one from the bank.
I guess our listeners really didn’t care what was going on as long as the music kept pouring out of the radio, and it usually did. They probably also had no idea that some of the songs had both regular and “broadcast” versions, with the occasional word bleeped out. It’s nothing compared to what goes on these days, but there was one word in one song that mystified me for years until I finally heard the regular version. It was the Kingston Trio singing “Greenback Dollar.” (What was the word? It wasn’t even that bad! Look in the next sentence, or watch the video at the bottom, which includes the word.)
One thing I know for sure — we kept damn busy. Since our sales guy had disappeared about the same time as the teletype, the owner was out scratching for ad sales, so most of the time the DJ was pretty much the whole operation. This entailed a lot more work than you might think. In addition to selecting and playing the music, I had a studio log to keep current and a programming notebook to follow. It included commercials to be read, announcements, reminders to periodically announce the call letters, and the schedule for reading the meters.
Reading the meters on a specific schedule was required by the FCC, which also required that the DJ be licensed to do so in a responsible manner. I don’t know how responsible I was, but I was definitely licensed and I dutifully read the dials on the huge transmitter cabinet, which was kept in another room because of the heat it generated. I then filled out the transmitter log (not to be confused with the studio log mentioned earlier). Of course, that had to be done – quickly — while a record was playing. As did visiting the bathroom, but that’s another story.