(Pictured: Thelma Houston.)
I dipped into the January 22, 1977, issue of Billboard the other day, as one does. On the Hot 100, the #1 song is “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder. (Debuting at #100 is “Up Your Nose” by Gabriel Kaplan.) Wings Over America is #1 on Top LPs and Tape, displacing the Eagles’ Hotel California, with Songs in the Key of Life at #3. The #1 song on Easy Listening is “Evergreen” by Barbra Streisand. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston is #1 on the National Disco Action Top 40. In Britain, “Don’t Give Up on Us” by David Soul is #1. In West Germany, it’s “Money, Money, Money” by ABBA.
But that’s not what’s interesting.
In Claude Hall’s weekly Vox Jox column, which chronicles the comings and goings of radio personalities, he writes, “There’s a special breed of person in radio called ‘The Radio Wife’ and without one a man usually doesn’t go as far as he should in radio, perhaps, and certainly doesn’t stay happy or married or either very long at a time.” He goes on to quote a letter he received, from the wife of a guy who had recently won a major broadcasting award. She writes:
But it’s nice to know that his love of music, knowledge of performers, and the 18,000 records we’ve carried from city to city have brought him such happiness and personal satisfaction. I’ve shared our excitement with you, because you understand the sorrows and joys of a radio career. Besides, I’m a very proud wife. I’ve married a hard-working, talented radio man, and although we’ve never made a lot of money and have never known that feeling of security you might get in another industry, we’ve shared more excitement in five years than most people have in a lifetime!
Hall goes on to name other “great radio wives” he knows personally, and then says, “I’m open for nominations on this matter. If you happen to know of or are married to a good radio wife who has put up with a lot of hell during your career, let me know. I’d like to present a winner with an award of some kind.”
Cringe-y? Kinda. But you know what? It’s true. Every time The Mrs. and I have moved from one city to another, it’s been for my job, first in radio and later in publishing. She has always been the trailing spouse, tasked with finding some work she could do after we packed up our lives for my career. When I came home with a job offer in another town she never said, “I don’t want to go there. Why don’t you find a job here so we can stay?”
“The radio wife” is a real thing, and a lot of us owe far more to one (sometimes more than one) than we can repay.
Elsewhere, KTNT in Tacoma, Washington, has some new equipment:
Marc VII is a programming planning unit for live radio. The air personality can program as many as 18 events in advance to appear on a screen (like a TV set) in front of him; each event, whether it is a commercial spot or a song, can then be triggered in turn by depressing a start button. Or the air personality can schedule several items in a row to run consecutively and automatically. . . . An entry keyboard allows the air personality to call upon events—music on carts or spots on carts, music and/or spots on tape decks, a record on a turntable. etc.—from up to 99 sources. Two IGM Go-Cart units, two Studer Revoxes [reel-to-reel decks], an IGM Instacart, and two turntables would allow him access on the air to 84 different music carts, 48 commercial carts, plus selections on reel-to-reel and turntable. KTNT engineer Jerry Beffa thinks “This is the way the entire industry will go in the future. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in micro-processor devices in radio.”
Somebody would still have to change reel-to-reel tapes, cue up turntables, and replace certain carts. But apart from that, this is pretty much how we do it today, only with digital files.
The article ends with this: “Via an optional tape reader as an add-on, which provides program planning for hours ahead, the unit can handle night-time programming when there is either an unexperienced [sic] personality on duty or no personality at all.”
In 1977, KTNT had seen the future, and the husbands of radio wives weren’t all that necessary.