Some of my best friends in the business have been the engineers in a radio station.
Not just because they’re a boss’s confidant. Not just because they save your rear end when you key the microphone and nothing comes from it.
But, because they’re probably among the smartest people in the building.
I learned a lot from one of my best friends who was a radio engineer his whole life.
I met him at something called the “Broadcast Workshop” in my hometown years ago. It actually was a non-commercial 10 watt FM station and it operated with a completely volunteer staff. But, it was there so people could learn how to do radio. The studios (and his living quarters) were literally in the basement of the station building.
He and his partner paid its bills by running religious programming during the day…with a litany of ministers coming by to preach live, or dropping off their radio sermons on tape.
At night, though. The station cooked with a format that could best be described as a “Funky Top 40”. Today, it would probably be called a “Churban”.
But this was around 1977…disco was hot, my hometown of Dayton, Ohio was quickly becoming a funk capital, as we were home to the Ohio Players, and Lakeside. Funkadelic was right up the road in Detroit and Bootsy Collins was doing his thing in Cincinnati just to our south.
That’s when I learned from my friend the beauty of audio processing on a radio station. You see, I never have had what was known as the “radio voice”. Mine is somewhat higher pitched and, though I’m now 61, on the air you would swear I’m no older than 40 or so.
My engineer friend had this 10 watt wonder processed to the max. I swear DJ’s could be sucked right in the microphone with no problems.
But, on that little station, I sounded like I belonged on CKLW.
I learned about AM broadcasting from him, too. When he took me to one of his client stations to do a proof of performance. This little AM’s format was hillbilly gospel. And my engineer friend sure didn’t want to do a “proof” playing that stuff. No bottom end.
So, that night, I went with him with a full orange crate full of albums from my collection at home. We took the station off the air at midnight. Gave the audience about 20 minutes to go away. Then, we cranked it back up. I cued up Michael Jackson’s then new hit, “Billie Jean” and did my best imitation of a top 40 jock.
About three songs in, the phone line rings. I answer the phone…on the other end of the line is a cab driver…in New York City, no less! Wanting to know if we were a new station in Gotham.
You see, my engineer friend neglected until later to tell me he cranked us up to a full tilt boogie daytime 5,000 watts and had us going non directional. (After midnight is the “experimental” time, you know!)
Sorry if I stepped on your audience a bit that night, WABC.
So now, I am hard at work building a home studio in an unused bedroom in my home. I have a used Autogram 8 channel audio console that worked pretty good…for about 15 minutes. That’s when a capacitor or resistor in the power supply went “poof”…and a little bit smoke came from it.
Our C.E. told me what to look for inside. He told me to check the tops of the capacitors to see if any were bulged, indicating they had popped. And told me to look for burned resistors. He said they’re blue in color. I told him, I think I found one, but it was brown, not blue.
Says the Chief…”It probably was blue…before it fried.” Yeah, that make sense.
So, now they’re going to work with me to help get the power supply working so I can finish the home studio.
Hanging around the engineers, for me, will likely be a good thing. After all, in addition to my “day job” in commercial radio, I am now the President of a company supplying programming for an LPFM station. Eventually that little 100 watt transmitter is going to have a problem. By that time, maybe I’ll be able to fix it.
Where’s that pocket protector when you need it?