Monday, February 06, 2006

Previous Broadcasts : Rich Phoenix


Much has been said and alleged about radio people. Generally, the more unbelievable and radical the stories become, the closer to the real truth you are. I am living proof that some of the best radio stories stem from stations no longer to be found on your radio dial. Why the stories outlive the stations conjures up myriad questions, and may be explained, in part, by the innate creativity of real radio people whose instincts spring from the "theatre of the mind" philosophy that drove radio in its "golden age." In the U.S., during the "golden age," there was virtually no television -- the medium was simply under development, and not yet ready for the mass market. American radio of the golden age was characterized by dramas, comedies and talks coming from the top talent that could be mustered from Hollywood, the West End and Broadway. Radio announcers of the era were of a different calibre, and dressed the part. Think of a bloke attired like a penguin in white tie and tails standing ramrod-straight before an RCA 44BX on a floor stand preparing to intone either the opening credits of a drama, setting the aural stage or putting a plug in for floor wax, and you will begin to capture, mentally, the mindset that drives radio people, even if they are confined to spinning records, CDs, MP3s et seq., punching buttons and watching what passes for metres these days. This was the aura encountered at one particular station where I spent days and nights playing tunes, participating in over-the-air dramas and exploring "dog houses" on a nightly basis. Now, this one wasn’t even a classic-looking radio station, except for its four in-line towers in the back lot with glowing, blinking red marker lights. Inside, the equipment was reasonably functional although decidedly not brand-new nor even the other extreme, decrepit, as became so common in many American radio stations hanging by a thread in the ‘80s. Arguably, the technical aura created by working in the midst of a major 10-kilowatt radio frequency haze and lobe took its mental and physical toll on most of us. To make the situation more extreme, since this was a highly directional station, it could also have been determined that we were working in the equivalent of a field of over 100,000 watts effective radiated power -- kind of makes the output of a microwave oven or cell phone tower look pretty puny by comparison. So, whether all this power fried our brains, carbonated our hormones or imposed a dose of electromagnetic "speed," on our beings, the effects were cumulative and measurable in our relative lack of mental stability. Couple the raw power with our classic radio mission to communicate, and you had a very dangerous situation. We were prone to extremes, and it became something the audience expected and suspected from us at regular intervals. It wasn’t Thanksgiving if someone hadn’t phonied-up a pseudo parade with sound effects and off-key marching band music down a mythical Main Street in our town. It wasn’t Halloween if we hadn’t blown the dust off the old Orson Welles transcription and played "War of the Worlds" just once more; and, it wasn’t Easter if some bogus contest weren’t giving away a huge stuffed bunny more pneumatic than the Playboy variety which would have surely terrorized any small child within ten feet of its presence. It was in this setting where I was "doing nights" on my own with an unlocked door, a reasonably-sized record library at my disposal and the responsibility and expectation to follow in the footsteps of my radio forebears. On this particular night, one of my then steadfast drinking buddies, a fellow radio adherent, had apparently run afoul with the wife of a time salesman, with the two of them discovered in a local motel by the husband in flagrante delictu. For some inexplicable reason, they had decided to sort out their differences in the lobby of the station. Before I knew it, the salesman, to his accompanying wife's pure horror, had pulled a .38 police special and blown away my friend in my full view (at least through the control room mirror) while I attempted to keep the music coming. I relate this story in its full regalia, as Governor Reece has asked that we come up with a true episode from our radio careers that might entertain all on the new website. Three things to know about the incident -- it was most realistic, although staged, the salesman was using blanks (he claimed), and I was awfully glad to have "Hey Jude," "MacArthur Park" and "Stairway to Heaven" at my disposal.