My Life in Radio — Part 1

Though I’d never presume to think of myself as a “radio person,” I’ve had several gigs in the medium; both off (for the most part) and on the air.

Over the years, I’ve worked for three of the people I’ve admired most in radio: as one of the writing staff on Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40,” for a publication backed in part by Wolfman Jack (for whom I’d written a guest editorial appearing in “Record World”), and for several years as a writer-producer for Lew Irwin’s “Earth News Radio,” an internationally-syndicated 3½ minute interview feature. I may get to discussing those experiences here sometime.

My first on-air experience took place when I was attending college in Louisiana; at the time, it was a closed-circuit station; transmitted through the wiring to dormitories and elsewhere throughout the campus, but not available over the airwaves. It was the “Saturday Night and Todd is Without a Date Again” show.

Some years later, while attending another college, I worked Saturday afternoons at a “real” station, Now talk, at that point it was a music station, with a strange programming policy (this was, roughly, 1965).

The owner of the station, who owned several others in the Rocky Mountain states, didn’t want any evidence of payola, so he didn’t deal with record company promotion men. He also didn’t allow his staff to bring in any of our own records. Rather, we could play anything in the station library, and (as I understood it) he bought all the records himself, from the one music store in town.

The big day for me was Saturday, when most of the programming came in from outside — Paul Harvey’s 15-minute newscast, followed by a complete opera from the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. I didn’t spend the time soaking up the classics, alas (in retrospect); instead, I entertained myself by playing albums by Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys and so on. (The music store itself sold mainly classical records and sheet music; I bought my Paul Revere and Righteous Brothers albums from the Woolworth’s on the Plaza).\

I also read the news on the hour, which was the most difficult of my duties. Well, not the news, but the weather report.

We had no ” news” department; it was all what in the biz is called “rip & read,” off a teletype.

The wire service had pronunciation guides for the difficult national and international references, but — not unreasonably — expected us to know how to pronounce local place names. Which, when delivering the weather, was important.

I’m a Californian, so the Spanish-derived towns were largely OK (except “Madrid,” which is accented on the first syllable).

But the Native American names — Abiquiu, Tohatchi, Carrizozo, Tesuque, and so on — were absolutely impossible for this outsider to guess; I had to have heard them, first. And I was for the most part alone in the studio, running my own board.

I pretty much stuck to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, White Sands, and of course Truth or Consequences.


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