(Pictured: DJs and podcast hosts are often told to picture their typical listener. So here you are.)
There have been a few thinkpieces recently about the rise of podcasting during the pandemic year. I am not sure how they were counted, but there’s supposedly 1.95 million different podcasts now. But raw numbers aside, podcasting, which started as a way for independent creators to reach new audiences, explore niche topics, and/or express unusual points of view, is becoming the same vast, corporatized space as the record industry, in which a fraction of one percent of the total number of creators commands the bulk of the audience, with content tailored to that mass audience.
A lot of high-profile podcasts were launched in the past year by idle celebrities who might otherwise have been spending time on film or TV shoots. Whether these people actually have a goal in mind beyond making some money—whether they actually have anything to say, or anything worth hearing—barely factors in. Some certainly will. The Barack Obama/Bruce Springsteen podcast has some intrigue, and two smart, interesting people in conversation are unlikely to be straight-up dull, but it’s by no means clear how much value their thing will actually have: whether they will make fresh, provocative observations, or just exchange platitudes about What Makes America Great. Lesser celebrities invite lesser expectations. Many are putting their names and voices on work that is largely being done by others—they’re not self-producing in their own basement studios.
I have no illusions about my own humble podcast. More people will log onto Paris Hilton’s new podcast by mistake than have ever intentionally listened to mine. And in fact, I intended to put mine on an open-ended hiatus early last fall. Then I ended up in the damn hospital, and the podcast was the best format to tell the story.
Stories are the key, and ultimately, the point. Sports and current-events podcasts are useful, but the ones that people are most passionate about tell stories, in one way or another.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying I have some more stories to tell, about the life of a radio person at three different times of the day, week, and year: overnights, weekends, and holidays. You can listen here, or at your usual podcast providers: Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, and Stitcher.
I hope you’ll find it a worthwhile use of 17 minutes and 40 seconds, and if you don’t, at least it’s only 17:40. Your comments are always appreciated, either in the comments here or by contacting me some other way. Also welcome are likes and positive ratings, if you are listening on a platform where you can do that.
If you are a radio person, or you were a radio person, I’m interested in hearing your own stories about overnights, weekends, and holidays, and I’m sure many among the readership will be too.
I’ve been hard at work creating Internet content for you this week. A new Sidepiece will be in your e-mail later today. Busy busy busy. Nothing I get paid for, but still.
6 thoughts on “Overnights, Weekends, and Holidays”
You didn’t specify, so here’s the condensed Ted Baxter version. Should run under 17:40:
My first real radio job was in October, 1977, as a sales rep at an AM/FM combo in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The less said about it, the better. The AM’s PD took pity and hired me to do overnights on WJON. A few years ago, while going through some old reel tapes, I came across one marked as a work tape, so I put it on, expecting to hear some old commercial production. Instead, it was an unscoped aircheck, taken right off the board, of my first airshift from early January ’78, going into the 3 A.M. simulcast newscast. Being a Minnesotan, the high school sports score pronunciations went unmangled that first night, although Onamia Crosier would trip me up a few nights later (I figured “Crosier” would have a French pronunciation.) Compared to working in sales, It felt really different to suddenly be the only person in the building. WJON aired a fair number of run of schedule local ads all night, which at least made it feel like there were some listeners of that mighty 250-watt signal.
The FM’s closet-sized studio down the hall had a far better air monitor speaker than the AM control room, so I’d often make a beeline there, switch the monitor to “AM” and let it blast. “Thunder Island” just killed over full-frequency AM, with all of that high-frequency pre-emphasis. Two months into the shift, the early evening talent departed and I took over that time slot for the next three years.
March ’81 brought a call from a college radio pal, who hired me for overnights at Oklahoma City’s 50kW blowtorch, KOMA. Being a standalone AM (as were all of the Storz stations), the office and studio portions of the facility were a surprisingly big step down from WJON’s spacious, brand-new digs, but between the three massive Blaw Knox towers out back and the RoarMaster transmitter’s fans, that first night of cracking the mic and being heard over the western half of the continent was simply mind-blowing. Now THIS was RADIO! There was a push-pin map of the U.S. on the control room wall, with listener request locations duly marked. Just a couple nights later came the most memorable minutes, after a caller from Chihuahua, Mexico was followed by a listener in Winnipeg. We got a reception report by mail from a thrilled “first-time catch” DXer listening in Perth, Western Australia, then read his letter over the air and played “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” for him. A week or two later, he wrote back and said he’d nearly fallen out of his chair when he’d heard his letter being read, along with the song. “Amazing that I’d hear my own name during what was only my second time ever hearing your station!”
The Continental 317C transmitter, tubes aglow, sat directly across the hallway, behind sliding glass doors. Its biggest quirk was the occasional DC overload, which sounded like a bomb going off. Used to scare the hell out of the passing office staffers… whom I eventually met, after moving up to PM drive three months later. We didn’t get rich working there, but Storz took a no-interference-from-Omaha home office approach, which made it an incredibly fun place to work.
My one memorable weekend experience came just minutes into a Saturday midday shift at WDGY, when smoke started pouring out of the overhead panel above the control board. The studio had moved from the transmitter site in Bloomington to what was basically a compact closet, downstairs from Malrite sister K102 in St. Paul. With no window to open, I was preparing to bail, when the smoke suddenly stopped. A few minutes later, I discovered the source, after a music cart failed to fire. We cleaned the cart heads regularly during our shifts, and pulling the cart machine chassis in and out in the process had eventually worn through the wire insulation, shorting it out, before f-i-n-a-l-l-y blowing its fuse. Didn’t miss a beat on the air, but from that point on, I always knew where the fire extinguishers were located.
Prior to Oklahoma City, I’d lived close enough to home that the holidays had always been within a 75 minute drive. In 1980, back in St. Cloud, the FM had gotten tons of calls on Elmo & Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”, so when a reissued single arrived on my desk at KOMA in ’82, my PD gave the green light to add it after I mentioned the earlier reaction. I filled in that Christmas morning and never before or since witnessed a literal Christmas tree of phones lit for that record. It was just insane. When Epic got Elmo & Patsy to re-record the song the following year, the slicked-up result never seemed as quaint.
I’ve more recently appeared on overnights, but those were just replays of my PM drive shift from 12 hours earlier.
A bit of a digression, which jb already knows about: I attended a Jimmy Webb show a couple years ago with a former co-worker from WJON. At one point during the performance, Jimmy launched into a story about “this powerful radio station in Oklahoma City, KOMA.” My buddy Jay immediately looked at me and said, “Whoa!” Jimmy went on to relate how the 5th Dimension’s “Up Up And Away” was in danger of being pulled by KOMA’s music director, supposedly over drug references in the lyrics. Jimmy’s preacher father got in his car and drove from western Oklahoma straight to the station in Moore, asking to speak to the MD. In the MD’s office, he produced a concealed gun, which he then set on the desk and asked for assurance that the lovely song about a beautiful balloon that his son had written, would remain on the playlist, which it did.
In the book autograph line, I told Jimmy that I’d been KOMA’s MD during the early ’80s and was more than relieved that his father had never honored me with such a visit. Jimmy had also mentioned during his audience story that he’d heard that American G.I.s in Vietnam had listened to KOMA on their transistor radios at night. I was able to confirm to him that that, in fact. had been true.
Has it been 17:40 yet? Jay had had the foresight to time Jimmy’s performance of “MacArthur Park” that night: 13 minutes and change.
A GREAT podcast episode, JB!
This comes as the realization hit me a few days ago that this month, April, will be 50 years since my first radio gig. My wife sees this as a normal person would—an accomplishment.
I see it as “I’m the guy, who if I had asked on my first day how long he’d been at it, would say:
Your experiences brought back a bunch of memories. Job one, at KIBS in Bishop, California, was Sunday mornings 7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. It involved turning on the transmitter (the station had signed off at 10:00 the night before), being in this building all alone at age 15, playing back tapes of religious programs for the first two hours, opening the mic every 30 minutes to say “KIBS, Bishop” and nothing more—and then, the final hour, flipping the correct switch to air a live (“for shut-ins”) church service from the Four Square Gospel Church in town (the pastor of which was a former co-owner of the station).
After a few weeks of that with no screw-ups apart from listening to the Rolling Stones “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” during the church service with the turntable in “Air” instead of “Audition” (deepest apologies, Rev. Clement), I was given the “full shift”, which was six hours, 7:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
KIBS signed off at 10:00 six days a week, but at 7:00 on Sunday nights, ostensibly for maintenance, but since Clement and partners soid the station to an absentee owner, that pretty much never happened. More on that in a minute.
The second half of the shift consisted of playing whatever I wanted, as long as it was MOR (Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand). Being a weird kid, I knew that music, and used it as a framework that allowed me to slip in some jazz.
When they hired the next newbie, I got moved to the 1:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. shift, where it was all MOR. I’d been there maybe six months when one Sunday afternoon, a well-dressed (at least by Bishop standards) couple in their mid-to-late 50s walked into the studio (the front door was never locked).
“Hi! We’re Art and Dotty. We’re playing up at Paradise Lodge this week and wondered if you’d like to interview us.”
I’m 15. Faking it like I knew what I was doing seemed to be the best course.
“What do you do?”
“What kind of songs?”
“We had a top ten record.”
“Would I know it?”
At which point, they sang:
I knew it, if only from it being on KMPC when my mom and dad listened.
“Have a seat. We’ll talk after the next record.”
I’ll stop here, because this is already long enough. If there’s interest, I’ll share some stories about signoffs, overnights, holidays and the EAS.
Go for it. Almost anybody would have better stories than mine.
I look forward to your radio stories, JB, and I’m sure everyone here does, too.
I’ll try not to abuse the green light.
So, after a few months of signing the station off on Sunday night, I got one of the weekday evening shifts. KIBS, going back to Rev. Clement’s teenage son in 1963, had a tradition of hiring high school students for cheap air talent on weekends and evenings.
The station was block programmed: Sign on at 6:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday. The morning guy played Country. Mornings at 9:00 was a “womens’ program”, “Coffee With Virginia”. Household hints, recipes and light MOR music (Al Hirt’s “Java” was the program’s theme song).
Virginia Holmes was a Los Angeles woman who had moved with her husband to Bishop, so she had some style and some taste not usually present in such a rustic setting. She was also a substitute school teacher, had taught me in every grade from 5th on at one time or another and actually came to me at age 14, to see if I’d like to be on the radio because I could read well and my voice had changed (some of the teenage DJs were not all that great readers, especially during the rip-and-read news: “In Chick-ago Illin-oys today, Mayor Daley…”).
She got Mom’s permission, took me down to the radio station, had me read some wire copy into a tape recorder and gave the tape to the GM. He loaned me books to study for the FCC Third Class exam, my mom took a day off, drove me 270 miles to L.A., sat in a Federal Building hallway while I took the test, bought me a Big Mac (McDonalds had not yet come to Bishop) and drove me 270 miles home. By the time the license arrived in the mail, I was 15.
Anyway, at 10:00 was “Radio Bingo”, which is exactly what it sounds like. You go to the Ben Franklin store each week to get your bingo cards and then spend an hour five days a week listening to some guy on the radio say “B-12”, “I-23”, and so on. From 11:00 to noon was MOR music of the variety I’d been playing on Sundays (minus the jazz), World, National and Local news for half an hour at noon, more MOR from 12:30-5:00, another half-hour news block there, more more MOR from 5:30-6:00 and then “Dinner Music” from 6:00-7:00, which was basically tracking however much of however many instrumental albums it took to fill an hour. Could be Mantovani, could be Rachmaninoff. Could be both.
From 7:00-10:00 was the high school DJs playing Top 40 for three hours and then signing the station off. So now, I’m playing 45s instead of MOR LP cuts. Which screwed me up more than once at signoff time. Our signoff protocol was to thank everyone for listening and then play a 2-minute devotional program called “Be Still and Know”. It featured a deep baritone voice saying the title of the show. You’d get an entire month’s worth of these on one LP. And after three hours of playing 45s, I would all too often forget to change the turntable speed, hit start and hear Alvin Chipmunk say “beeestilll” before I slapped the lever into 33 1/3 and the guy wound down to “and know.”
After “Be Still and Know” (the only two-speed devotional show on American radio), we’d play a pre-recorded signoff of the type you mentioned in your podcast, JB…the whole enchilada..”on a frequency of 12-hundred and thirty kilohertz with a daytime power of one thousand watts and a nighttime power of two hundred fifty watts, as authorized by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C……” “Our studios are located…” “Our mailing address is…” “The receptionist’s shoe size…”
And then, the National Anthem, and carrier off. Like you, JB, when they made me PD the final eight months I was there, I swapped out the Anthem, but you made an infinitely cooler choice. I went with “Good Night” from the Beatles’ White Album.
I was the second-to-the-last high school DJ at KIBS and as the other guys graduated, I ended up with all of the evening shifts. There was a few months in ’72 where we hired a recent graduate of the Columbia School of Broadcasting and I did 4:00-7:00 pm, but that guy is a story all by himself. For now, let’s just say I wound up with 7:00-10:00 Monday through Saturday.
The always-open door policy at KIBS resulted in a couple of visits less pleasant and more awkward than Art and Dotty Todd. There was the 350-pound Native American gentleman from the Paiute reservation a stone’s throw away who walked in smelling like a distillery and asked me to play Redbone’s “The Witch Queen of New Orleans.”, and then showed me the gun in his waistband. Fortunately, after the third play in a row (he kept saying “again” every time it hit the fade), he nodded and silently showed himself out.
And then there was the summer evening when a big gray station wagon with aerials all over it pulled into the parking lot and an inspector from the FCC walked in. I’m 16, alone in the building. He suggests calling the General Manager and the Chief Engineer. I call the GM. He’s drunk. With the Chief Engineer. I tell the inspector they’re both ill. And the inspection begins.
In the lobby, about 15 steps from the studio door, is the RCA BTA-1R transmitter, which the station signed on with in 1953. He asks me to take the station to night pattern. There’s a toggle switch on the front panel labelled “Day/Night”. I’m sure he was expecting me to use that, which is why he was so shocked when I went around to the back of the transmitter, undid ten spring screws, removed the rear cover and jiggled a broom handle to effect the pattern change. The absentee owner wouldn’t approve the relay, so that’s how the Chief Engineer kept us legal at night.
“How long have you been changing pattern this way?”
“About six months. Sir.”
By the end of the evening, KIBS had earned itself 106 written violations from the FCC (fortunately none of them counting against my license).
The last (and the best, in terms of my career) unexpected drop-in was in early 1974. It’s 9:30 at night when Sandy Horn, promotion guy for ABC Records in Los Angeles walks in with another guy.
“Sandy? What are you doing here, man?”
Sandy and his friend are beyond high.
“Hey, Mike…do you know Ace Young?”, gesturing to his friend.
“Like—-newsguy on KMET Ace Young?” I said.
Yep. Him. Turns out Sandy and Ace were in Ace’s VW in L.A. He’d picked Sandy up at the ABC office in Burbank, they were smoking cigarettes with no names on them, missed their offramp and didn’t notice until they were in Mojave—85 miles from L.A. At the lone stop sign in Mojave in 1974, there was a sign that pointed to the right that said “Bishop 171 Miles.” Sandy said “Hey, I know a guy in Bishop”. And it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
As I shook hands with Ace, Sandy looked around the studio, said “Jesus, what a toilet”, and wandered down the hall, leaving me in the studio, doing my show, with Ace. After I signed off at 10, we went to Jack’s Waffle Shop (seems they were hungry) had a late-night supper and they drove off at 11:30 p.m.
Ace was on KMET—a bit groggy, but on—the next morning at 6.
What I didn’t know was that Sandy, who’d been a jock before he was a promo guy, had wandered down the hall to the production studio, bulk-erased a reel of tape (sure hope it wasn’t anything important) and recorded my show. The next day, he sent it to his old station, KSLY in San Luis Obispo, and within a week, I was going there to do overnights and be Music Director.
If I haven’t worn out my welcome yet (be brutal, JB), the story will continue tomorrow.
Mike: More, please!
And thanks for a memory jog I never would have otherwise have had: “Be Still And Know.” Now I’m going to go crazy trying to remember on which station I used to hear it.
Well, turns out I’ve got some free time this afternoon, Yah Shure, so I guess I’ll continue (by the way, I looked online, hoping to find old “Be Still and Know” programs on YouTube or something and it turns out it’s still in production!).
So, KSLY was a big change in about every way. I was still a few weeks from turning 18, leaving home for the first time. It was sea level instead of 4,100 feet, 30,000 people instead of 3,000, a college town instead of a cow town and ten miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Then there was the station itself. Another high-on-the-dial, low-watter, a thousand watts day, 250 night at 1400. But—it was Top 40 instead of block programmed, and it was 24 hours a day instead of 16 (or 12 on Sundays).
KSLY used to be in the basement of a downtown bank building, but it got flooded in winter rains twice in three years and the station’s second owner (it signed on in 1960), a Texan named Homer Odom who used to work for Gordon McClendon, bought a 40-acre ranch at the south end of town and moved the station there. The pump house was converted into production for our automated beautiful music FM and the main ranch house was converted into studios and offices for everything else.
When I say “converted”, I pretty much just mean they moved in stuff. They’d been there three years when I arrived and the only alterations I could see were the way they walled off the parlor to create Homer’s office. The automation for the FM went right where the big farm table would be in the dining room and the kitchen was still a kitchen.
The KSLY air studio was the master bedroom. Two advantages—the walk-in closet was now the music library and the master bedroom had a master bathroom, so no fast runs down the hall and wondering if you’d get back before the record faded.
The only air conditioning was in the dining room—a concession to the automation’s brain. Maybe Homer’s office. Not sure I ever went in there. In the studio, you opened one of these huge windows that started about two feet from the floor and went up to the eight-foot line. There were four of them to the side of the jock and four directly in front.
I was hired to do midnight to 6:00 and be Music Director. I shadowed a guy named Roy Sueda for the 10:00-midnight portion of his show and then took the chair at 11:57.
With about a minute left in his last record, he walks over to one of those huge windows, opens it and in steps a blonde, exceptionally cute Cal Poly coed in a blue bathrobe. No time to think about that now—-30 seconds. I’m in the zone.
I crack the mic, she drops the robe and streaks the studio as I say “KSLY, San Luis Obispo. Twelve midnight. I’m the new kid, Mike Hagerty—-and I think I’m gonna LIKE it here” and hit the post of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me”.
Way better than a drunk guy with a gun.
JB’s right about adjusting your body clock. I did overnights for 90 days and could never figure out whether I should treat it like morning drive—get up at 10:00 p.m., make it the first thing I did and then live life until a 2:00 p.m. bedtime, or whether it was better to end my day with it—go to bed at 7:00 a.m. and get up at 3:00 p.m. That seemed like it wasted more of the day, but then the big attraction was the beach, and the fog didn’t burn off until early afternoons some days.
I never did get it right, as I found out when, after being downsized out of my last TV news gig, I went back to radio and the first opening was 8:30 p.m.-4:30 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights doing traffic for six markets from Phoenix. That lasted eight months and I still want a nap every time I think about it.
I have really only one holiday story—I always worked them. First, because I was low man on the totem pole, second because I was an only child, dad died when I was eight and Mom was just as happy to have me home for Christmas on the 20th or the 30th as she was the 25th. And, because I was single during my entire first stretch in radio and the first seven years in TV, I volunteered so people with families could take the day.
The first Mrs. Hagerty knew—or should have known—that that was the biz and that was the guy she married. But somewhere between getting married in January of ’88 and the phone ringing at 10:30 AM on Christmas morning telling me there was a disaster in Northern Arizona that I needed to go cover, she forgot. I did what I had to do, she carried a grudge and it’s a miracle the marriage lasted until 2013 (to the extent that it did).
But it’s all better now. The second Mrs. Hagerty understands the biz because that’s how we met—36 years before we got together and 40 before we married. And that’s a completely different story having nothing to do with overnights, weekends and holidays apart from her understanding that at any moment, I may have to pull one or more of those shifts.