True-Life Radio Tales

In The Beginning

Believe it or not, several people have encouraged me to write about my time in radio. Who cares about radio? Not even me, anymore. But I sure did then. As you’ll read, there are many stories of what you hear and don’t get to hear…Disc Jockeys, or “Air Talent” were the voices you heard, live, between songs. Some were funny, informative, crazy, but usually pretty enthusiastic, or dramatic.

STATION ONE

I got into radio (in my mind) my first day as a freshman at Villanova University, when, while standing in line, a guy with a microphone came up to me to ask questions about what I expected, etc. I was intrigued by the microphone. Who WAS this guy? I was still finding buildings my classes were in, but I had my radar out for this CAMPUS RADIO STATION.

My first days at WWVU were a complete blur….

Eventually I found it, and joined the volunteer staff as an engineer (I was in the engineering school and all you had to do was read meters every so often.) The station was on carrier current, which meant you had to be plugged into the campus electrical system. We were on an old Conelrad (google it) frequency on AM…at a very low power.

Seriously, no power, no listeners. It wasn’t uncommon to find the transmitter shut off, hours after it was supposed to be turned on—as in, 2PM. At 4, someone would notice the thing was off. Cold. But you got to practice as if.

Art Constantine, aka Sharpie Artie, was a fellow freshman engineering student, and I discovered we didn’t live too far away from each other. Upon a visit I saw these outdoor speakers and ‘equipment’ in his basement.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, I did bar mitzvah parties and dances.”

“Still working?”

“No.”

“Well, how would you feel if we go into business and use your gear and I will book the jobs. It’ll be a 50/50 split between us.”

“Okay.”

Little did either of us know that I COULD sell, and we began a happy time running record hops at country clubs, church auditoriums, virtually any empty building I could find and locate the owner – even in the repair shop of a motorcycle dealer (closed by the Fire Marshall, a good move!). Then Art forged a relationship with the hot new radio station in town, WFIL, and couldn’t handle all the jobs he was getting, so he then introduced ME to them and we both had a lot of work.

At a record hop.

We’d provide the sound system, records, announce for the first hour, the deejay from WFIL would appear in magnificence, do a couple quick dedications, a contest or two, introduce the free-for-publicity local band when there was one, and leave. I’d do the last hour, then bring the money back to the deejay’s apartment. I didn’t get a split with him though, just a fee, which was too bad because he had a LOT of ones every night. Still, it paid well.

At the highest point of our success, Art explained he didn’t need me any longer. I bucked up, bought gear and eventually, a truck, and was back in it. Art was such a funny guy I was happy to be around him, usually in the reconciliation of the night’s dances. Since the dj didn’t have to be in one place for more than maybe an hour, he’d or we’d set up dances where he could hopscotch. I remember one day where WFIL’s Long John Wade, for whom I primarily worked, had 5!!! (FIVE!) dances on one day, from PA to NJ, and he traveled by plane!

I got to hang with Long John in the honest-to-god pro studio—in fact, all he did was talk and point. The point would cue an engineer in another room with windows facing the talent, to do the next thing, roll a song or a commercial. The station was unionized, thus the two-man operation. It was also a TV station, and unions abounded then.

WFIL was great! To me, Long John was a star. He was tall, thin, dressed real mod, knew, and had spent 30 days with the Beatles on one of their tours, had a great voice, a knockout wife, and a .45 automatic on his hip. One day I expected an early death as LJ passed a car by driving very fast in the curb lane before having to avoid the parked cars coming up fast. His Shelby Cobra GT 350 and lead foot kept us alive.

Now I had the school station to play in, and the REAL station in which to hang out. As radio engineer I was quickly bored, sitting watching someone else be ‘on the radio,’ so I volunteered and was given an “on-air” shift where nobody listened for SURE. The dead zone of the dead zone: Friday night on a college campus, on a station few could hear, even if they tried.

Bob Wall, Pete Gladis, Art Constantine try to remove my tongue to spare the world my dj work, at WWVU.

Here are some memories of WWVU: My first memory is being on the air and banging on a trash can with a hammer. I don’t remember why. The station initially was a montage of ‘formats’ from easy listening to rock to jazz and so on. I guess they felt students were being well rounded by learning anything at all about the dying radio of that time. Top 40 was king, later came album stations, country was always around, as was news. Even top 40s did the news, some in real pulpy reads, as in “Buick bashes baby boy’s brains backwards…”

I remember we had a very large reel to reel tape deck that in rewind or fast forward would go SCARY fast. We had pro equipment, but not much of it. I kept thinking that if one of those reels came off, it could be dangerous to be sitting nearby. (See station three for more on this!)

I watched one of the sports guys actually fake a broadcast of a basketball game by reading off the teletype (ancient now) and reconstructing plays as if he was there.

WWVU was actually pretty good for what it was. Of all the people who passed through the station in my four years, I think only three of us went into radio for careers. Oh, and Jim Croce went ONTO the radio. He was a senior when I was a lowlife freshman.

We called it WOO VOO.