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 began my show, and I was alone in the building.
The first hour went pretty well.
I didn’t “wow” any records.
There was no noticeable dead air.
Then, from inside the studio, I began to hear a competing radio station.
I’m not talking about some annoying RF interference.
Another radio station was blaring from a speaker in the on-air studio.
At the time, American radio stations 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.
Each station’s on-air studio had a sealed envelope with the secret authorization password, so we could confirm if an alert was for an actual emergency.
Just like in FAIL-SAFE.
The Emergency Broadcast System was begun during the Cold War, and fortunately it never needed to be employed.
Like all broadcast studios, ours 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.
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, public service announcement, newscast, etc., my audience heard a tinny version of the “big” station 15 miles away, through the EBS speaker and into my microphone.
It was a less than glorious start to my radio career.
As I write this, I recall 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.