I read an interesting article about favorite music for each of us this morning. It states that for women, their favorites when they were 13, for men that age is 14.
So that means, my favorite artists should be the likes of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Johnny Horton, Lloyd Price, Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, The Browns, The Fleetwoods, Santo & Johnny, Ritchie Valens, The Platters, The Everly Brothers, Dion and the Belmonts, The Crests, Brook Benton, Connie Francis, Pat Boone and The Drifters. I admit that they are some of my favorites. But for me, there is another group of favorites that came along later in the 60’s; The Beatles, The Stones, Aretha, Jerry and the Pacemakers, Billy Joe Royal, Tommy James and the Shondells, Linda Ronstadt, Dusty Springfield, The Motown Sound (The Supremes, The Miracles, The Temptations and The Four Tops,) Steppenwolf, The Doors, The Byrds, Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts, Lulu, Peter and Gordon and many more. In fact this latter group of favorites is bigger and more prominent in my memories that the earlier group in my memories.
So, if you were to chart my favorite tunes by year you would have one that looks like a suspension bridge with two towers, one for each peak. But like that bridge there are a lot of tunes before and after the peaks that make up my personal favorite’s list. According to the author of the article, my chart is different. That is appropriate; I am a bit different too. That second tower is situated squarely in the middle of my first job in radio, spinning the tunes at WCOS. I was living in the middle of the music of that time more than any other in my life.
I remember having a conversation with a co-worker a few years ago about music favorites. She was born in ’69 and her favorite period for music was the early 80’s. Note the 13 year old theory indicates that her peak year would be 1982. So we have anecdotal corroboration of the theory.
I would like to add my corollary to this theory. It states that as you go back in time from the date of your birth that every 10 years or so, you would have a minor hump. For the lack of a truly scientific name I call this the “Music Generational” hump. Personally, I have an affinity for the music that my parents loved; Benny Goodman – “Swing Swing Swing”, Frankie Laine – “Moonlight Gambler” and songs by Patti Page, Debbie Reynolds, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and many more of that time. According to that theory, I came to love those songs by listening along with my parents in the living room or in the car while growing up.
When I went back on the air in 2007 at WUSC-FM on the campus of the University of South Carolina, I was often astounded when an 18 – 21 year old student would walk in and tell me that my music brought back happy memories for them. When I asked them about how they could remember those songs when they were so young, they responded that Mama and Daddy loved those songs and that is how they heard them. There was a period a few years ago when that didn’t happen so much, but lately, it’s happening again; only it not Mom and Dad but Grandma and Granddad. This peak is not as strong as the one ten years ago but it is early in the cycle. We shall see.
The other thing that they remember is the radio experience of the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. As you may remember, the DJ style was very different from what it is today. There was a much stronger flow to the show with the DJ starting to talk over the tail of the song that was ending and then talking over the instrumental head of the song that was just beginning to play, ending the moment before the vocalist sang his or her first word. This practice had a name; “Walking up the record and hitting the post.” There are few DJs today that can still do that. The commercials of the day were delivered in that fast paced, strident style and then there were the jingles. THE JINGLES! The most popular jingles of the times came out of a pair of companies in Dallas Texas; Pams and Pepper-Tanner. They eventually merged but their short tunes were burnt into our memories as deeply as the number one songs on the charts.
Now in all honesty, I’m not one of those of a certain age that think that everything that came out after 1975 is no good. I do like certain tunes from the 80’s and the 90’s and even some from this millennium. There are some good songs coming out even today. But they don’t call to me as strongly as “my songs” do. At a risk of being called a curmudgeon, there are a couple of things that I detest in modern music. The first is Autotune. Its artifacts make me grind my teeth. The second is the tendency of many of today’s acts to use synthesizers instead of real instruments. This is usually a cost cutting measure, but to me, you can’t beat a real horn band or a full orchestra. I love my sax and violins.
So, if you are reading this, Google the top 100 songs of the year you were 13 (or 14 if you are a guy) I bet you will be able to remember every song on the list, and even sing most of them from beginning to end. Oh MY!
Today dawned rainy and cool; one of those perfectly miserable winter days when it is too yucky to step out of doors. There is a cold front knocking on the door and it will pass later today. The good news is that it will be about 10 degrees warmer than yesterday, if you can call 57 degrees good news.
When I first started working part time at WCOS back in ’65 I had a two block walk from my dorm at the University of South Carolina up Sumter Street to the studios in the Cornell Arms Apartments. On days like this, I would wrap up in my London Fog raincoat and umbrella and think how lucky I was that I was not working for WNOK where some of my college buddies were. They had a much longer 8 block walk.
I was working the weekend shifts on Saturday and Sunday evenings just before the All Night Satellite with April Black. When it was really cold and rainy, April would always admonish her listeners to “Watch out for the freezy skid stuff!” I am sure that Brylkreem loved the free plug. Their tag line at the time was “Watch out for the greasy kid stuff!” I must admit that once in a while back in those days I stole April’s line on snowy winter days.
Little did I know that within a few months, April would take her leave of “The WCOS Good Guys” and I would be promoted to full time status taking over the overnight show. By this time I have moved from the dorm to an apartment on the other side of campus and no car, my treck to the station had lengthened to six blocks. On rainy days, despite my best efforts I would arrive at the station with wet feet and soaked trousers up about a foot from my shoes. I would kick off my shoes and place my feet, wet socks and all, directly on the hot water heated floor. Ahhh - by time I started the second hour of the show I was dry and rarin’ to go. It was a good thing that the on air side of the station was covered in vinyl tile that was kept clean by our maintenance guy. My socks never got dirty, as long as I was careful around the teletype machines that spit ink droplets and paper dust all around.
A year later, I was promoted again to the evening time slot, the Doug Broome’s Nightbeat Show. It was a good thing that I had bought my first car, a lime green 1964 Plymouth. Yeah, I did say lime green; you could see me coming for miles. Now I had to drive up to the station and park at a meter in front of the Cornell Arms or in one of the spaces in the parking lot beside the building that was vacated by the day staff. I would pick up the rack of 45’s that made up the Top 60 in Dixie, later the WCOS Fun 40, the latest news and weather copy and the cartridges with the commercial spots that would run that evening.
All of this would go into a large cardboard box in which the paper for the teletype machines was shipped to us. On rainy days this box was a problem. It did not have a cover; the top of the box was cut off so that the fanfold paper could be fed directly out of the box and into the teletype. The best I could do was to cover our precious supplies with newspaper and run hunchbacked to the car. This time, no umbrella so the London Fog was the only protection we had. If it was raining really hard, the newspaper would be soggy by the time I got it to the car and I would have to pull it out of the box before it soaked the copy, carts and records below.
Fortunately, the space behind the radio booth out at the Two Notch Road location of the drive in restaurant was reserved for the DJ, leaving just a few quick steps from the car to the booth in the cold rain. Nevertheless, I was usually soaked again. So the raincoat was hung on the coat-rack next to the heater and it and I began our drying out process. The floor out at the booth was not nearly as clean as the one in the studio so my shoes stayed on. It sure was a good thing that our engineers made certain that all the equipment was properly grounded as otherwise we could have had a shocking incident.
Unfortunately cold rainy weather had a big impact on the audience that kept the traffic moving between us and the booths of the other radio stations moving. Winter rain kept the numbers down to a couple dozen cars driven by the hardcore “cruisers.” Summer was a little better but winters were hard. We did not have a request phone line out at the booth so these “cruisers” were the main source of the requests we got during the night. The car hops loved rainy evenings though. They were not supposed to make requests, leaving it up to the paying audience. On these nights, they were free to bring their own requests. If the rain wasn’t too bad I would even get requests from the car hops and waitresses working in the A & W Root Beer next door and the Burger King across the street.
After the MLK assassination on April 4, 1968, the city declared a 6 PM to 6 AM curfew and we moved the show back to the studios in the Cornell Arms. I sure did miss getting the requests in person and chatting with the folks who brought them, but I now had access to the request line and started doing at least one Instant Request per half hour. I have to admit that I had a love/hate relationship with the Instant Request. It is easy to say why I loved them; they gave me a direct connection with the audience. The hate part is that it was a very stressful minute or so. You had to be able to find and queue up a record while talking to the person making the request live on the radio. Add to that, given that there was no delay/drop circuit back then, there was no way to delete an inappropriate caller comment. This was a bigger danger the later it got. I was fortunate in that I never got burned, but I was listening when some other DJ’s did.
It is a never ending source of amazement to me, that some of the folks I met via the Instant Request are still listening to me now. When I think of that, I realize that the role of the Top 40 radio station and the DJs that made them all work is very different from the role modern DJs have today. It is not just the style, it is also the substance. Music and Radio played a much bigger part of the average teenager and young adult than it does today.
In the morning rain or shine, I’ll grab my “Air Computer” filled with over 20,000 oldies, sweepers and liners, and drive down to the USC campus, park in the garage and walk up the hill and across the same patio where I used to do remotes for WUSC AM back in the day. I have a protected path for all but about 50 yards of the way. But, I have a much bigger umbrella than I did back in the day so I won’t get nearly as wet as I used to. Besides, if I do get wet, I’ll have my Rockin’ Socks on. Oh MY!
1957 was one of those watershed years in radio. Most of the stations were doing live shows with actors and / or live orchestras. Rock and roll was in its infancy. Big Band, swing, jazz Country and Western and what we now call standards were the 300 pound musical gorillas on the radio. There were some stations playing blues and Rhythm and Blues.
Music radio where DJs played records was just starting to replace radio plays and the live bands primarily as a cost savings effort. The early DJs had a huge collection of records to choose from; literally thousands of choices. They came in an hour or so before the show to prepare by pulling the records and albums that they were going to play on their show that day. 45 RPM records with just one “A” side song on them were just coming into their own.
Out in the Midwest, Todd Storz, the owner of a small chain of stations was sitting in a bar with his station manager Bill Stewart. They observed that the patrons of that bar put money into a 40 song juke box all day long to listen to the same songs over and over. The thing that amazed them was at the end of the day, the waitresses put their tip money into the machine to listen to those songs they heard all day one more time before heading home. They tried the idea of the top 40 the first time on KOWH in Omaha. The DJs objected strongly and some of them even resigned. But the audience loved it. And Top Forty Radio was born.
It spread like wildfire across the country, picking up jingles, and high energy DJ’s along the way. No longer were records announced completely in golden tones before the first note played. Now the DJs talked over the intros to the songs; “walking up the records and hitting the post.” Their voices pitched up and tempos matching the rock and roll beat coming off the turntables. Even the news has a rock and roll tempo to it. Instead of the usual 15 minute newscasts common in the day, we heard a five minute newscast at the top of the hour and a 2 ½ minute headlines on the half hour. Some stations in order to be playing music when their competition was doing news moved the top of the hour news cast up five minutes with the idea that the news would end with a station ID and then an up tempo “kicker” song that would carry the audience into the longer music segment.
It took a while to understand why this worked; it was against the standard wisdom of most of the radio programmers of the time. The answer was that the listening habits of the American radio audience were changing. No one listened to the radio for hours on end anymore. Television had captured those folks. The radio listener usually listened for a half hour to an hour. And more and more, they were listening in their cars as they commuted to and from work. The shorter playlist meant that the individual listener was more likely to hear the most popular songs on the Top Forty Stations than those who stuck with the longer playlists.
The other thing that came with Top Forty was audience participation. Contests and open Request Lines were the most popular ways to get audience participation. And if you could get the listener’s name on the air it was all the better.
At WCOS, where I was spinning tunes from the “Top 60 in Dixie” in the late 1960s, we did a show remotely from Doug Broome’s drive ins. In the early 60s, it was from a broadcast booth on the roof of his location at Main and Confederate. The kids in the cars would pass their requests to the waitresses on scraps of paper, notebook pages or even napkins complete with a splotch of mustard or ketchup. The waitresses would gather them in bunches and then one of them would climb the stairs to the booth and give them to the DJ. By the late 60s, we learned our lesson so when we moved out to the location on Two Notch near Beltline, we built the radio booth at the end of the first row of teletrays. During my shows out there, I don’t think I ever sat in the air chair more than a minute or so. I was always stepping across the 12 by 14 room to answer the knock on the door. We got a lot of requests from the “Cool Cats and Hot Kitties” at that door, but it seemed to me that there were more coming from the “Hot Kitties” especially earlier in the evening. Hey, I’m not complaining! The other thing we did around that time was to reduce the “Top 60 in Dixie” to the “WCOS Fun 40”
But the thing that drove the ratings was the “Instant Request!” When the instant request jingle hit the air, all three phone lines in the studio lit up almost simultaneously. We would put the lucky third caller on the air live and let them tell everyone who they were and what song they wanted to hear. One thing we noticed almost immediately was that a group of listeners got lucky more than the others. At first, we thought it might be a function of what telephone exchange they were in. Did those in the “Alpine” exchange have an advantage over the others? Somebody finally spilled the beans that those “lucky” callers were dialing all but the last digit of our phone number and holding it until they heard the jingle. We leveled the playing field by putting all of our call in lines on hold until we started the jingle and then releasing them and taking the third caller. Sure enough, the rest of the audience started getting their requests answered more often.
The other thing that we realized was that our audience changed by demographics and listening style by show “daypart.” The morning (6 AM – 10 AM) and afternoon (4 PM – 7PM) drive time audiences were the most mobile, the most male, and listened for the shortest time. The midday show (10 AM – 4PM) was mostly stationary at home and mostly female and listened for longer stretches of time. The evening show (8PM – 1 AM) was pretty much evenly divided into students listening at home while doing homework and those out cruising in their cars between drive ins where they would order their burgers, fries and chocolate shakes and make their requests.
The oddball shift was the overnight shift. In the case of WCOS, that was the “All Night Satellite.” It was sponsored by the Taylor Street Pharmacy, the only 24 hour pharmacy in town. They played the show over speakers in the pharmacy at night. That was my first full time show at WCOS, having taken over when April Black left radio. For most of that shift, WCOS Radio was the only station on the air. So my audience was the most diverse; composed of our normal listeners and those from the R&B, and Country stations as well. They tended to listen for hours on end as they worked and not make as many requests as the audiences of the other shows did.
The average length of a Top 40 song back then was 2 minutes and 30 seconds. That meant that it was possible to play 18-20 songs an hour depending on the commercial load. So it was easy to play the same song twice or even three times per 5 hour shift. The thing that amazed me was that I would often get a request for a song within 15 minutes of playing it. When I asked if they heard it a few minutes ago, the answer was “Yea Man – hit me again!” So old Todd Storz got it right out there in Omaha!
I must admit that by the time some songs spent 10 – 12 weeks on the chart, I was pretty tired of them. Those “up and comers” and “golden oldies” chart extras were pretty attractive to me. On the plus side of the register, I was so familiar with the songs on the chart that “hitting the post” or otherwise interacting with a particular song was a piece of cake. Some stations would mark the length of the intro on their records but we never did that. Even today, I can still remember how long the intro is; not so much in seconds but as to how many “beats” I have until the “post.”
In the morning I’ll walk into the On Air Studio at WUSC-FM with some 20,000 oldies at my beck and call, I’ll do my level best to play 40 of them during the two hour show! But I will have only 6 -10 songs in the queue, usually songs that I have not played there before. The rest of the show I’ll go where the music and the requests take me. That is the old school way. Not quite the same as my Top Forty days but close enough. If it is a normal day, half of the songs I play will be requests. That is just the way it was and ever should be. Oh MY!
I bet you are thinking about stained glass now, all held together by solder beaded up all nice and pretty. But that is not what I am talking about.
Back in the day when equipment with tube chassis filled with wires soldered from one tube socket to a resistor or capacitor were giving away to transistor based equipment a new thing came along; printed circuit boards (PCB). PCBs electrically connect electronic or electrical components using conductive tracks, pads and other features etched on layers of copper laminated plastic. That old rat’s nest of wires went away. That made life a great deal easier.
Image courtesy of talkingelectronics.comExcept for one thing; you did not have to be a soldering wizard to solder a wire to a tab on a tube socket but you had to be pretty careful when soldering to a circuit board. Also with transistors, you had to be pretty careful about heat. If you heat up a transistor too much you ruin it. So in the late 60’s and early 70’s a plethora of soldering aids came along to help out.
They were legion; “third hands” to hold your work at the best angle to work on, “third hands with sponge” to wipe your soldering iron tip, “third hands with sponge and magnifying glass so you could better see your work. “Solder suckers” were one of the best things to come along; heat the old connection until the solder liquefied and then with a click and a puff and the solder was cleared and you could easily remove the bad component and replace it with a new one.
Now here is where the art meets the technology; if you did it right, you could not tell the new solder joint from the one made by original manufacturer. That was the holy grail of the electronic technician back in the day. The early manufacturers had rows and rows of technicians all dressed in white lab coats soldering the components on the PCBs. Later that gave way to wave soldering machines where the circuit board is passed over a pan of molten solder in which a pump produces an upwelling of solder that looks like a standing wave. As the PCB with the components glued to it made contact with the wave of solder, the components become soldered to the board and the glue was vaporized by the heat.
There was nothing more satisfying back in those days to have your boss pick up a circuit board that you worked on and ask; “Where is the transistor you replaced?” I remember having to replace the decoupling transistors on some Ampex videotape machines (VTR) over and over because of voltage spikes from lightning or manmade causes. This often happened in pressure situations.
My worst pressure related soldering situation occurred on November 21, 1971, a Sunday morning. I was the engineer in charge of Master Control at WIS-TV in Columbia SC. The demolition of the Columbia Hotel was scheduled for 10AM. We were in the middle of our usual local religious programming. A crowd gathered near the demolition site less than two blocks from the station to watch the building demolition. I had loaded the next show on the left hand VTR. The show that was on the air was on the film projector. Bill Roehl one of our most experienced “switchers” was ready to run the station break on the video control board. I had basically nothing to do for the next few minutes so I told him I was going to watch the demolition from the base of our 400 foot tall downtown tower. There was a small door that led from the control room to the roof of the studio that was under the tower.
Fortunately, I left the door open so I could give Bill a “blow by blow” description of the demolition.
Sure enough, right after “H” hour, there was a large boom and the building came down ALMOST perfectly.
Bill interrupted my description, yelling to me that VTR 2 had lost lock and it didn’t look like it was coming back. Boom! I went back through the small door and on the control room floor without touching the three stairs that led to the door. He threw up the “Technical Difficulties” slide as I tried to get the machine to sync up. I quickly realized that was not going to happen, so I rewound the tape and loaded it onto the other VTR machine. Yikes! It would not lock up either. At that time, Bill loaded the next film show on the projector and started it.
I called Tom our “Studio Supervisor” to let him know that we had just lost both tape machines at the same time and began work troubleshooting the first one. I had just determined that the pair of decoupling transistors on the Servo module were blown when Tom blew into the control room. He said, “It’s the decouplers, right?“ as he came through the door. “Yup!” I answered as I broke out the screwdrivers and heat conducting paste. There were 12 modules each containing two of the decoupling transistors in each VTR machine. It took us a little over two hours to change out those 48 transistors. Not too shabby, around 5 minutes per transistor per person. That including un-mounting module from the machine, putting it on the bench and then remounting it after the repairs were made. While it was true that those transistors were mounted on sockets, there was one solder joint that had to be made on each one of them. All the sponsored shows got on that morning, just not in their normal time slots.
After the dust settled and Tom and I had retired to the canteen on the first floor, I asked Tom how he knew it was the decouplers before he even saw the machines and he told me that he was listening to our sister station, WIS Radio on the way in and they reported that some power lines were taken down by debris from the building that fell outside the expected footprint for the demolition. That’s why I said that the building came down ALMOST perfectly.
These days, I can no longer solder like I used to. For one thing with the advent of PCBs with three or more conductive layers laminated together, component level repairs became very difficult in the field. That ushered in the area when board swapping became the way to repair broken equipment. These days, with integrated circuits and onboard processors inside almost every piece of equipment in the studio; the entire piece of equipment is normally replaced instead of repaired. The other impediment to soldering is that I just can’t see the components like I used to. So another small joy is relegated to the past; sitting at the bench and admiring the beauty of a well executed solder joint. Oh MY!
I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was twelve, on Christmas Day, under the tree, Santa had left a record player and three 45 RPM records for my brother and me. The first was Elvis’ "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" backed with "Loving You." The second was Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll.” And finally Pat Boone’s “Love Letters In The Sand”.
Personally, I think Santa had some input from Mom and Dad because the previous year, I had begun to pester them to let me play their records on their Victrola. They were caught up in the CBS 45 RPM frenzy and we did not have any albums or 78 RPM records in the house. Also the record player they gave us played 33 1/3 RPM albums as well. But to my brother and me, it was a 45 RPM world.
It was the same for my friends at school; 45 RPM was where it was at. All the cool cats and hot kitties of the day had those 7 inch vinyl disks with the big hole in the middle. At least we had the big hole in the US. In other countries they had a small hole sometimes with knocks outs for a bigger hole. For me, that big hole became very important.
As it turned out handling records came with some consequences. If you touched the flat sides of a record with bare hands, you left minute traces of oil and grime from your fingers. It didn’t matter if you had just washed your hands or not, there would be a smudge that would gather dust and create noise when the needle passed through it while playing. Careful use of soap and water would take care of that but you stood the risk of ruining the record label if you got it wet. That was a problem. After all, one just did not take a record to a dance party with a ruined label, not cool at all.
Many of the radio stations that played records passed out white cotton gloves to the engineers who actually handled the records so they could play them without putting their hands on them. This was an issue in particular for the larger 78 and 33 1/3 RPM records. You must use both hands in order to touch only the edges of the records and not the grooves.
This is where the 45 RPM’s smaller disk size and larger hole came in. As a twelve year old, I soon discovered that one could handle a 45 with the middle finger and the thumb of one hand. So we didn’t need gloves to protect the grooves. Little did I know how much that discovery would have 6 years later when I started my radio career. I just thought it was cool to be able to do that.
The other cool thing about 45’s was that, at least initially, they had only one track per side. So you didn’t have to read the track listing on the album cover or the record itself, and count tracks to place the needle in the silent space between tracks to hear the song you wanted. This little advance was very important to the radio industry. Before the advent of the 45’s, one of the reason that you had engineers who “ran the board” and played the records was all that extra work it took to play a certain song off the side of an album. 45’s gave rise to the “combo DJ’s” who did all the technical work and announced as well. Since the DJ did not have to coordinate with the engineer in a “presenter/engineer” radio show with hand signals, he or she could “tighten up” the show and interact more with the records, commercials, jingles and all the other program elements that made up a music show back in those days.
This gave rise to some pretty arcane practices like “walking up the record and hitting the post” or inter-reacting with the singer on certain songs. The announcer no longer announced the song you were about to hear, but became part of the performance itself, tying the songs together to tell a story. Sadly, these skills are losing prominence and the cadre of DJs who can still do this are diminishing in number.
I have done both “combo” and “presenter/engineer” radio shows in my day and I can tell you that I greatly prefer the “combo” role.
The down side of the old 45 RPM records in the broadcast environment was a thing called “cue-burn.” This was caused by the practice of finding the first note of the song on the record by placing the needle down and rotating the record until you hear the start of the song. Then the DJ would back the record up manually until the needle was in the groove just a moment before that first note. And that my friends, is how we controlled the moment when you heard that first note.
The problem was that when your play list consisted of only 50 or 60 songs that were less than 3 ½ minutes long and you were on the air 24 hours a day a given record would be played an average of 8 times a day, more for those songs that were higher on the top 40 and less for those that were lower. Still, queuing up a song 56 times per week took its toll on those first few seconds of the song. We had to replace a heavy rotation record every couple of weeks or so. If the record company representative did not leave a spare with us, those records had very noisy starts.
Every now and then, we would get a “pressing” of a song where the hole was off center just a smidge. This would create a “wobble” effect similar to a Leslie Rotating Speaker in some organs or guitar amplifiers. If the song was “hot”, the rep would have to scramble for a replacement disk and that could take some time. I remember one song in particular that took off so quickly that we never got a replacement; “96 Tears” by “? and the Mysterians.” Watching the tone arm of the turntable move back and forth every ¾ of a second was mesmerizing. It wasn’t until 30 years or so after I last played the song on the radio that I heard it without the wobble. I had to learn to like the song all over again, it was that different.
Every old school radio DJ that I know talks about having the same nightmare; the song that is on the air is running out, there is no song queued up on the other turntable, no commercial or jingle is loaded, can’t find the log to find out what to do next, and the program director is behind you yelling at you to “keep it tight!” I used to have the same dream too until ten years ago when I started doing live shows again. But this past week I had a modern variant of the dream; the song that is on the air is running out, the program director is watching me like a hawk and the batteries in my wireless mouse have gone dead and I can’t find the spares. Times have changed and yet they really haven’t changed that much. Oh MY!
Some folks consider Facebook a waste of time, but I see some good things in social media. One of those is the ability for social media to bring long lost memories back to life. I really enjoy the group page “You may be from Columbia, SC if you remember when...” That one always evokes memories from the past.
Last week, my friend Ginny Gayle Boltin posted a link on her personal page to “These 12 Photos of South Carolina In The 1970s Are Mesmerizing” from onlyinyourstate.com. As I browsed the photos I was reminded of some of the most memorable times I had as a broadcaster.
The first was the Broadcast of the James F. Byrnes funeral on WIS-TV in ‘72. It was only a short time before that we recorded an hour long interview with Mr. Byrnes about his long career as SC Governor, a US Congressman and in the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations. For the funeral we rented a remote truck from Jefferson Productions in Charlotte to provide us with the cameras and other gear that we needed to produce the show. The legendary Sidney J. Palmer produced and directed the show. What I remember most was that at on the morning of the broadcast the decision was made that cameras would not be allowed in the sanctuary of the church. As the remote engineer, I began to break down and storing some of the equipment thinking the broadcast was going to be scrubbed when Sidney came by and said to hold on for a minute. He had an idea, and as it turns out, a brilliant one. We used every camera cable extension we had to place the cameras that were planning in using inside the church back out on the grounds of the statehouse located across the street from the church. We carried the audio from the funeral over live pictures of the state house grounds during the part of the service that was inside the church.
We had a visit from President Gerald Ford in 76. That one was a three location remote for WIS Radio. I was directly involved in two of them; the arrival of Air Force One at the airport and a party at the Governor's Mansion. The third was already “wired in” because we already had remote telephone lines to the football stadium as the Flagship station for USC Gamecock Football. We broadcast the USC / Notre Dame football game including the events around the President’s visit at half time to the entire network that day. During the game, I had a few hours to break down the 25 foot steel tower that I had erected for the Marti unit we used to cover the events at the airport, strap it to the luggage rack of my Karmann Ghia, transport everything and set it all up again at the Governor’s Mansion downtown to cover the reception for the president. During the broadcast my car was towed from behind the Governor's mansion by the Secret Service. Hey - I was there before they were. After the president’s departure I remember asking a Secret Service agent where they towed it; his first response was "How do you know I'm with the Secret Service?" I said "Because no one else around here has an earpiece and talks into his sleeve." After a short conversation with his sleeve, he told me it was around the corner, a block away.
Left: Ikegami HL-75 MiniCam!In 1975, television remote broadcasts changed drastically with the advent of Electric News Gathering (ENG) equipment. We called it the WIS MiniCam. There were two main parts to ENG, A television camera that could be carried around by a single videographer and a “window ledge” microwave unit that could carry the signal back to the station. WIS TV was in a fierce competition with WFBC, now WYFF television, in Greenville, SC to be the first station to use the new technology live in a newscast. We received shipment of the camera in time to be the winner but the manufacturer of the microwave unit had a last minute delay in shipping. That didn’t slow us down one minute though. We had a portable microwave unit that we pressed into service. I say portable but it was a two piece unit, a dish on a tripod and a control unit each of which weighed 75 pounds. Unlike the window ledge units, this behemoth required a First Class Radiotelephone License from the FCC to operate.
Left, The "dish" half of the RCA Mobile Microwave Transmitter. So my boss asked me to come in early one Monday afternoon to transport, set up and operate the equipment during our prime time “Seven O’clock Report” newscast at the Richland County Sheriff’s Office. At the time the Sheriff and the County Jail were located side by side on Huger Street near Gervais St. A co-worker, Cathy Malone was assigned to help me manage the bulky microwave equipment. She was a good choice because she was a smart, strong lady. First we tried to get a shot from the ground outside the Sheriff’s Office but it was significantly lower than the station downtown and we could not get a signal back to the station. Next we tried the roof of the Sheriff’s Office without any luck at all. Cathy and I took a Coca Cola break to think about our next move. As we sat there I noticed her looking at the top of the jail building that, if my memory serves, was six stories tall. Unfortunately there was no way of reaching the roof without going through the cell blocks, so the county “volunteered” a couple of trusted inmates to help me carry the microwave unit to the roof while she waited on the ground to feed me the audio/video cable from the ground. It worked! And that, my friends is how WIS TV became the first in the state to employ ENG to broadcast a live report in the state. Our reporter was Tom Fowler
We didn’t stop there but went on with five more live reports during the week. The first was a segment in the “The Eleven O’clock Report” that night in which Joe Petty, our news director, interviewed me about being the first in the state to use ENG. Tuesday evening, Tom Fowler covered the State Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Wade Hampton Hotel across the street from the State House. Wednesday it was Joe Pinner, our weatherman from the Weather Service Office at the Columbia Metropolitan airport. Thursday we took the day off and Friday Jim Forrest did his sports segment from Harry Parone Stadium at Spring Valley High School in Northeast Columbia.
As it turned out, that Saturday was the day of the big sports rivalry in the state; The Carolina – Clemson game. We were going to cut in after the game with a live report. I thought I was supposed to meet our news assignment editor at the station at 10 AM to get my press credentials for the game. But when 11 AM rolled by I realized that I must have misunderstood. So I decided to go out to the stadium and see if I could talk my way past security. I arrived at the foot of the elevator in the unmarked utility van we had rented for the week. When I asked the guard if I could unload the MiniCam gear there and use the elevator to get to the press box, he said, “Wow, that’s the MiniCam! Tell you what. Let me open this gate and then you can drive up the circular ramp to the camera deck next to the press box. And you can park right there behind the deck for the game!” There is no way that would happen today!
During the game, after a great meal of fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans laid out for the reporters, I decided to familiarize myself with the workings of the camera. So I began “shooting” the game and sending the live video back to the station over the microwave. About 15 minutes after I started, I get a call on the two way radio from Jim Forrest who wanted me to keep it up. They were recording my feed on the big Ampex recorders in Master Control. Normally we would not have had any film of a 1 PM game on The Seven O’clock Report due to the time it takes to process and edit the film after the game is over. That night we used the video I shot on a lark, and we had video of the afternoon game for the very first time.
As it turns out that was an important game for the University of South Carolina – The Gamecocks' greatest victory over Clemson - Gamecocks 56 - Tigers 20. My friend Drew Stewart produced a sports memorabilia piece a few years ago when he worked at WIS TV that included some of the video I shot that afternoon. It can still be seen on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7aORQt9u0Q
So thanks to Ginny’s post on Facebook, I have spent some time with great memories from my remotes at WIS TV and Radio. Those were good years when the local broadcasters spent a lot of time, energy and creativity to bring the best to the audiences. It’s true that I was involved in many more remotes for local television and the networks over the years. The last television remote that I worked was the last Firing Line Show with William F. Buckley from New York on a chilly night that threatened snow in December 1999. It was a debate in lower Manhattan. If it weren’t for his limo driver, we would not have made it out to LaGuardia in time to catch our flight home. But that is another story. Oh MY!
Here we are at the halfway mark of the Twelve Days of Christmas. So far the loot is Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree. I don’t know about you but the living room is getting pretty messy with all those animals in there.
I know that all around me, Christmas trees are coming down, garlands and electric lights are being rolled up and stored for next year. Somehow it has become tradition to have all the accoutrements of Christmas gone by the end of New Year’s Day. But The Christmas spirit is strong here and the trend is being bucked. Everything stays up until the Three Wise Men drop off their gold, frankincense and myrrh, and not a second before then!
I hate it when the joyful colors of Christmas come down and we are faced with the cold, bare days of January and February. It wouldn’t be so bad if we had a real chance of some snow this year, but being a La Nina year we are looking at warmer and drier conditions in the long range forecast. Notice I said snow not ice! With a few exceptions, southern snows are more gentle and easy going down here. But Ice, that is a totally different story. It seems that when ice takes out our power, we are looking at 5 days before it gets restored. It seems that the house is at the end of a power cul-de-sac of only 40 homes. The power lines in our neighborhood run through our back yards where there is a tendency for them to be surrounded by tall bushes and trees. The power company came by the summer of 2016 and trimmed the trees but they left the job unfinished when they cut down the telephone line behind my house. If we get a lot of ice, Mother Nature will finish the job for them and probably take out the power to my immediate neighbors and me. An outage to a group of four takes low precedence on the repair schedule.
What normally brings snow to our area is the scenario when cold air is in place and a low pressure center comes out of the Gulf of Mexico and brings in moisture. Because the temperatures tend to be just below freezing the accumulations are light and the roads tend to clear up before the snow melts off the grass in the yards.
So far this winter, we have had long range forecasts that predicted winter weather a couple of times, but as the date approaches the snow patterns have retreated to the north or the south. Just last week, we dodged a bullet when the coverage of the winter mix stayed south and east because the low pressure was farther off the coast than the early models predicted. My friends in Charleston didn’t make out so well. All the bridges down there were closed due to ice and everyone was complaining of cabin fever.
So tonight, as I sit in the living room watching the ball drop, my wish for 2018 is that we don’t have any power outages this winter. It’s not too much to ask for, really! So c’mon, Mother Nature help us out.
Tomorrow, New Year’s Day will be one filled with Hoppin’ John (black eyed peas over rice), collard greens and football. Honestly, I never heard of Hoppin’ John until I spent my first New Years in South Carolina. I guess Florida was too far south to get caught up in the tradition. The peas represent pennies or coins, and a coin is sometimes added to the pot or left under the dinner bowls. Collard greens are supposed to further add to the wealth, since they are the color of American currency. Some places allow the substitution of mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, kale, cabbage and similar leafy green vegetables for the collards but around here it is collards or nothing. This explains why you can’t find collards in the frozen foods section of the grocery stores around here. They become as scarce as bread, milk and eggs before a snowstorm. Now that’s another southern tradition that I’ll never understand. “Hey everybody, snow and ice are coming to take out our power, so let’s go buy stuff that will spoil in the power outages!”
So, this afternoon, I’ll grab the fresh collard greens out of the refrigerator. First, I’ll wash down the leaves that are as big as the palm leaf fans that were waved over the Egyptian Pharos. Then I’ll cut the stems out and roll them up and cut them in preparation for cooking in the morning.
Left: "The Hit!"Lunch will be simple, Hoppin’ John, collards and a small slice of ham, on the TV trays watching the Outback Bowl from Tampa where hopefully our South Carolina Gamecocks will be spurring the Michigan Wolverines like they did in 2013. I wonder if the Houston Texan’s Jadeveon Clowney will travel down from today’s game in Indianapolis to root for his old college team. I remember “The Hit” like it was yesterday.
“What! No New Year’s Eve Party?” you say. Well, there have been some good ones in the past but so many of my New Years Eve celebrations have been in the control rooms of the various radio and television stations in my career. BTW, you have probably heard this rant before, but one of my bosses thought he would be fair to his guys and gals by giving Christmas Day off to the ones that had children and New Years to the ones that didn’t. The problem is that he gave New Years Day off not New Year’s Eve. Since I worked the prime time evening shift, which meant that I worked EVERY New Year’s Eve during my time there. Yup, you’re right, I’m still complaining, but now with a wry smile on my lips. Oh MY!
Everyone has them, those special things that make Christmas what it is. They may change over time but they are there nonetheless.
I remember Christmas mornings, lying in bed waiting for Mom and Dad to wake up so we could all run down to the living room to see what Santa brought. Time passed so slowly those cold crisp mornings, unlike other days when Mom had to pry us out of bed for breakfast and boarding the bus for school. We could hardly stand it. Mom and Dad’s room was between the bedroom that my brother and I shared and the living room so it was impossible to sneak past them to spy what was under the tree. There was a second route through the kitchen and the dining room but we dared not try it for fear of discovery.
Finally, there was a stirring in their room and we would all be out like a flash to check out what Santa brought while Mom dashed off to the kitchen to make breakfast. Then it was off to church where I would sit in the choir loft looking down through the golden light of the early morning on my family and the rest of the congregation dressed up in their finest.
After Mass, it was round two of presents, the wrapped ones. These were from each of us to the others as opposed to Santa’s unwrapped offerings. Among those gaily wrapped packages were the ones that were to our cousins, aunts and uncles. They were put aside for later when our extended family would gather for ham, turkey and all the fixin’s, (that’s southern for stuffing, rice and gravy, beans ETC.) After the big meal, while the tryptophan was wearing off, there was the grand gift exchange. I must admit that most of the gifts in this exchange were clothing items, especially as we all grew older. And I might add, gain a higher appreciation for clothes.
By the time I reached the 7th and 8th grade, the timetable flipped. By then I was a senior altar boy and my presence was required at Midnight Mass. It was so cool to be up late on Christmas Eve and put on the red cassocks and the fancy surplices. My last year as an altar boy, the surplice was replaced by a cape with fringes. We thought we were cool then. Before you start thinking, what an innocent scene that might have been, I need to let you know that from my vantage point on the altar, I could check out my female classmates all dressed up to the nines in their Christmas finest. I can tell you that as pretty as they were in class; they really knocked my socks off at Christmas time. Hey, don’t forget that I was a teen-aged boy, of course I looked.
Midnight Mass gave us the opportunity to sleep in a little later on Christmas. I rarely woke before Mom and Dad in those years. Into the living room for Santa, then a leisurely breakfast, family gift exchange and then off for the big meal. By the time we were in high school, a new Christmas tradition started; pizza at my cousin’s house after Midnight Mass. That meant getting to bed around 3 am or later. This tradition stayed around through my college years.
After college with each of us developing new traditions with our in-laws, the big extended family gathering at Christmas began to slowly fade. But I remember those like they were yesterday. As I sat here writing this, a rather poignant memory came to mind. My niece and her cousin who were both around five at the time would come up to me and ask me to spin them around. I would spin them one after another until I got too dizzy to continue. They would beg for more but alas, after fewer and fewer spins each year I could not continue. These days, they could probably spin me around more easily that I could spin them. I wonder if they spin their daughters around like I used to spin them.
Between the late 60s and when Mom passed in 2004, we would travel to Jacksonville during the holiday period, sometimes for Christmas and sometimes for New Years. When we were there for Christmas we would always go to Midnight Mass and be part of the extended family gathering the next day. One year sticks out in my mind, 1989. The plan was to drive to Jacksonville on the 23rd and back to Columbia on the 26th. But something unprecedented happened. You see, that was an unusual weather year; Hurricane Hugo slammed the South Carolina Coast and wiped the smug assumption that we did not have to worry much about hurricanes here in Columbia right out of our heads. As we were packing for the trip we started hearing reports of snow and ice from the Low Country of South Carolina all the way down I-95 to Jacksonville. As the interstate became impassable, we were forced to postpone our trip down until New Years. So this is how, my home town came to have their one and only White Christmas while I have yet to see one.
This year, one more life long tradition is ending; the live Christmas Tree! Like other years, we purchased a live tree. For the past dozen or so, we would go with friends to a Christmas tree farm and cut the tree ourselves. Our friends were not able to participate in the tradition this year. This year we chose one from a Christmas tree lot near our grocery store. We needed to cut down a fresh tree because being purists; we kept our tree up until the Twelfth Day of Christmas, which is Epiphany, January 6th. This year, after putting our tree in a bucket of water, we realized that we no longer had a place for the tree because of a new piece of furniture in the living room. So a new tradition begins; three small desk top artificial trees in the living room and a live tree complete with lights near the modest light display on our front porch railing and light post.
So, I’m sitting in my easy chair watching the stories about snarled airline travel and highways clogged with travelers and snow on the nightly news. I realize that there is not a little knot in the bottom of my stomach worrying about getting out there in that mess. That is kinda nice. I’ll just recline in the chair and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Oh MY!
Last year I wrote about my two favorite Christmas Albums from back in the day; “A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records” released in 1963 and “A Motown Christmas” released a decade later. These two albums are a must for the collection of anyone of a certain age.
But they don’t cover the waterfront of all the great Christmas Tunes out there. I remember the plunk plunk western sound of Gene Autrey’s “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.” What Christmas would be complete without Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or Perry Como’s “I’ll be home for Christmas.” I have always had a soft spot for the Christmas tunes from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Elvis Presley’s iconic 1964 album “Elvis' Christmas Album” is another favorite. Those songs include; "Santa Claus Is Back in Town", "White Christmas", "Here Comes Santa Claus", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)", "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Silent Night" and "Blue Christmas!" Blue Christmas is still one of the most requested Christmas songs on my shows today as is Alabama’s Christmas In Dixie.
But there are some Christmas songs that I feel don’t get their due. So here goes with some of my favorite relatively unknown Christmas tunes.
The first is "All I Want for Christmas Is You," by Vince Vance and the Valiants was initially released as a single in 1989. The song charted several times on the Billboard country singles charts around Christmas time, but for some reason it never broke into the Billboard Hot 100. It features lead vocals from Lisa Burgess Stewart, who now records under the name Lisa Layne. In it Lisa, explains that she does not want Christmas decorations, or gifts from Santa Claus. Instead, all she wants for Christmas is her lover. The melody used in the song is based on Bobby Vinton's number 9 pop hit single from early 1964, "My Heart Belongs to Only You", with a few minor alterations. You can’t listen to this one without getting into the Christmas Spirit.
John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas, War is Over” did not chart on the Billboard top 100, but it did reach number 36 on the US Cash Box Top 100 in 1972. It was performed by the John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. The lyrics, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, are set to the traditional English ballad "Skewball". "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" was the culmination of more than two years of peace activism undertaken by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Then, there is "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" is a novelty Christmas song written by David Seville in 1958. This is one of those love or hate Christmas Songs. It was the follow up to "Witch Doctor" by David Seville, which did not identify the Chipmunks but used the same recording technique. In “The Chipmunk song” as usual, Alvin, the lead Chipmunk singer was too full of himself and wound up messing up the tune with a big discussion at the end.
Another of my favorites is “The Little Drummer Boy” by Ben E. King. This rock and roll version of the classic tune written by Katherine Kennicott Davis was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1951. The song was further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale; and was re-released successfully for several years since. Ben E King’s toe tapping version features a horn section that is second to none.
I can’t let this discussion go without bringing up a psychedelic Christmas song. You may remember, The Electric Prune’s “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night.” Well this same group had a version of “Jingle Bells!” It starts off with a spoken word into over a fuzzy guitar riff, claiming that Christmas is a psychedelic time of year complete with colored flashing lights, a guy flying around the sky with animals, elves and then those bells, followed by a pretty straight up interpretation of the song. Just when you think this is going to be nothing special, it turns on you with the words “Help me, help me! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up for Christmas!” spoken over full blown psychedelic guitars. Boom! Mind sufficiently blown! When I played this tune on the radio the other day, an audience member commented that that was the strangest song I’ve ever played.
By the way in case you are wondering if this was the first time the words “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” were used in the modern lexicon, the answer is probably not. “Jingle Bells” by The Electric Prunes was released in the 2008 Album “Christmas A Go Go” by Little Steven. Allmusic.com does not list any other release of the song.
So there are some of my “alternative” Christmas songs. Well, at least for this year. I hope you enjoy them and your favorites as well. Oh MY!
The first big snow storm hit the east coast this week. As usual many of the locals got ready to clear out the grocery store supplies of bread, milk and eggs. It’s a southern thing, Y’all!
I looked at the synopsis to see what the mechanism was that would bring us the snow and immediately relaxed. It seems that we were supposed to have a bunch of rain in place and then a cold front would roll in and change the rain to snow.
That almost never happens. Over long years of doing the snow dance and being disappointed when the snow line stops in the Upstate of South Carolina, I knew that the chances of snow on the ground here in the midlands was not very good. It has happened but very infrequently and usually when it did there was little accumulation and what did stick melted off pretty quickly.
When we get freezing precipitation in this model, it can arrive in the form of ice. That is because the temperatures at or near the surface is usually right at freezing to a few degrees above freezing. As the temperature lowers, we get sleet, freezing rain or ice. That is never pretty down here; the ice breaks on the branches break the off trees and they fall on power lines. Then we lose power for days on end. I don’t want to see that again.
The synoptic model that normally brings us significant snow is the one where we have cold air in place and a low pressure center bearing a lot of tropical moisture comes out of the gulf crosses Georgia and then dumps that moisture on South Carolina in the form of snow.
I would like to say that I came up with these observations were my own but that would not be true. Although I have always had an interest in the weather, I truly began my study of it in 1969 when I was studying for my pilot’s license. I already knew John Purvis, the chief meteorologist of the old Columbia Weather Bureau, now called the NOAA Weather Service out of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
During the 90s, John and I worked together at the State Climate Office and we spent a lot of time talking about the local weather. It was from him that I learned about the two snow producing weather models and that the second one was the most likely to give us some snow in Columbia.
I hear that 2017-18 is supposed to be a La Nina year, meaning moderately drier and warmer winter. So I am not hopeful of seeing much snow this year. In case you were wondering, the winter that produced the Blizzard of 1973 was a strong El Nino year and the ice storm of 2004 was a weak El Nino year. So come on baby girl (La Nina), give us a break this year, after all it has been a heck of a hurricane season this summer.
So whether Mother Nature has a baby boy (El Nino) or a baby girl (La Nina) I hope you get the winter weather you want this year. Oh MY!
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