Warning: If you’re just
about to sit down to your morning breakfast burrito/bagel sandwich or maybe
that noontime Whopper/Big Mac, you might want to go to another page and save
this for later reading.
Perhaps this small-market
station’s mixing of news and personal habits wasn’t the best idea.
Years ago I attended a
concert featuring a well-known female vocalist. Early in the performance, she
attempted to get the crowd to warm up to her by confiding that as a little
girl, she’d firmly believed that the queen didn’t have to pee. Now that she was
all grown up, she admitted it was likely that even royalty had to relieve
themselves from time to time.
Then she told us that before
each live performance, she herself developed a nervous stomach and regurgitated
her food — way too much information, even in this enlightened age.
The bottom line was
that, no matter what her fans might think, both she and the royal family were
only human. “The queen really pees, and I throw up.”
Well, broadcast people — boss
jocks, engineers, you name ’em — are human, too. No matter what people
listening to their radios might think, we have to make a trip to the “john”
every once in a while too.
Drove my Chevy to the levee …
If you worked in the radio
business before everything was canned or satellite-delivered from some remote
studio located God-knows-where, you may remember the term “bathroom record.”
No, this was not some kind
of recognition for the person who stayed on the throne the longest. Bathroom
records were the lengthy recordings you cued up when you felt the need to head
for the sandbox and didn’t want to risk hearing the hall monitor going “whsk,
whsk, whsk” before you finished your business. (If this did happen, the beehive
light over the phone usually was flashing when you got back to the control
room, with the PD or manager on the other end.)
One of my favorite bathroom
songs was Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” It ran for a full 7 minutes 21
seconds, more than twice the length of the average record, giving you plenty of
time to do what you had to do. (The song was so long that some stations created
an edited version to fit their formats.)
Another great one was
Don McLean’s “American Pie” at 8:36. The Beatles had several hits that played
well for their friends in need: “Yellow Submarine” at 6:38, “Hey Jude” at 7:11 and
“Revolution,” which clocked in at 8:22, a great bathroom record.
“Nights in White
Satin” by the Moody Blues was a good one to track if you had to leave the
control room. As I recall, the album version ran well over 7 minutes.
Others from that general period
— though not quite so long — were Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” (4:15), Procol
Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (4:05) and Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good
Year” (4:25). We could drop in “oldies,” but the PD dared anyone to track an
album — ever!
I mentioned to a
younger buddy that I was trying to put together a list of bathroom records and
he offered up “November Rain” by Guns ’N Roses, at 8:57, but that
was in the ’90s and I was long out of jocking by then.
I suppose that the
all-time best bathroom song back in the swinging ’60s was Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” which ran well over 17 minutes.
Of course, if I had put that on the turntable, I’d have been fired.
I’m sure we all have our own stories about
trips to the john in various broadcast facilities. Now that I’m approaching the
autumn of a rather mediocre career, at least a couple stand out among my
No after-hours tours, please!
I was doing a gig at a
top-40 station in a building that had been built back in the “golden days” of
radio. It had big studios where actors and sound effects people could play to
“the theatre of the mind” or where a 40-piece orchestra could spread out and
play live music. Everything in the building was connected by a very long
“L”-shaped hallway that wrapped around the studios, which were by that time mostly
The lobby was at the top
of the “L” and the elevated control room, designed to overlook the studios, was
at the other end of the “L.” You can guess where the bathrooms were: yep, in
the lobby area, about as far away from the CR as you could get. Even with a
brisk walk it took over a minute to get from board to potty.
I worked a long evening shift (5 p.m. until
signoff, at 1:30 a.m. or later) and even though I didn’t want to be that far
from the turntables, I usually needed to take at least one walk per shift.
My solitary bathroom
break usually came a couple of hours into my shift. Because I was the only one
there, I’d leave the john door open to hasten my return to the CR. This also made
it easier to hear the lobby speaker in case a record got stuck.
“MacArthur Park” was riding
high in the charts and had become my bathroom song of choice. One evening about
9 p.m., I had done my business and was getting ready to pull up trou and head
back to the control room. Richard Harris was crooning about the cake left out
in the rain and the sweet green icing flowing down and I thought all was well.
Then I heard the front
door open, and before I could rearrange my clothes, the formerly dark lobby was
ablaze in light and several people of both sexes were entering. There was the
sales manager, his wife and two other couples — probably big advertisers. The
sales manager was slurring his words but saying something about going to the
control room and meeting the “boss jock.”
By then all eyes were riveted
on me. There I was, in a most awkward position, with a hand full of TP. All I
could do was kick the door closed and hope they’d be elsewhere when I had to dash
back down the hall before the record ended.
Thankfully, I heard
the manager say something about how maybe this tour hadn’t been such a good
idea and how he’d have to speak to the janitorial service about their
indiscreet cleaning crew.
Toilet paper/Teletype paper
The physical location
of another john sticks in my mind. The little AM station I worked for was in an
old house out near the edge of town. It was a shoestring operation, with physical
space at a premium. This little house had not been designed to accommodate a
transmitter, studio, control room and various offices.
To keep the noise from
the AP Teletype from reaching the control room, the station had faced a choice
between putting the banging, clanging machine outside the manager’s office or
in the solitary one-holer bathroom. Despite protests from several of us who had
to rip and read the news, the john location won out.
Now this really wouldn’t
have all that bad except for one overweight salesman named “Fred,” who several
times a day, delighted in heading to the john with a pack of Camels and the
funnies, or maybe the latest copy of Broadcasting.
Of course, when it came time
to pull the latest set of headlines or five-minute summary off the Teletype, you
can guess where Fred was.
You basically had two
choices: Knock on the bathroom door and ask Fred to rip off the last 10 feet of
fanfold and shove it under door (he was not known for washing his hands), or
just go back to the CR and read the last news summary that happened to be there.
Unbeknownst to everyone,
Fred at one point removed the bell from the machine because the noise bothered
him. It was only after we missed the news about the JFK assassination
by nearly two hours that the manager relented and put the AP machine out in
plain view in the hallway. He eventually got used to the noise.
A most unusual men’s room
I’ll leave you with just one more radio
station bathroom story, one that didn’t happen to me but to a chief engineer buddy.
Seems that the day after
the station’s Christmas party, a lot of staff called in sick. You guessed it;
stomach virus — probably from something the trade-out restaurant had served the
Over the next couple
days, even those who’d missed the party were laid low. Of course the “show had
to go on,” and it’s always the engineer who has to hang in there and keep it
running. (Management told us it’s ’cause we made the really big bucks.)
Anyway, as sick as Charlie
was, he dragged himself in and segged spots, jingles and records. (The big boss
told him not to try and talk. Ratings were bad enough as it was.)
This was one long-running
bug, no pun intended; but Charlie stayed on the job. I think they promised him
a trip to Mexico for his dedication. By the time things finally returned to
normal, Charlie had done some engineering work that set that station apart from
everyone else in the market or, for that matter, any other radio station in the
country. Or maybe I’m wrong. Does anyone know of any other station equipped with
turntables and cart machines that could be remote started from the men’s room
Hello, Guinness World
Joe E. Lasmane is a retired
broadcast engineer and one-time “boss jock” who spent the better part of his
career during broadcasting’s “Golden Age” (no computers, microprocessors or
digital audio). In a previous story he examined the lighter side of hazmat.