Radio vet Michael Baldauf provided Radio World with this seasonal observation.
’Twas the night before Christmas … 1978. Out there on the prairie, just north of Pueblo, Colo., the number 100 or so radio market, sat KIDN(AM), in the cinder block building built for it sometime way back in the ’30s.
The place had changed a bit over the decades. The big room once reserved for a piano and live performance was now home to a few turntables that were big enough for a small child to ride on and an RCA control board with enough vacuum tubes to heat the room almost by itself. Not much glamor — everything was sitting on cinder blocks, the dusty acoustic tile walls littered with posters and memos about EBS tests.
Through dusty windows, another studio of cart machines, a reel-to-reel, and around from that, the transmitter, a 5 kW RCA with the vacuum tubes glowing that faint orange that meant nighttime power was set. The sun sets early in December so it seemed like nighttime power was always on. No matter though, the station was number one in the market, having survived a sheriff’s sale a few years before and now there was enough cash to give the staff a paycheck that would actually clear the bank consistently.
In the studio was a wannabe radio announcer from the local university broadcast program. Sure it was 3 a.m. Christmas morning, but he was happy to be there, his first radio gig, and on the top station in town. Next to him were the shoeboxes with the “singles,” the 45 rpm records. One box had the top 10 or so, the other had the rest of the top 40.
In front or him was the “clock,” a hand drawn illustration which told him which category of songs to play during which parts of the hour. The albums he could choose cuts from were stacked in homemade shelves on the back walls. Not many commercials on audio carts to worry about that time of the day, especially considering that all the logs had to be typed on typewriters and logged manually.
So, for the most part, it really was a silent night. The random phone call from the tipsy listener, the task of back-timing the last record of the hour to hit the network news, the visit to the transmitter room to take some readings — all part of the job.
There were other stations in town with other fresh university broadcaster wannabes. They would call each other up to stay awake. Sometimes someone at the station that was lucky enough to have a wire service teletype would bring over some “copy” and hang out until the air shift was over. Then there was the trip to the 24-hour diner, for a cheap meal.
But the part about it that made it so different from today was that there really was a warm body, a person on the air, even in the wee hours. Someone wanted to be in radio enough to show up, run a show, take phone calls and talk to anyone who might be listening. I think it was important to the listeners of that era. It was quite the time.
I awoke early last Christmas with that on my mind for some reason. I guess I don’t have any grandiose conclusion. I’m not even particularly nostalgic about that time but it has stuck with me over the years.
If you have a radio-oriented Christmas memory, tell us about it at Radio World.