There were always connections helping me find a job. My friend Don gave me his job sweeping floors at the downtown dress shop. My mother got me a job at the cemetery. Jim got me the job at the Credit Union League, which taught me a lot. My first real job, found sort of on my own, was at the college radio station. Just like other jobs, it came to me through connections. This connection was my friend Cliff O, who lived in the room next door in the dorm.
KDSU was the college radio station, a public radio station before there was National Public Radio. The hours were limited, going on the air in late morning or early afternoon, signing off just after midnight. The fare was classical music in the afternoon, some news in the evening, more classical music, then jazz to close out the night. Most of the staff were nerds like me, more interested in radio technology than radio, and weren’t afraid to talk to a microphone.
Back in high school I had been part of the radio club. (My memory is dim here.) I had befriended one of the KEYJ announcers and put together some programs for high school news. That experience and my hobby of taking apart radios and televisions made me ideal for the job at KDSU. All I needed was a third class radiotelephone license. As I recall all I had to do was send in my name and address.
My duties at the station covered most aspects of radio, at least as the business was in 1969. Every hour I’d call the weather bureau recording to get the temperature and wind speed, and maybe something of a forecast. News arrived on the Associated Press teletype machine. It chattered away in the lobby all day and all night. There was a seemingly endless roll of cheap paper feeding it, which we tore off with each story, clipping them together to sort later for a quick newscast at the top of the hour.
A teletype is a clunky thing. You can type faster than it could. That was so frustrating when an interesting story was coming over, it … seemed … to … take … forever … for … the … Well, you get the picture. Comparing two or three characters per second with today’s Internet speeds of sixty megabits per second is almost impossible. The machine had other quirks, too. The ribbon faded to the point you could barely read the copy. There was a tin foil garland that drained off the static electricity. And it was NOISY. Speaking of noise, when an important news bulletin came through a bell would ring with each letter the machine typed. It was obvious that something big was happening!
Using the news copy and the weather report, I’d put together a five-minute top of the hour newscast and read it to the world. Next I’d start a tape of the Cleveland Orchestra. That was a two-hour program on a huge reel of magnetic tape. Then I’d kick back and do whatever homework was necessary; usually there was a good book to read.
One day at work I got the hiccups. They wouldn’t quit. I tried several of the standard tricks to get rid of them, but none worked. At the top of the hour I discovered the foolproof method for curing hiccups. Start reading a live newscast. One hic and they were gone.
During the breaks in the network program or the tape, we would broadcast public service announcements (PSAs) and programming announcements; prerecorded announcements on tape cartridges (carts), each labeled with content and length, usually thirty seconds. We’d stuff it into the player and push the green button to start it. We gave the current time and temperature several times per hour. Good timing was essential. We synchronized everything with the network. Our announcements had to fade out exactly at the top of the minute, when the network started talking. There’s nothing worse in radio than dead air, unless it’s two things going on at once. Like the time I forgot to turn off the network when I started the next locally sourced program. Some talk show was competing with the Cleveland Orchestra. A listener called me on that one.
The last summer I worked at the station the manager was desperate to have a first class engineer on board, as the real engineer was leaving for the summer. I volunteered, and drove to St. Paul with my buddy Cliff to take the first class radio exam. That’s where I learned that being certified doesn’t mean you have any skills. I easily passed the test but knew nothing about commercial radio equipment. Fortunately, my skills were never put to the test. I didn’t even know where the transmitter was, let alone how to repair it if it failed.
Towards the end of my radio career I did a little programming change that caused some strife. My favorite shift was the late night jazz show. I’d pick out the music and read something off the liner notes to give the impression that I knew about jazz. The music was great, and they paid me to listen. With judicious selection of music I could get my homework done, read my book and have time to call Judy for our nightly discussion. Did you know that most jazz records have at least one piece longer than ten minutes? They were the best.
Tradition at KDSU was to sign off each night at 1:30 AM with the national anthem, performed by the U.S. Navy Band. It was a short piece, giving just enough time to clean up, sign the logs, put away the records, and get the equipment turned off. After doing dozens of sign offs, the Navy Band bored me.
This was the era of Woodstock. I was deep into the music of the day, not just jazz and the Cleveland Orchestra. Woodstock was fresh in our memories, and Jimi Hendrix had played at the festival. I followed my impeccable logic to the inevitable conclusion and played Jimi’s version of The Star Spangled Banner to close out the broadcast day.
The boss never mentioned it to me, but everyone else heard about it. There were some reminders posted on the walls, all the walls, and the control panel, and the doors, perhaps on the floor and ceiling, too … “Use ONLY the U.S. Navy version of the national anthem to sign off.” Apparently at least one irate listener called to complain. Someone was listening! That was news worth reporting at the top of the hour.
Here’s the YouTube version of the national anthem by Jimi Hendrix:
Here’s the YouTube version of the national anthem by the US Navy band: