Radio firsts

September 23, 2015
 by Paul McGowan

I have written much of my colorful youth and there are many stories to share, but I don’t think I’ve yet told you about my earliest radio career.

The year was 1967 and I wanted more than anything to be a rock and roll disc jockey with all the supposed benefits: women, fame, and fortune (and in that order). But I was instead pursuing higher education, not because I wanted one, but because it was a better option than being drafted.

California’s Fullerton Junior College had a radio announcer’s course taught by a Mr. Thompson, who had himself never been on the radio. Though not ideal, this seemed a natural foot in the door towards my lifelong goals–commensurate with the honest desires of most 18 year old males. So I sat at attention with thirty others taking notes on diction, history, technique and everything that mattered not when it came to being a DJ. Little did I care of Emile Berliner and his invention of the microphone, or Marconi’s, or Sarnoff’s and the others, long dead. But that was the first semester. Semester two was sitting at the control board playing records and being a DJ–not on the radio, but into a loudspeaker broadcasting to the rest of the class. Lame. It was real radio, girls, adulation and riches I was after, not playing music into a speaker for 29 other 18 year old males lusting after the same things.

Another inmate, Ed Robbie, told me he had actually built an AM transmitter and all he lacked to go on the air was an audio control board. I knew enough electronics to build one and spent the summer conspiring with Lance on a real radio station, something Mr. Thompson and his loudspeaker could never compete against.

My second year at FJC found me petitioning the school board for an audience.

More tomorrow.

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10 comments on “Radio firsts”

  1. For those who don’t know which is probably almost everyone here, every weekday night for years and years during the 1960s and 1970s, Gene Shepherd had a don’t miss radio show on WOR in New York City that ran from 9:15 to 10 PM. Shepherd was considered one of America’s greatest raconteurs with stories about growing up in the Midwest during the depression, his life in the army, and observations about the world. He wrote the book called “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” on which the movie “A Christmas Story” is based. Shepherd actually is in the movie at the top of the escalator as a bearded man telling the kid at the center of the story Ralphie who is Shepherd as a kid to move along.

    Here’s Shepherd’s story about when he had his own radio station in his bedroom and lightning hit his house. And you think you had a colorful childhood Paul? In other versions of this story he said that this was a rented house and that night they packed up and moved out. He went back many years later and could still see where the house had been repaired from the damage due to the lightning strike.

    1. Just to be completely accurate, Shep was on from 11:15 to midnight in the mid 60s. I know because his show was why I was so tired all through high school. I kept a small GE “transistor radio” under my pillow with the volume set just loud enough to hear. At midnight there was a panel discussion show, the “Long John Nebel Show which was sort of the Jerry Springer Show of the time. The discourse sometimes degenerated into people shouting over each other for long minutes until the mikes were dumped and silence was broadcast until order was restored. Great radio, as well!

  2. A lot of us got our start in radio with college stations. Mine (WYBC) had three channels: a carrier-current AM station that broadcast only classical music, a second carrier-current AM channel for everything else, and a broadcast FM channel that could be heard for at least a few miles off campus. (Carrier-current transmissions were superimposed on the DC power from the University power station; I don’t recall whether portables could pick it up on campus or whether you had to be plugged in.)

  3. Shep did say “Excelsior!” a lot, I think near the end of each program. I think for a short while he even had a TV show on WOR Channel 9. He told some of the craziest and funniest stories and he was a master at telling them. One of the first ones I heard was The Great Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot. I couldn’t find it on YouTube. Here’s Shepherd’s reading of this strange poem, another of my favorites “Asleep at the Switch.”

  4. Sorry for being “that guy” but It drives me insane to see the genius of Tesla go uncredited – especially when credit is instead given to Marconi. Tesla had invented and had radio technology patented well before Marconi. Just a FYI for those that didn’t know.

    “When Marconi won the Nobel Prize in 1911, Tesla was furious. He sued the Marconi Company for infringement in 1915, but was in no financial condition to litigate a case against a major corporation. It wasn’t until 1943—a few months after Tesla’s death— that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Tesla’s radio patent number 645,576. The Court had a selfish reason for doing so. The Marconi Company was suing the United States Government for use of its patents in World War I. The Court simply avoided the action by restoring the priority of Tesla’s patent over Marconi.”

    1. A lot of concepts and inventions are credited to the wrong people, not the one who originated them. We learned that first thing is school, Colonel Stevens, not Robert Fulton invented the steamboat and a better one at that. Sarnoff stole the invention of electronic television from Philo Farnsworth. Bell stole someone else’s patent to get his telephone to work. Major Armstrong was told his invention FM radio wouldn’t work. His widow worked for 10 years after his death to get him the credit for it. Watson and Crick were two stumbling bumbling bimbos who were shown the image of DNA the X-Ray crystalograpaher Rosalind Franklin took when she discovered the structure of the double helix. She died shortly afterwards and so was unable to defend the fact that she and not they was the discoverer. Watson and Crick not only took credit for it but got a Nobel prize. Eventually one of them said “she’d played some small role in it.” Ha, without her they’d have been nothing. And Edgar Villchur invented the acoustic suspension loudspeaker. He was told by those already in the industry it wouldn’t work. It’s still the best design 60 years later. His patent was incorrectly rejected by the US patent office that confused it with Olson’s patent for an entirely different design concept. Few know that his company also invented the dome tweeter and ferrofluid cooling. There are many other examples. That’s one reason I’m not publishing mine.

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