Back in the 1970s Pittsburgh was a top ten radio market, i.e.; the Big Time. KQV AM was number two to the mighty KDKA the first radio station to be established in the US (“The Pioneer Broadcasting Station of the World,”), but being number two was still huge.
At that time in popular music, radio and radio personalities were a big deal – think of Dan Ingram, Larry Lujack, Alison Steele, Roger W. Morgan and others – they were a conduit to the new, hip whatever was happening on the scene.
I was hired in the early 1970s by KQV’s then-new program director. A few years Before working at the station, I had been listening to KQV at night in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I worked at WELK at the time – the signal would come in even over that distance – and I would sit in my truck and listen to the great Jim Quinn, who is still on the air on WYSL and WAVL hosting the “Quinn In the Morning” show. Who’d have thought I’d actually wind up working at the station?
It was a big deal. After I got the job at times I’d think, “what am I doing here?”
KQV was the farm team for a number of major outlets including the ABC Radio stations at a time when ABC had the biggest station in the country, New York’s WABC AM. They also had monster station WLS in Chicago. These cities and their stations were as good or better than the major stations in my home town of Philadelphia (including WFIL) and they were the dream stations, with the best talent and huge broadcast signal strengths. In many respects KQV was their training ground.
WLS eventually took three of our staff – a newsman, and two personality jocks. I was hired to do overnights on KQV. Me and my skinny voice in the land of the gorilla-ballsed. (Three of the guys had profoundly deep voices, and back then that was a highly sought after and imitated sound. It felt emasculating for me to speak along with them. I was a capon compared to them!)
I was and am still pretty creative so I wound up entertaining three groups of people: those out late, up all night and up early. I also did some news stories in the 5:00 – 6:00 am hour, always ending with the Dow Jones closing report of the day before and the sound effect of a door slamming.
In fact, at first, I was so intimidated I actually didn’t believe I was a member of the team, until one day 18 x 24 pictures of the six personalities was put onto the studio wall, and I was one of them. An honor.
Because of union rules, which enforced strict separation of the engineers from the guys on air (and it was all guys at the time). We weren’t even allowed to move our microphone. The engineer had to do it. If the “talent” touched it, the union would file a grievance. Pittsburgh was a union town!
I got along great with my engineer, who would usually be taking tape machines apart and checking tape alignment. After a while, I could move the microphone on the sly when he turned his back. He’d literally look the other way; otherwise, he’d have to file a three-part grievance form!
Pittsburgh looks great when you’re viewing it from across the three rivers. The radio station was located downtown, we jocks worked behind a window where people outside the building could see us. (Kind of like “The Today Show” set.) You – could – close the curtain, but no one did, and the glass was thick and multi-paned to keep bullets out. (Well, for soundproofing also.) Bullets? Sad but true, radio can attract crazies in the audience, especially considering the great numbers of people a station reaches. Real psychos. On a more positive note, we’d also attract a lot of kids, who watched and learned. Some of them became professional radio people.
The early seventies witnessed the birth of FM radio, and KQV-FM was blessed with a huge coverage area. All of the ABC FM stations were automated, with what they called “The Love Format.” KQV-FM simulcast the AM station at night.
Before WDVE went live, on AM transmitter maintenance nights – maybe once a month – I’d be sent to the FM studio and told, “do whatever you want, but don’t try to do the same thing you do on KQV.” They didn’t want me to compete with myself! In fact, mine was the first live voice ever heard on WDVE. So, I basically got to screw around and at the time that was pretty hip. Once, I received an “interview” record, where the company who issued the record would send you the script, and the answers to the questions on the script were supposed to be played back from the disc. These “interviews” were usually done to promote something. However, just for fun I’d ask wrong questions or ask the questions out of sequence – which tilted the answers wildly.
FM stations also got to play hipper music. And the management – and listeners – must have liked my antics because during these early days of WDVE the then-new general manager asked me three times to become the program director but I kept turning him down, because I wanted to be on the radio. By the way: a dumb move.
The people in that station partied hard. Just a notch below destroying a hotel room-hard. Those were the days. There happened to be several bars right around the corner and across the street. Yes indeed. We partied hard. I will confess to barfing Swedish meatballs in the news director’s guest bathroom at one of his parties. Then there was the party where I convinced the news director to turn his speakers up and up until they blew out.
The news director was a very intelligent and clever guy hidden under a shell of seriousness. But at parties he became a sort of children’s show host, and the adults at the parties became the children. (Apparently this was modeled on someone he saw on TV.)
On the other hand, when we weren’t indulging in frivolous activities the staff did many good things. We played celebrity basketball for charities, emceed concerts, drove around in a converted hearse and handed out book covers at high schools (and had tens of thousands of opportunities to get paper cuts). We did TV cut-ins for MDA telethons. Because union rules were strict, eventually we got paid for not emceeing concerts (a long story). We received free tickets to more events than I can remember.
I never made it to WLS.
Some other stories of life at KQV: there were a bunch of us who had broken into a fellow air personality’s condo for a surprise party for the guy. He comes in with his girl and they’re loudly arguing while we’re hiding in the next room. The guy stomps upstairs and we’re all staring at his cat – what do we do? Eventually he came downstairs to a weak surprise.
I learned to fly while in Pittsburgh and am proud to say on a very short runway in Aliquippa, PA, now closed. Once I flew a plane over one of the Pirates’ World Series Games and the control tower jokingly asked for the score. I just rented a plane, flew over the stadium where all these other planes were circling and pulling ad banners, and got in line. Fast forward to today versus then. This would never be allowed.
One night my newsman walks in on me, draws a pistol and starts yelling as he shoots me about six times. I just looked at him with disinterest. I knew he wasn’t going to kill me and that the gun must have been loaded with blanks.
One night someone hid a walkie talkie in an air conditioning duct and when I turned the microphone on I’d hear another voice up there in the distance. What in the world? Took me a while to figure it out.
During the night our window would attract people coming out of bars, street denizens, hookers, guys who didn’t know they lost the parrot on their shoulder. One night a car stopped for a tall lady…who was really a transvestite. We tried to wave the guy in the car off…but in s/he goes and they drive off. For about two minutes. Then the car stops and s/he gets back out. I guess the guy was surprised.
One day a bullet hole appeared in the outer glass of another studio in our building, one we used for making commercials. We never found out where it came from.
We got paid extra if we recorded more than three commercials in a week, thanks to the union. You couldn’t mess with them!
I used to have this one on tape, but in moving 18 times in my life I got rid of many, many old tapes: our overnight part-time news guy laughing on the air while trying to read a story about a school bus and train collision. He just lost it. Kept turning his microphone off trying to regain composure. Nnnnope.
I wanted a better shift but there wasn’t one available, so I told my boss the program director that I was going to start looking for work at another station. Bad idea – he replaced me before I found another gig.
I eventually found a job at KRIZ in Phoenix. I lasted six weeks. Then I was rehired by WAMS (Station Three in this series) in Wilmington, and was let go in six days. The program director said that when I was on he couldn’t understand what I was saying.
Not a happy time in my life.
(To be continued…)