Friday, April 12, 2013

My Short Broadcasting Career


Too Much Information!
This was back in the early 70's. It was when almost anyone who wanted to be a DJ could get a job on a local radio station. It was when privately owned and operated stations employed dozens and dozens of people in the Lehigh Valley. Not like now where only a few hours in the morning are broadcast LIVE locally. Then down linked to nationally syndicated satellite programming till once again the next morning.

Every town had a different format and personality. Some of the biggest names were; Barney Pip out of WCFL Chicago. Joey Reynolds at WKBW Buffalo NY. Cousin Brucie on WABC. Joe Niagara at WIBG Philly. etc. etc. I listened and tried learning from these radio broadcast pioneers.

I was weaned on radio...
At about 10 years old I sat every Saturday morning aside of Dopey Duncan. Even acquiring some air-time, cueing up the big ET's (no 'Gates' cart machines in those days) and even running board a couple minutes out of the hour when Dopey had to take a dump or something :) This was at WKAP owned by the Rahall Brothers out of Florida.

My time finally came at 19 years old. I started (and ended) at WHOL (500 watt daytime only) after it came out of bankruptcy. Prior to bankruptcy it was a top 40 rock station. After the new owners bought it WHOL was changed to a country format except for Jolly Joe Timmer's polkas in the afternoon. We cornered the country market. Well of course we did since we were the only ones playing it. However being the only game in town didn't mean I wasn't proudly at the bottom of the ratings :-) My program usually came in around the same low ratings as The Bethlehem Globe's (a former newspaper owned radio station ) WGPA. I worked at WHOL for a little over 2 years.

I also did a short stint a top 20 station in Washington NJ at the same time I worked at WHOL. Even though I only did 3 hours on a Saturday I found myself working nearly 65+ hours between the two. Needless to say the wife wasn't happy with that, especially after my son was born. After just 3 short weekends I quit that gig! This was the beginning of the end of radio for me. I saw locals guys so desperate they'd endure almost anything to hang on. Slowly the noose for local DJ's was tightening. Times were changing and the role of DJ's was fading.

After having every title, none of the money and working 60+ hours a week with a son on the way, I went out for lunch and never looked back. The station manager was starting to get (I'll put it nicely) really aggressive. A co-owner stopped by my apartment after I walked out to express his empathy on how I was treated. He told me he too felt trapped, but couldn't leave because his money was tied up in a partnership with several others. At any rate it took 2 full timers and 1 part timer to replace me. He went on further to tell me that the extra hires were driving their budget back into the red which was not the case with my lone single salary when I was there. He stated he had no idea how much I was giving on a fixed salary. During the second year I was there was the only time the station turned a few bucks. Shortly thereafter WHOL was sold to today's present owners.

From there I helped maintain/manage 300+ apartments, then moved on to manufacturing for 33 years. The kind of jobs that actually pay the bills. Too bad, since I longed to be a DJ from the time I was 10 years old. But I don't regret the choice I made because...

Lo these years later DJ's can no longer run a free format of their choosing like I did. I knew a few that jelled with the public and ran the ratings through the roof. Soon corporations bought up the local stations and told them exactly what to do and say or get out. A few, like myself did. Others did not and became trapped in the biz until the new corporate owners tossed them aside and syndicated the broadcast day via satellite. Mostly the way radio broadcasting is today.

I don't envy the few remaining in the biz. It's more like an honorarium then a job in my eyes. Something like, how much are you willing to put up with to be on the radio?


Telling Tales
Once at WAEB Jeff Frank spilled his soda into the old tube main control room board. POP! POP! POP! The sounds of vacuum tubes popping just before the board sizzled and fried.

Larry Brooke pressed his bare buttocks to the newsroom booth window while Super Lou was attempting to read the news. Super broke up and went to commercial skipping the remaining 3 minutes of the newscast.

Ernie Stiegler doing one of his many sports broadcast used an old clock radio to make sure he was on-the-air. He accidentally had the wrong station on. Thinking he was not patched in to the studio he went on a cursing tirade LIVE on air!

This happened when WAEB was located at 7th & Hamilton Streets. Gene Kaye received a speeding ticket while coming back from one of his many trips to Philadelphia. He walked into a supposedly off-the-air news/production studio. As it turned out a key was thrown the wrong way and his tirate went out LIVE over-the-air... OOPS!

One of our own at WHOL hosted a program of religious music on Saturdays. He was on a hot 2nd mic unbeknownst to him as he told tales laced with colorful language. The next day an on-the-air light was installed!

Then there was Joe Vargo who just loved to give Dopey Duncan some very severe wedges while he was speaking on air.

Jay Sands (the morning man) was extremely ticked one early morning because some ass left a chair in the middle of the record room as he came through in the dark. He nearly tripped over it and stubbed his toe. He kicked the hell out of the chair into a dark corner where Super Lou was sleeping on the floor from the night before. Lou kept quiet as a mouse despite his pain and Jay never knew about it.

Speaking of Jay... there was animosity between him and Gene Kaye. One time Gene Kaye worked frustratingly hard on recording an advertisement onto a tape cartridge. Doesn't Jay record over it with a plug for his morning show. Gene never saw it coming till he hit the play button on the old 'Gates' cartridge machine. Gene retaliated by pushing a thumbtack through a local semi-hit record that Jay's daughter had made. Then posted it on the control room bulletin board :-)

Bud Musselman owned WSAN and every year would crawl perilously to the top of his broadcast towers and string Christmas lights. Towers are fabricated in sections and there was poor electrical connection between two of them causing Bud to get severely zapped. He fell at least 20 feet coming to rest at the feet of Dick Ziegenfuss (one of his broadcast engineers). Highly determined Bud uttered a few profound words and crawled right back up on the tower and proceeded to finish stringing his lights!

WAEB-FM came about through the license purchase from Bud over at WSAN who saw no future in FM at the time. In WAEB-FM's infancy it consisted of automated 8 giant reel to reels. Each had a category. Male/slow, male/up tempo, instrumental, and so on. The equipment was quite used prior in one of the other Rust stations (Bill Rust owned WAEB). Advertisements were run from a 'Gates' cassette player tower consisting of about 25 vertical trays. The player head would advance itself upward by 2 screw drives drawing in the carts and sliding them back into the trays. Then proceed up to the next one. Well not always. On more then one occasion it would only slide the cassettes partially back onto it's tray. Then would wind back down the rack catching each cassette smashing each one to pieces on it's way back down to the bottom. DEAD AIR! Eventually they put a silence sensor which would just skip any piece of equipment that did not come online within 30 secs and advance to the next one.

Ok what about my dirt?
The most enjoyable live remote broadcasts were that of Jolly Joe picnics at Bushkill Park. I would stay in the remote unit to run board while Joe's band performed. His fans would just love to bring food and liquor to me in the remote. Being young and stupid I consumed the lot of it. End of broadcast. Time to back the remote unit out of pavilion.. yeah well.. right into a wall. DING! I prayed the boss never saw the dent.

Similarly on one of the Kempton fair broadcasts I was bringing the remote back when I stopped at the top of a steep hill for a stop sign. When I pulled out CRASH! Every record, record player, board.. EVERYTHING fell to the floor. I couldn't hide that one. OOPSY! Tone arms were bent. Record needles mangled. Quite a mess.

We had a big country show at the Allentown Fair grounds. Below the stage was an ice filled tub with every assortment of alcohol known to man. Fortunately I got my Jeanie C. Riley interview and all the air personality plugs from Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Dollar, Nat Stucky, Cal Smith & Geo. Morgan.

Did a remote at Cedar Crest Shopping Plaza. I never followed the rule of thumb... interview oldsters not teens. I walked up with mic in hand and attempted an interview with a teen who shouted into the mic, "WHOL sucks!" Yep straight out on the air. I pretended he never said that. I went onward with a great big , "well great to see you" and slinked back to the remote unit jabbering away like it never happened and spinning another record.

Ever sit behind a metal microphone under 75' towers when lightening strikes? DON'T!

Well that ought to be enough to get me in trouble! If any of you guys still around want me to pull your story down, let me know. No harm intended.
~
About:
WHOL- 2 years
3 hours spinning records daily
10- 5 minute news segments
4- weekly 15 minute public service programs




Radio in it's heyday...
..employed dozens of people. Where there are less then a handful locally today. You could always make a few extra bucks by DJing the pools, schools' ice cream festivals etc.

Some of the DJ's had exclusive gigs like: The Hub (YMCA). Notre Dame Bandstand. Castle Rock (Dorney Park).

Later teen night clubs were born and mostly replaced the record hops- Bill Daniels. The Mod Mill, The Mad Hatter, The Zoo, Saylor's Lake Pavilion, etc.

Nationally 50,000 Watt clear channel super stations like WKBW in Buffalo who had Joey Reynolds. WBZ-Boston. WCFL in Chicago who had Barney Pip DJing. WIBG in Phila. whose DJ's included Joe Niagra, Hy Lit. Then there was WFIL in Philadelphia with the likes of Dr. Don Rose, Jim O'Brien. WABC in New York City- Cousin Brucie (Morrow). They all could all be heard in this area with a good radio.

Speaking of stories (names protected). Who will ever forget when one Philly station ran a contest with a prize amounting to $1,000's. In a matter of poor judgement one of the DJs at another competing radio station called a listener and awarded the other stations money! Yeah the DJ got fired!

Old Owners/freqs..
* WAEB-790- Rust Broadcasting. Bill Rust went on to accumulate 14 radio stations after graduating from Lehigh University. Bill Rust earned his fortune by designing broadcast equipment. His designs were the ones most broadcasters used at the time. Bill retired in 1986. Passed away in 1991 at 77

* WSAN-1470- Ruel 'Bud' Musselman & his sister. Bud passed away at 78 years of age.

* WKAP-1320- Rahall Brothers.

* WHOL- Carl Stuart, Jim Herbert & silent partners. When WHOL went into bankruptcy prior to these owners Max Hess (Hess Brothers) once considered buying it but backed out. WHOL used to be 24 hr. 1,000 watts 1230. But WEEX, when WHOL went dark, applied and obtained their license, frequency and power thus limiting WHOL to 500 watts daytime.

* WGPA- Bethlehem "Globe Times"

* WYNS- Harriet Phillips (Lehighton)

What Happened to these DJs?
Good question. One got drafted and when he came back became a cop. Another bought a night club and produced rock concerts. A number of them went into advertising sales. Another formed a rock band. Still others are in the business in some form or another today here and elsewhere.


3 comments:

  1. Well written description of how it was. I worked in the biz from 1969-72 part time during college and 1972 thru 1975 full time at WRAW, WBAX, and finally at WEEX. Had no idea Rust was a Lehigh graduate. Ah the dreams of working "downtown at Marina City" at BIG 10 WCFL. You can still here their phenomenal jingles on YouTube.

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    Replies
    1. Well it does seem longevity back in those days was rare. Then again there once was a ton of jobs available even if not in the same city.

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