Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Radio Daze

I always wanted to be on the Radio. As a little kid, I would rescue large cardboard appliance cartons and create a “radio station,” from which I would broadcast, only to myself, some talk show topic, or my 6-year old version of American Top 40.

And I was fascinated with radio sets. Back in those days, they were all tube-type radios, and they drew me like a moth to a flame.

During the Summer of 1974 I had a chance to volunteer for the Rice University campus radio station, KTRU-FM. They needed help staffing the station during the Summer Break, and I was given the task of reading the news one or two nights a week. I was smitten.

I was bitten.

By the Spring of 1975, I was working full time for KODA-AM/FM, as a board operator/traffic reporter/news reader. Those were the days before computers and digital audio.

Music was either played from a massive turntable, or recorded onto even more massive reels of tape or 8-track-like cartridges, called “carts.” That label has survived thru today, with “cart labels” referring to the window on a touch-screen indicating where a specific piece of digital audio resides.

Back in the day, the worst thing you had to look out for was an LP that skipped, or a tape that broke.

I ran across a photo taken in ’75 or ’76 of the old KODA-AM control room. There’s an old-style control board with real knobs and switches…and push buttons that were really high-tech. They had remote-start circuits that would fire a cart deck or a turntable without performing a "Mary Woods Stretch" while you were on the air. (If you didn't live through Watergate, that reference has no meaning.)
To properly cue a cut on a record, you had to either hold the needle in place in a groove while the felt-covered turntable spun beneath the vinyl, or you back-turned the LP a quarter- or half-revolution to give the thing enough room to reach 33- or 45-rpm speed so that the audio wouldn’t “wow” when you started the tune. Those were big, honkin’ turntables.

I notice in this photo there were two types of cart decks in use. The big ones built into the cabinet were considered “beasts” by the time the more-compact versions were installed on top of the counter to the left of the control panel.

Now they're used for door stops.

Across the room were rack-mounted reel-to-reel tape decks and one of the early programmable audio managers.

A computer.

It shuffled tunes onto the air from the reels of tape, in a sequence that was determined by thumbwheels. Each tune on the tape ended with a low-frequency tone that cued the automation system to trigger the next tape deck in the sequence. Crude by today’s standards, but it worked like a charm in those days.

I miss those days on groggy mornings, when the computer in our control room is misbehaving, won’t play audio on command, or has lost its connection to the internet.

Today was one of those days...would have welcomed that cardboard appliance carton to crawl inside.

1 comment:

Ray said...

good lord the memories!
KODA looked a lot like KEEZ FM when I Started in San Antonio in 1975. It was radio then.