Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SOUND OFF! - On the Air


Mon Dieu! It would appear to be Wednesday as I write and I distinctly recall muttering something about continuing our discourse on "the morrow". Time passage being the elusive/subjective little bugger that it is, we shall just have to proceed as though no beats were 'skipped', no promises broken. I WILL say that the marshalling of memories, reaping of relevant recollections and assemblage of the activities associated with my Mrs. First Lieutenant-days back in the VERY tender times of our union takes its toll - emotionally, intellectually, sartorially even, ie, what WAS I wearing that day. . . . .
It was Halloween. And while Daddy was amusing himself with the preparation of lectures, selection of public service footage and distribution of appropriate 'dress' for the sailors under his charge while they would be on liberty in port at Recife, Brazil (known for it's beautiful women and not so STD's), I was 'creating' young Philip's costume. Given his assumed , previously-mentioned, newly-developed aversion to speaking, we had agreed that he would be Harpo Marx cum massive multi-colored curly wig, loud rubber ball-controlled horn and white face with deep red painted smile and cheeks - this last applied with a palette knife. As he clumsily boarded the pre-school bus on foot-long lime-green plastic shoes bound for the party at St. Peter's, I was pleased, he excited, the other kids ebullient and the driver badly in need of aspirin.
I had to be back by 12:30 - drop-off - and so had 4 hours to dress, drive the 20 minute trip to 'downtown', interview with the Director of our local CBS affiliate News Director, Jim Mays, and, after cajoling, cringing but convincing him that he really needed a fresh face and fluently-articulating news reporter, return home jubilant, my new roots with the rootless and newsworthy, my new label: 'live reporter'. Mr. Mays was lounging at his enormous, seaworthy desk, hands behind his head, fingers entwined and supporting his half-balded head, feet crossed at the ankles, resting on the desk blotter and smoking a cigar. (Soooo prototypical.) I entered, nattily-clad in a navy and hunter green plaid wool suit, pleated skirt, crisp, white blouse, gleaming penny loafers trying to keep my focus as sharp as those knife-pressed pleats. Which was a challenge, what with the billowing, enveloping cigar smoke. "And you are?", he crooned hoarsely, by way of introduction.
My mind whispered, "no one, really" but I heard Mrs. First actually iterate "Lorane Leavy.". What followed was a halting, apologetic explanation of the purpose of my audience with the News Director followed by a sighed exhalation of cigar smoke punctuating his long, beady-eyed, squinting stare. Then, in that unmistakable this-interview-is over tone of voice, he allowed as how one needed either a degree in broadcast journalism OR six months on-air experience to even be CONSIDERED for employment as a field reporter. "Come back when you have either one and we'll talk." He took a phone call and I my leave.
Dazed and disappointed, I found the street and leaned against the black marble building face - staring. At some point, the mural of the scene across the busy avenue became sharp enough that I recognized the somewhat familiar landmark of the glass, bubble-shaped building that filled the street intersection's corner - the WNOR AM-FM radio broadcasting studio. There was a small sign lodged in a pane section steel support the words on which seemed to be undulating, "N-O-W-H-I-R-I-N-G" And I was across the street, panting/banging on the steel back door. Within a 5 or so minute blur of time, I was seated in a darkened room, given several sheafs of paper, instructed to review them and then - from somewhere behind a large pane of glass - a voice-wearing-headphones boomed, "Whenever you're ready, honey!".
I'd been asked to read - into a small, black, standing mike, - the contents of: "60- SECOND SPOT: FIRST AMERICAN BANK - DEMO". (BRAIN: "This is an audition! DO something!"; Lorane: "Do WHAT?"; BRAIN: "Read the damned thing!"; Lorane: "I don't know anything about BANKING!"; BRAIN: "Then sing, "Let My People Free", whatever! Or leave because you've got 45 minutes before Harpo gets off the bus at the ole casa!") And so it went and Lorane steeled herself and in a clear, loud, up-beat voice chirped some foreign jargon for 57 seconds, being certain to REALLY "hit" - as they say - the tag with carefully executed enthusiasm (commercials SELL things, right?) . . .AND, a subSTANTIAL penalty is required for EARLY WITHDRAWAL!!!!". And 'headphone's shouted "CUT!!!"
There followed a brief-but-thorough explanation of the meaning of the words I was to read oh-so-smoothly-and intelligently. Then. "Again. . . On 3. . .Three, two, one" and he pointed at me. (Never thought that was fair. "On 3" should begin with 1.") Anyway, I re-read, Mr. Director - Tony - re-played back, pondered, looked at HIS watch (I mean I was the one who had to speed home to grab Harpo before he hit the furniture with that "no-enzyme-detergent-can-touch-THIS" body.) and simply, somewhat sadly, said, "Be here at 8 tomorrow morning. Marcie can only go through it with you one time. You'll be doing the 11 to 2 PM slot and she's being transferred to Texas Monday." Tomorrow was Saturday. I'll have to bring Har. . . uh. . Philip to the studio. Who's going to. . . and so on and on and then I was home for, "Guess what? Mommy's going to be on the radio!"
To say the least, we got off to a rocky start. Marcie was a WONDERFUL, KIND, PATIENT and gone-by-Monday Navy wife who had been on the air for three years. A Navy wife, she loved the very 'happiness' of the job of playing popular music from new and old but always popular albums; it kept her from constantly wondering how things were going for her Navy Seal husband; it provided an outlet and friends - other young women, in similar circumstances, who were fortunate to be among the ONLY "ALL FEMALE" FM RADIO MUSIC PROGRAM IN THE AREA! And it was BECAUSE Marcie was such a talent - technically and personally - that she occupied the Prime slot 11 AM to 2PM - the most listened-to time frame. This explained the affect (worried, almost panicked) of the Programming Director, Tony, when he interviewed me. He'd had the same notice given to Marcie by the Navy - 2 days - in which to make the transition: Marcie to ???? And Marcie 'd had 2 days in which to ready herself and their little girl for a huge move/change. But she wrote lengthy notes for me, outlining the format of the "show" with specificity; provided me with tapes of old programs; found FCC leaflets and bound notebooks containing rules, laws contact information and graphics of equipment, its function, operational info as well as bequeathing me her very own professional (expensive) headphones-cum-jack.
Briefly, the format was a 4-quadrant hour during which your hostess actually spoke four times - "top of the hour, 15 minutes past, bottom of the hour, 45 minutes past & back to the top". We began with the recap of the previous 15 minutes; station ID ("call letters"); the time/date; our slogan, eg, "We've just been listening to Elton John, Helen Reddy and the Eagles. (short "ring tone") It is eleven AM on this Monday morning, November 3rd, 1972. I am Lorane Knight reminding you to "Hear the top hit albums, twenty-four Hours a day on WNOR - FM, Naw-fuk". (There was actually a piece of paper taped to the console, just behind the microphone, with those letters thusly printed - the phonetics of our fair city. So MANY people insisted - and still do - on saying Nor-folk or Nor-ferk or some such so management insisted all of us use the 'piece-of-paper' rendition. Because it is correct.) At 15 minutes past the hour, we did another music ID recap AND (THE MOST popular aspect of our format as per our polled listening audience) three of the day's HOROSCOPES!. There were some 'fans' who ONLY tuned in every 15 minutes as we preceded the top of the hour routine with the last three Zodiac reports.
Tony christened me Lorane Knight to protect anonymity and worked on my "radio voice" which, as per the station's rating indices, should be soft, feminine, warm, almost unobtrusive. The microphones were old and 'unidirectional' so you had to position your mouth and project your voice directly at the mike or the pick-up was spotty. (With an omni-directional mike, you could be physically reaching and turned to the right to prepare for pushing a commercial button and you'd still be picked up when speaking.) Modulation & volume were "issues" as well in achieving the WNOR "radio voice". Fortunately, the engineers were a helpful bunch and Tony was FINALLY satisfied with my "voice" after the guys actually put a white sports sock over the thing to mute & soften my apparently grating sound. Tony was also constantly watching/listening so as to "help" me achieve the very BEST DJ performance AND not breach any FCC rules. The glass studio - visible from the outside - was bisected by a glass wall such that half was FM & half AM. Tony spun 45's in the same time slot as I on the AM side while I "q-ed up" (one prepares to play/air/bring volume up on the next song of an album by placing the needle down 'between songs' & rotating the 'platter' slightly counter-clockwise) I mention this physical arrangement so that you can appreciate how easy it was for Tony to monitor EVERYTHING I said & did.
The headphones are key. If you are just standing in the room, you don't HEAR anything. You only hear the music through the headset. You monitor sound & quality with gauges with needles on the console. BUT. although YOU can only hear through the headset, THE LISTENING WORLD can hear any/everything that is audible IN THE STUDIO. Thus, when broadcasting, the CRITICALLY IMPORTANT "On Air" neon sign is VERY conspicuously LIT. (Of course, this, too is controllable. Pushing a button MUTES studio sounds, ONLY "airing" what is audible through those headphones. And this is the mode utilized. UNLESS the DJ is speaking/airing. At these 4 times per hour, there MUST be TOTAL silence in the studio. That's all ya gotta know. Really. So, pretty soon, I settled into a routine, even developed a following of sorts.
The First Lt/Commander was now retired from the Navy and specialized in Emergency Medicine. So I had all of my "ER FANS". That can be a gloomy place at times, so I'd (sub rosa, of course) play some cheer-up stuff for them - at the magic noon hour. Only they knew about it. Beginning at 11:45, I play a special trilogy, eg, the "Anticipation/Lay-Lady-Lay/(topped off with) The Stripper by David Rose" ending at the top of the hour break. OR, they also liked the "Bennie and the Jets/Look What They've done to My Song, Ma/ Maggie May" combo. We started to get mail about these favorites - happy, complimentary mail. Same with "Dock of the Bay', "Joy to the World", "Lean on Me", "Brandy", "Mockingbird", an occasional "Brand New Roller skate" or "Where the Iguanas Play".
We had fun - promos - (One involved a staged pseudo hockey game (using brooms and tennis balls) on the Scope triple A hockey rink. We (WNOR -FM DJ'S) were pitted against the McDonald "Quarter-Pounders" (a group - unbeknownst to us - of McDonald employees weighing 175 + one quarter lbs.) It was the half-time entertainment at a real hockey game. All of our family/friends came. We wore jeans & WNOR-FM T-shirts & sneakers; The Quarter Pounders had snazzy uniforms in McD colors. We saw them for the first time only seconds before face-off. Oye. I actually (accidentally) got the ball & "broomed" it ALL the way to the goal with around 1 K pounds in tow. SCORE! BY LORANE KNIGHT! Laughter all around because she "SCORED" FOR the "Pounders"! The fam and ER staffs were SO proud. And Tony. . . .
Well, he was serving some cold shoulder that Monday. I, on the other hand, was kind and jovial. Adult, if you will. At one point, he stormed in and informed me that we barely escaped being fined by the FCC because I had been in violation of a rule which forbid the playing of the same some in a seven day period. They were not happy with my daily, dedicated trilogies. Oh. well. He dashed off to a meeting. I found my favorite Jonathan Edwards album & Q-ed up "Sunshine Go away Today". (Unfortunately, didn't notice Tony sneak in to the studio - meeting cancelled, and listening as I pushed the 'magic button' and belted along with Jonathan:

Sunshine go away today; Don't feel much like dancing

Some man's gone, he's tried to run my life; Don't know what he's asking.

He tells me I'd better get in line; Can't hear what he's saying

When I grow up I'm going to make it mine; but these aren't dues I been paying.

How much does it cost, I'll buy it; the time is all we've lost, I'll try it

But he can't even run his own life; I'll be damned if he'll run mine, Sunshine.

Sunshine go away today; I don't feel much like dancing

Some man's gone, he's tried to run my life; don't know what he;s asking.

Working starts to make me wonder where; the fruits of what I do are going

He says in love and war all is fair; but he's got cards he ain't showing.

Sunshine come on back another day; I promise you I'll be singing

This old world, she's gonna turn around; Brand new bells'll be ringing.

OOOps. Gotta go. FBI - BOMB SCARE. We have to evacuate the building. I q-ed up Don McLean and "Bye, bye. . . ."

L. . . . .

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