Wednesday, June 10, 2020

ROBBLOG #843-Sharing my Knowledge

If you've read my previous ROBBLOG, you'll remember it was all about a new direction that Swisssh Radio is taking.

Then today, as I was doing a Google search for radio stations that were popular in central Ontario back in the 60's and 70's, a blog of mine showed up in the search. The blog posted in September 2012 was all about "mechanical" changes at radio stations. So to balance the programming aspects of today in the last blog here's a refresher course on how radio stations ran back in the day.

It seems that in the fall of 2012, I had been reading various online sites of interest to “old” radio people about today's radio stations and how they compared to radio stations in the past. Now, some of this stuff will be foreign to those of you who were never broadcasters but back in the day I was familiar with these terms and associated equipment. None of these items exist in today’s high tech radio world. Computers rule!

Back when I began my radio career around 1972, we didn’t have computer programming or digital recorders.
We use tape machines and cassettes. All have disappeared from the face of radio broadcasting today, although you might find one stuffed in a closet at a station. 

I remember using Ampex and Otari reel-to-reel tape machines that housed 8 inch reels of tape. Sometimes we used 10 inch reels to record and broadcast a programme that say had to run in the overnight period. The
reels were massive and were held on the Ampex machines with big grey-coloured "things" we called “hubs.”

The tape was made- for the most part, by Ampex or Scotch.
I remember how brittle the tape became after being used time and time again and the background hiss they developed- like scratches on a 45 rpm record.

This caused many problems especially when I worked at a station in Midland that ran two hours of religion every weeknight. I “prayed” that the tapes would not break while playing.
Occasionally, they did. 
I would quickly try to re-thread the tape back onto the machine. By the way, the tape split- usually, when I took a washroom break.
Anyway, I would get the programme back on air as soon as I could. In the meantime, station phones were ringing off the hook. The calls were usually from religious cronies telling me I was going to Hell and that Satan was forcing me to break the tapes.
Indeed! Satan had time to look in on me and force tapes to break...

Cart Machines with that Cart 403 being a commercial
The eight inch tapes were used for production of commercials and each announcer had one. 
We also had grease pencils, splicing tape and razor blades to splice commercials together- especially if sound effects were used in the commercial production. There was no quick or easy way to edit tape. Editing commercials on today's production computers is a breeze.
Cripes, we never even had cell phones in the 70’s or the 80’s.
Imagine, most phones had holes on them to dial a number- not buttons.

In the "on air" studio, music was played on records which were placed on turntables. Vinyl records- the same records making a comeback today! When a 45 rpm disc was placed on the turntable- also being revived these days, a 45 adapter had to be placed on the turntable to fill in the big hole in the 45 rpm record. Long playing albums didn’t require the adapter of course.

We played our commercials on machines called “cart machines”. They sort of looked like 8 track tapes but had only small bits of recording tape on them- 20 seconds, 40 seconds. At the most a few minutes.
Some stations recorded top charted songs onto these carts and played them on the cart machines to save wear and tear on the 45 vinyl discs. Discs- like recording tape, could sound scratchy after a few hundred plays. This ensured a better on-air sound since some 45’s were made of better quality vinyl than others.

This is not me but I sat in front of a board like
 that at CKMP Midland- my first on-air job.
We had “pots” on our boards in the studio.
Not of the kitchen cooking variety. These were knobs announcers used to turn levels up or down for mics, turntables or cart machines. When I first began in radio I operated an old RCA board with big black knobs and tubes inside. The tunes frequently burned out and you would lose sound to a turntable or cart machine. While you struggled being “live” on air with only one turntable, the station engineer would crawl over top of you, open the back of the board and replace the tube.
Fun times!

Hey, do you remember typewriters?
They kind of looked like computers- only without the screen or tower under the desk or the internet.
We used to type words on typewriters.
These typewriters didn’t “save” the information we wrote however. Not like today's computers and devices.
We typed news stories, show prep, death notices the weather and more.

Of course, typewriters also had something like a tape inside, only it was called a ribbon. The ribbon had ink on it and when a typewriter key hit the ribbon, the letter of the alphabet you hit on the typewriter keys displayed on the piece of paper you had placed on the typewriter’s roller.
Sounds confusing- doesn’t it?
The keys looked just like today’s computer keyboards and are in the same place- except for digits such as the dash or the dollar sign- which one always had to search for along the keyboard.

Out in the newsroom at a radio station, we had a huge "Teletype machine" that brought us up to the minute news and weather from Broadcast News. It was like a computer only it was large- like a fridge. It was heavy and gray in colour. It clacked away all day and all night in the news room. 
It hardly ever stopped.
Now and then one had to re-fill the teletype machine using huge rolls of flimsy, yellow paper.
I remember the paper would frequently get stuck as it was printing the 1030 News Summary which you needed in order to read the 11 o’clock news!

We had phones as I mentioned previously but there was one phone dial that was used only twice a day at radio stations. It was on the transmitter board- usually out in the hallway at the radio station. One had to “dial” up the power of the transmitter in the morning and “dial” it down at night. You see, in Canada AM stations had to cut power at night so as not to interfere with other AM signals. AM signals travel quite far at night. That’s why in the Central Ontario area we were inundated with signals from big radio stations from the U.S.
That’s when our music industry was lost.
Everyone listened to the big American stations because local stations played religion or some crap music at night- like Peggy Lee or Percy Faith.
Local programmers never got it.
Funny, today I like that “crap” music.

This bouncing of signals at night gave our music in Canada an American twist. 
Sadly, we gave up on many of our own artists for the Brits and Americans.
At least things have changed in the last few decade. We have artists in this country who sell their music around the world.  Even so, many stations still rely on American Stars and content. Just look at various station websites. Pictures of Artists featured on station home pages are mostly American. I blame it on Music Departments, Programme Directors and music surveys.
Enough about that.

Here's something else we used frequently in the "olden days".
Patch cords.
Patch cords were used to bring in programmes from national networks or to take one studio off the air and put another studio “live” to air.
These boards looked like a Bell Canada Operator board.
“Number, please…”
That is- if you know what an old Bell Canada board looked like.

There have been many changes technically over the years.
It’s a whole new ballgame with computers and computer programmes.
That’s why I can run two radio stations from one studio using 3 computers. My stations can be heard all around the world whereas a station like CFOR in Orillia- where I worked on-air back in the 70’s, barely got as far south as Barrie, Ontario.

Finally, to end the broadcast day we usually played O Canada when the station left the air at midnight. Many stations were not on air 24 hours a day- except for large, big city stations. The anthem was usually pre-recorded on a cart (see above) and played on a cart machine. (also see above).
The National Anthem was preceded by an announcement saying something like:

“CFOR 1570 in Orillia has now completed its broadcast day. We will return to the air at 6 a.m. Have a good evening.”
Cue music: O Canada.

Those were the Days, my friend...