Back When Singers Sang Songs With My Name

The Wolfert’s are here on their way home to Dallas. A little while ago Jon picked up my laptop and started typing.

“May I download this,” he asked. He was installing a program to look at archived files at work. The Wolfert’s work is radio station jingles. Jon was searching for my past!

Before long a series of a’cappella jingles cut for me at WBT in Charlotte back in the early 70s appeared on my desktop. It’s all there, even the outtakes!

The Dismantling Of AM Radio

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, was quoted in the Times playing down WFAN’s 50,000 watt signal.

“[T]he idea of a radio station that is heard in 25 states is kind of a quaint concept.”

AM is relegated to talk for angry old guys, ethnic stations and passive network affiliates with little or no local programming.

I was in radio when radio was big and AM radio was the big dog!

There weren’t as many stations. There certainly weren’t many FM radios. Where they did exist, FM stations spent little on programming.

In the early 70s I was on 1110 WBT in Charlotte. We were a 50,000 watt AM station with a nighttime signal that blanketed the East Coast. My dad would drive home on the Belt Parkway from Brooklyn to Queens listening to me. How cool was that?

No one cares about AM anymore.

Today’s prime example is WFAN in New York City. CBS Radio just bought WRXP 101.9 FM. 101.9 has featured every format possible under a series of callsigns. Even good friend, blog reader, golden throater v/o guy Rick Allison worked there!

The progressive rock format begun on 101.9 just months ago is out. Sports talk WFAN will now be heard

WFAN will continue to be simulcast on 660 AM, but the smart money says not for long. FM is where the listeners are–certainly the younger ones who still listen to terrestrial radio.

Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, was quoted in the Times playing down WFAN’s 50,000 watt signal.

“[T]he idea of a radio station that is heard in 25 states is kind of a quaint concept.”

AM is relegated to talk for angry old guys, ethnic stations and passive networks with little or no local programming.

CBS is about to do this to one of the top-10 billing radio stations in the country!

AM stations don’t sound as good as FM (or any other technology invented in the last 90 years). Lightning crashes in the summer make some stations unlistenable. That hurts.

Many stations have highly directional antennas sending signals where people lived 60 years ago, missing today’s suburbs.

When I worked at WMEX in Boston we often heard WKBW on our studio monitors at sunset! At night WPEN, my station in Philly, couldn’t be heard on the Main Line or other western suburbs after dark.

I’m not saying AM deserves to be preserved and supplied with high priced programming. It’s just a shame to see it go. It was such a big part of my life.

Back To AM Radio

I feel bad about AM. Technology has removed lots of the advantage the AM frequencies one held. It’s tough to make money and employ people.

I ended up listening to AM radio today. I’m not 100% sure how it happening but there it was in all its staticky glory just where I’d left it! I started broadcasting on AM radio back in Fall River, MA and worked my way through Florida, Charlotte, Cleveland, Phoenix and Philadelphia.

I listened to one show discussing the Dodgers legal and financial situation. It was probably Dan Patrick. What I heard was well done and entertaining.

Next up was Laura Ingram. She seems so angry and mean.

Most radio talk is conservative.

Tonight on my way home I looked for and quickly found 1110 WBT Charlotte. It’s a 50,000 watt clear channel station. There are just a few weak stations widely spread out on sharing the frequency.

WBT was booming in tonight. It’s antenna pattern (the diagram on the left) concentrates the signal up and down the East Coast. That was the cool part of working nights there in the early 70s. Their signal really got out–Canada to Florida sang one of our jingles played exclusively at night!

Though it was late at night WBT’s midnight news was local and had a traffic reporter and meteorologist. After midnight it was Neal Boortz. Syndicated. Recorded. Conservative.

I feel bad about AM. Technology has removed lots of the advantage the AM frequencies one held. It’s tough to make money and employ people.

By the way, the AM radio in the Subaru Outback I’m driving is excellent. They don’t pay me to tout their radios and I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.

My Return To WBT

Whoever listens to AM radio on a Monday night at 10:40 PM will be interested.

In the early 1970s, my radio career took me to WBT, Charlotte. It was one of America’s truly great radio stations–never to be replicated. Tonight, I’ll be on again.

John Harper, who’s filling-in for the normal nighttime talk host, has asked me to spend a few minutes talking about Hurricane Bertha, the Category 3 storm in the Atlantic. More than likely, that’s where Bertha will stay.

Though well inland, Charlotte has been zetzed by storms. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo creamed the Queen City with strong winds and torrential rain.

Hopefully, whoever listens to AM radio on a Monday night at 10:40 PM will be interested.

My Jesse Helms Story

As I remember, the spot paid $800, or a month’s pay for me. That was quite the incentive.

Jesse Helms died today. He was the very conservative former senator from North Carolina.

Back in 1972 I was working as a disk jockey at WBT, the 50,000 watt AM station in Charlotte, NC. This was a wonderful, old line station. Under one roof we had an AM, FM, TV and separate video and audio production companies. There were few stations like it then–certainly none like that now.

One day an open call came from Jeffersonics, the audio production house. A political spot was being cut and they needed a voice. Everyone was encouraged to read.

I don’t have now and certainly didn’t have then “pipes,” but I went nonetheless and read. As I remember, the spot paid $800, or a month’s pay for me. That was quite the incentive.

I didn’t get the job. It went to Jack Petry, our midday man with a voice so deep he once told me he couldn’t be heard over a vacuum cleaner!

The three words Jack read: “Nixon needs Helms.” In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get it.

Audio Tape – How Quaint

When we cleaned out the house last month, a lot had to be thrown away. There were certain items, however, where I drew the line. Specifically, I kept audio tapes. These little five and seven inch reels chronicle my time in radio.

I know I work in television, but in many ways I still maintain my undying love for radio. It’s where my broadcasting career started. In high school, it was the career I lusted after.

Radio has changed. What I found romantic has been beaten out of the medium by national chains and their bean counters. I still love radio.

Unfortunately, my audio tapes represent a dead storage format. I’m not sure audio tape recorders are made anymore. I don’t have one.

We used to have a very nice audio deck at the TV station. Where it is now is a mystery to me. Audio, like everything else, is recorded digitally, not on tape.

Luckily, my friend Rick still has two audio decks in his basement. One is in the studio, the other sadly sits in storage. Even the deck in the studio needed to be re-cabled before we could roll on the tapes.

They’re too nice to chuck, too dated to use.

First, we listened to an aircheck from the early 1970s. I was working at WBT in Charlotte, NC. 1110-WBT was a blowtorch – a 50,000 watt AM station that could be heard from Canada to Florida (and we had a jingle which claimed just that).

I thought I was a pretty good disk jockey then. Wrong. This aircheck will never see the light of day again.

There were a few things of note on the tape. Our hourly IDs were voiced by Johnny Olsen, who was the announcer on virtually every Goodson-Toddman game show of the era. Rick, who can recognize most contemporary VO guys, drew a blank.

Trust me, back then he was immediately recognizable.

This tape was meant to get me a job. In order to attract some attention, I opened with a medley of jingle singers trying to sing my name – and failing. That was actually pretty cool.

The other tapes included more recent airchecks, a few custom jingles and the “TM Song.” TM, a jingle company in Dallas, produced a sales presentation jingle, singing all their clients call letters.

There’s just no way I could have let these tapes become unplayable. And now, they’re stored digitally and protected from another era of electronic obsolescence.

Blogger’s note: I have worked on this audio for over an hour. How frustrating!

For some reason you sometimes have to click on the play button twice. I wish I knew why. Adding this reminder is much simpler than fixing it.

Radio Is In My Blood

I am not really in television – it’s more radio with pictures. Radio was always my first love. As a kid, I knew I’d go into radio (and I did). TV was an afterthought. Other than the actual skill of forecasting the weather, there’s nothing I do on TV that I didn’t do on radio first.

This is going to make me sound old.

I went to high school in the same building that housed the New York City Board of Education’s radio station. We were FM back when no one listened to FM. That was mainly because no one owned an FM radio!

WNYE-FM had an eclectic mix of educational programs. It’s tough to visualize today, but teachers in NYC would bring clunky Granco FM radios into their classrooms so the students could listen to, “Let’s Look at the News” or “Young Heroes.” There’s little in the way of TV today that’s equivalent.

Looking for a way to get out of conventional English classes, I became a radio actor for English class credit. I was cast in dozens and dozens of morality plays and historical recreations. I was young Orville Wright, Thomas Jefferson, Jackie Robinson (in that less politically correct time) and lots of kids named Billy.

In the morality plays, I often had lines like, “If I ride my bike over the hill, mom will never know.” By the second act, my arm was in a cast and I was sorry. In these shows, no transgression went unpunished.

All through high school, I listened to radio – listening to the disk jockeys more than the music. The disk jockeys were cool and hip and in control. They talked back to the boss with impunity, or so it seemed to me. They were quick and witty and sarcastic. I wanted to be a disk jockey.

Though I grew up in New York City, my favorite radio station was WKBW in Buffalo. You could only hear “KB” from dusk ’til dawn, but it boomed in like a local at our apartment in Queens.

The nighttime jocks on “KB” were unbelievable. Over time, there were Joey Reynolds, Bud Ballou, Jack Armstrong and others. KB Pulse Beat news with Irv Weinstein, who I’d later know personally, was a tabloid newscast, back when rock stations had to have newscasts.

This is not to say I didn’t listen to WABC in NYC, because I did. There’s little doubt that Dan Ingram is the best disk jockey to ever point a finger at a board operator. He was all the things that the “KB” guys were, but he operated within the more heavily produced WABC universe. At WABC there was a jingle for everything except going to the bathroom… and maybe there was a jingle for that too.

Back on track… must get back on track… where is this going?

In college, I knew I wanted to be like them. I wasn’t as cool as they were. I certainly didn’t have ‘pipes’ (the euphemism for a deep, throaty voice). Still, I wanted to be on the air.

At home, or in the car, I’d practice ‘talking up records.’ That means talking over the instrumental bridge that opens songs before the singing begins, and stopping on a dime, effortlessly, as the singing began. That’s called “hitting vocal,” and I was very good at that.

I started in radio at WSAR in Fall River, MA. I was part time, making $2.50 an hour. Before long, the company I was working for, Knight Quality Stations (some of which weren’t on at night, and none of which had quality), sent me to Florida to be program director at WMUM, aka – “Mother.” I was still making $2.50 an hour or $130 for a 6 day, 48 hour week.

WMUM was an “underground station.” Again, it’s a concept tough to understand today. We played everything without resorting to a playlist. It was some sort of misguided Utopian programming concept that never really took hold anywhere for long. But in 1969, at age 19, “Mother” was an unreal place to be.

We were hip and cool and broadcast from a building located adjacent to the parking lot for Lake Worth, Florida’s beach. From our studio, through the soundproof glass, you could watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. The beach was always filled with girls in bathing suits.

“Mother” didn’t hold its allure for long. Within 18 months, I had moved on to our sister AM station and then two other stations in the West Palm Beach market.

At age 21, I went to Charlotte, NC. There I did nights on a station that truly was heard from Canada to Florida. During my tenure, we even got mail from Cuba and Scandinavia. WBT was a classic radio station with good facilities, excellent promotion and nurturing management. I didn’t know how good I had it until I left.

I became a radio gypsy, moving to Cleveland and Phoenix and finally Philadelphia. I moved enough to qualify for the U-Haul Gold Card. I worked nights at WPEN in Philadelphia for a few years before moving to mornings.

We were a good AM station, playing oldies, at about the time music on AM was dying… rapidly.

I think I was pretty good at WPEN. If you’ll remember that this aircheck is over 25 years old, and I was more than 25 years younger than I am now, you can listen to it by clicking here. I really enjoyed what I was doing.

After a while we could see things weren’t going well in the ratings. A new program director was brought in to change things. Brandon Brooks, my friend and newsman on the show, came to me. Things were going to change but, “Don’t worry Geoff. They can’t fire you.”

I was gone within two hours.

My radio career never got back to that place. I continued to work, but it wasn’t the same. I finally ended up at WIFI, a top-40 FM station where I constantly worried that I, personally, was leading to the degradation of youth and society.

The scene played over and over again as I answered the hitline. I’d say, “Hello, WIFI.” On the other end, a young voice would respond, “Play, ‘We Don’t Need No Education.'” To me, it was like screeching chalk on a blackboard.

WIFI was my last stop before getting into TV. Still I miss radio nearly each and every day.

This is not to say I want to leave TV. I don’t. But, I do have this fantasy where I do radio in the morning and TV in the evening. That’s why, whenever someone from radio calls and asks me to fill-in or come on the air, I jump at the chance. It’s really an involuntary response.

It’s still in my blood.

The reason I’m writing all of this is because of someone I saw today at a charity event. I was helping present a check and toys to support shelters for abused women at the Verizon Wireless store in North Haven. A man walked up to me and said hello. It was Pete Salant.

I know Pete, though not that well. My sense is, Pete could go one-on-one with me with any bit of radio minutiae. It runs through his blood as well. In fact, with him broadcasting is an inbred thing, as his dad&#185 was a giant when CBS was the “Tiffany Network.”

Pete was known mostly as a radio programmer – and a damned good one. It’s probable, though I really don’t remember anymore, that within Pete’s career, he turned me down for a job… maybe more than once. I know he ran places where I wanted to work. Today, he creates commercials for radio station that run on TV.

It was good to see him. It’s always good to think about radio.

&#185 Pete tells me it was actually his cousin… and not a very close one… who was with CBS: “Dick Salant was my cousin twice-removed (grandfather’s first cousin), not my dad.” I’m going to leave the original posting as is, because I want to try and keep this blog as a contemporaneous record, but add the correction here.