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MY FIRST DAY ON THE AIR

There are some things they don’t prepare you for in radio school.

I traveled from Los Angeles to a tiny town in Virginia for my first radio job.

My first day on the air was a Saturday.

The jock before me split as soon as I cracked the mic, and I was alone in the building.

The first hour went pretty well. Didn’t “wow” any records, no noticeable dead air.

And then, from inside the studio, I began to hear a competing radio station.

I’m not talking about some annoying RF interference. I mean another radio station was blaring from a speaker in the on-air studio.

You see, in the U.S. we had something called the Emergency Broadcast System. Within each county, one station was designated the EBS station. In case of emergency, everyone was supposed to tune to that one station while the others suspended their regular programming.

Actually, it was kind of cool. We had a sealed envelope with the secret authorization password and everything. (Just like in FAIL-SAFE.) It was begun during the Cold War, and fortunately it never needed to be employed.

Our studio (and I guess all stations’ studios) was equipped with an EBS monitor. I was hearing our local EBS station through the monitor.

Four things you need to know about that EBS monitor:

1. It had no “off” switch.

2. It had no volume control.

3. It was hard-wired into the circuitry.

And most importantly:

4. It did not mute when I opened the studio microphone.

So for the rest of my show, every time I cracked the mic to read a live commercial, spot tag, PSA, news, etc….My audience heard a tinny version of the “big” station 15 miles away, through the EBS speaker and into my microphone.

A less than glorious start to my career.

As I write this, suddenly I’m visited by the long-buried memory of returning to my new apartment in that tiny town, filled with despair and thinking, “I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ll never be able to do this.”

But tomorrow was going to be another working day, so I tried to get some rest.

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  • David Lawrence June 26, 2008, 12:33 am

    My first day on the air was on WNCI in Columbus, a station that had an incredible signal, an incredible ownership of the market, and an incredible PD named E Karl that let me have a lot of fun.

    My first live moment on the air was at the cold end of Barracuda by Heart. I knew there were 5, not 4, guitar licks at the end of the song, tagged it perfectly with “Land Shark. Candygram.” – an homage to the very popular sketch on SNL that year (1977), and slammed into the only jingle WNCI used in those days, a 2 second shotgun and went perfectly off into Blinded By the Light by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Talked tight to the vocals with a Central Ohio weather forecast ending with “79 degrees on a hot Saturday night on Stereo 98, WNCI!” “he was blinded by the light!” “Shit yeah!” “Wrapped up like a deuce another runner in the night!”

    And I realized that I should have turned the mic to the off position before yelling out “Shit yeah!” between the two opening lines of the song.

    Shock. Dismay. And then the phones lit up. E, nor any NCI listener, ever complained. I never did it again.

    On that station anyway.

  • Dan O’Day June 26, 2008, 1:40 am

    Reminds me of my second job in radio and the only time I’ve sworn on-air (or, for that matter, in a broadcast studio; even if the station is off the air I won’t take the chance).

    Something went wrong and I blurted out some mild (but verboten) cursing. I think I had momentarily forgotten the mic was on.

    But no worries: I was on a 7-second tape delay.

    I froze…for 7.5 seconds, then hit the delete button.

    So if you were in the audience, you heard my cursing…accentuated by the pure silence that followed it.

    Unlike David’s experience, however, the phones did NOT light up. Not a single person called — not a listener, not the PD, nobody.

    It was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I had dodged a bullet. On the other hand, at that time in my career it appears I was shooting blanks.

    By the way, don’t expect to see many other posts here by DAVID LAWRENCE (above).

    He’ll be far too busy with his TV acting career — having just been cast in a recurring role on NBC’s HEROES.

    I believe all of us radio folks owe it to David to watch every episode he’s on and to send lots of mail to the show’s producers, raving about “that new guy.”

    Congratulations, David. I don’t know anyone who has put more thought, energy and effort into his career than you.

    The downside for me, of course, is that from now on when I call you for help with my latest Macintosh crisis, I’ll end up talking to “your people.” And I doubt they’ll be able to help.

    But at least I knew you when, man.

  • Ken Deutsch June 26, 2008, 6:53 am

    My first day on the air was at a college station, WCBN(AM), a carrier current job heard at the University of Michigan, but only in the dorms and student union.

    In 1969, I was 18. I had a lot more hair then, and even a spotty beard and moustache. With my granny glasses, I looked like John Lennon, but less good looking and with far less talent.

    There must have been tens of people listening to WCBN then, which was just as well. Cousin Brucie was in no danger from the likes of me.

    My “training” consisted of watching an experienced jock named Dave Cook shout his show for about 15 minutes before it was my turn. He believed that if the entire show pegged the VU meter, it would be louder on the air. Actually, that was untrue, but it was certainly quite distorted so he should get credit for that.

    My two hours went by in a blur. The aircheck of that day is embarassing because I tried so hard to sound like a disk jockey that it seemed like I was about to puke, which I probably was. I managed to avoid major mistakes, but certainly did not add anything award-worthy to the station that day or ever.

    My lack of talent in this field of endeavor didn’t stop me from plugging away at radio for another seven years at various commercial stations in Michigan and Ohio.

    I was not the worst jock on WCBN; that honor was reserved for another chap who will remain nameless. This guy had an identity problem as he used a different air name every day.

    My immense ego at the time was totally unjustified by my low level of expertise. In other words, I thought I was filet mignone but I was just cold Cheeze Whiz on a paper plate.

    Ken Deutsch

  • Anonymous June 26, 2008, 8:11 am

    Given that it wasn’t an emergency, did you get an explanation as to why the emergency station was doing this?

    My first day on the air was marked by one of the two Denon CD players getting a CD stuck in it. And yes, I was alone. The on-call engineer was asleep and yes, his phone was on voicemail. The quickest, slickest hands in radio couldn’t get a CD out of the working player and the next one in and cued up within more than six seconds, so it was a link after every song for me, on a station which told you to segue three in a row all the time.

    My worst moment was inexplicably forgetting the code to the door of a studio despite using it numerous times. You had to leave the building to go to the lavatory and on one occasion I just went blank with the door code and couldn’t get back in. You could hear the back-up tape start after some agonising silence. I had to get my father out of bed to hack into my personal email, where the code was.

    I didn’t get into trouble…

  • Pete Howard June 26, 2008, 8:34 am

    I debuted on the air at KTHO Lake Tahoe, CA/NV, in 1973, at the most obscure time possible: 4:05 AM. Straight out of radio school, I sat and watched the PD work midnight-4 AM and then it was my turn. I picked the current hit by my hero, Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” with which I had practiced to death talking up to the vocal in radio school the previous few weeks.

    I can’t report anything eventful, but down the road at KPTL Carson City (NV), another new jock was also making his debut in the middle of the night. Only in his case, his mischievous PD picked the record for him. When the moment came, this poor fellow started working his way up to the vocal by introducing himself, giving the time & temp, and then breaking into small talk as he frantically glanced about for the PD, anxious for this disc’s long introduction to mercifully end.

    The record was an instrumental.

  • Dan O’Day June 26, 2008, 9:34 am

    @ Ken Deutsch:

    Wow, you still have your original first-day aircheck?

    I think maybe somewhere I have the demo tape (technically not an aircheck) that I made in radio school and somehow used to get my first job.

    NOTE TO READERS In his previous life, Ken Deutsch was known to jingle aficionados around the world as Ken R.

  • Gary Burbank June 26, 2008, 9:41 am

    I was signing on at five am at KLPL in Lake Providence La. I did the obligatory news and stuff, then played my first record. While waiting for the naked women to bust down the door to mob me, halfway through the record, I fell asleep. Forty five minutes later I awoke to the sounds of the record tracking. SHHHHK SHHHHK. (for those who never played a record, that’s the sound the needle makes if you leave it on after it ends. I’ll explain “needle” later.) I was horrified. I didn’t know what to do so I just keyed the mic and said, “That was Andy Williams.” No one said a word.I realized then that nobody was listening. That’s when I realized I could say or do just about anything I wanted to. So, I began doing characters, unafraid of how bad at it I was. It worked out.

  • Dan O’Day June 26, 2008, 9:46 am

    Given that it wasn’t an emergency, did you get an explanation as to why the emergency station was doing this?

    There was a lot of stuff going on at that station for which explanations never were given. But I’m pretty sure the owner blamed me.

  • Anonymous June 26, 2008, 7:09 pm

    A friend of mine’s debut, when he was just 17, involved a whole minute of ass-on-fire waffling because the previous jock had cocked up the backtime to the news. A minute is never as long as when you have to fill it with unprepared speech.

    The studio number was red hot with colleagues, including me, calling him afterwards to ask “How the hell did you manage that?”

  • Dave June 26, 2008, 8:25 pm

    When I first started at KOMP in Las Vegas about 20 years ago, I was the intern for the morning show. I had run the board a few times, but never alone. On this beautiful morning, the time had come for me to lose my virginity with a chance to run the board for the morning show as they left the studio to do a remote. My first time alone in the studio. Lark Williams was waiting in the motorhome for her sidekick, Randy Morrison, to show up with the Egg McMuffins for the Mirage Hotel construction crew. He got lost and was incredibly late. That’s not the worst part, he had already given all the Egg McMuffins to a different construction crew! Lark was PISSED!! I sat in the lonely studio listening thru the cue speaker to the two argue. Their words became more and more heated. Meanwhile, I was now in the third spot of the break and was supposed to go live to them. I was very nervous…not sure what to do. Do I pot them up? Surely they will be professional and compose themselves by the end of this commercial, right?

    Well….I pot up the Marti and this is what everybody in Las Vegas hears: “F— ME?!? No!! F— YOU!!”

    I slammed a sweeper cart in, hit play and went in to a song. The sweat poured from my forehead as I was sure that I just ran my first….and last board. I was sure that my career was over. I waited and waited for the PD to walk in or the hotline to ring. Nothing. Nobody came in. I never heard a word about it from anyone.

    And that was my initiation in to the crazy world of radio.

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