Dead Air

I have been working for many years on a semi-autobiographical account of my early days in radio. When I was a kid in Baltimore, my hero was Johnny Dark on WCAO. A great announcer, and, as I found out later in life, a truly great human being. He made me want to be a DJ. Here is the opening scene. Be forewarned that this story features some adult language.

“…and finally US Grade One to Two feeder pigs, 70 to 80 pounds are at 12. Good morning, Tidewater, it’s 2, yes I said 2 balmy degrees in the Courthouse at seven minutes past five in the A and M on January the third 19 and 74 and those are the opening hog prices from Salina.  It’s your old pal Ray-on-the-radio and up next by request for Miss Earlene out on Elm Bush Road is Mr. Frank Sinatra and “Summer Wind”.

When I was 18-years-old and working my first radio job in a small Virginia town, I actually spoke that way. On-the-air. Where people could hear it.

 “Your old pal?” 

 I’d been working there for just about a month. And no, I had no fucking clue what feeder pigs were.

Still don’t.

I flipped a switch covered with cracked, yellowing scotch tape on the ancient military gray Gates console to play a jingle that was out of date on the day it was recorded, and a total howler here 15 years later. After a few bars of sappy, swingy ersatz “rock and roll”, the singers oozed in, all smiley and upbeat…

 

            ”In a car, in a jet, (sfx-SWOOSH)  

             In your kitchen, your best bet…

             IS WINDY RADIO, WNDY, 

             1440 AM IN TIDEWATER!”

The call letters of the station were not actually sung by the Up With Puke Choir. My boss, Izzy Robertson, voiced them, loudly, by yelling over top of the station's original call letters. It cost him less to do that then to spring for a new jingle package when he bought WNDY from the original owners. Pretty much everything in the little east coast Virginia radio station had been recorded, inked, stamped, and/or taped over by Robertson when he took over and changed the call letters from WTID.  WTID had made sense in TIDewater. WNDY (or as it was known to the locals, “Windy” Radio) did not. Izzy called the station” Windy” because he was from Chicago. The Windy City. 

The gentle breezes that usually lazed off the York River simply didn’t qualify, so the connection was pretty much lost on the local folk. The town wags, however, were damn quick to come up with a new slogan after Izzy switched the call letters…

 ”Windy Radio…it really blows!”   

“Robertson, you cheap bastard,” I muttered, flipping the switches that would open the only other channel on the console. 

While most other radio stations had a separate channel on the board for the things they needed to get on the air, one for each turntable, another for the cart machines and another for the microphone, WNDY had a grand total of two channels; one for the microphone, and one more for everything else. That included both turntables, one triple decker spot deck to play commercial carts (not that there were a whole hell of a lot of commercials to worry about), and two reel to reels. The only way to get anything on the air was to memorize the position of the switches on the board…

The mantra was drilled into my head by Floyd, the station’s ancient chief engineer.

“One up, two down is turntable one…

Two up one down is turntable two…

Both dead center is your cart machine…

Reel one is two down, one center…or is that reel two…who the hell knows…figure it out, boy…”

Switches in place, I stretched for the turntable start button with my left hand. My right hand was lightly holding the worn Sinatra LP against the green felt on the turntable platter. This was called slip cueing, and allowed the turntable to get up to speed before the record started to play. I had learned to slip cue in broadcasting school, and, to be honest, I was a master at this otherwise useless skill. As the jingle faded, I hit the on switch to start the turntable; one element bleeding seamlessly into the other, better than the pros at the big stations in Norfolk and back home in Baltimore…

Nothing.

I pounded the switch again.

Still nothing. 

“Shit!”

I jerked my head around and saw I hadn’t put the turntable in gear… I slammed the gear lever into position and the heavy steel platter struggled up to speed with O’l Blue Eyes groaning through decades of cue scratches.

Up to speed…and beyond…all the way up to78...not 33 and a damn third…

The Chipmunks sing Sinatra.

“Ah, fuck!”

I grabbed for the lever again. As I did, my knee brushed the on/off switch on the side of the plywood turntable cabinet. This time, Sinatra came to a dead stop. The shock caused the tone arm to slide completely off of the LP, gouging a final, fatal scratch into the vinyl as it went. I looked desperately at the other turntable. 

Empty…and the steady grinding from the cart machine meant it was still cueing the stupid jingle.  

Nothing to play and nothing to say.

Dead Air.

So that's how it starts. I'd love to hear from y'all if you think I should continue. I'll post a few more snippets as time goes on. The only song that will work with this story is Harry Chapin's amazing WOLD . Thanks as always for reading, listening, commenting.

"Ray Weaver has the rare ability to transform life into stories and songs that are intensely personal, yet still touch a universal chord."

Someone once wrote that about me. I hope it's true. People do seem to like my stories and songs and I've had them published as part of the Rocking Chair Reader series created by Adams Media and in various magazines and newspapers. I also sing the songs and tell the stories in a live concert version. My first ebook, "A Father's Heart", collects the stories and songs into a multimedia package. This blog will contain some of those stories and whatever else might suit my fancy. 

Thanks for your valuable time, Ray

Comments

The Chipmunks sing Sinatra.. I can picture it, thanks for a great laugh
 

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