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Adventures in 1970s AM: Visit to the Big Station

There’s no place like home …

Most cities in the early 1970s had one: a big, old-line, middle-of-the-road radio station. In Toledo, Ohio, ours was WSPD(AM), and it had been the first station to sign on in our city. It boasted the best signal. I had been told that its ratings dwarfed all the other AM stations in town. Most folks would not make the switch to FM for five or 10 more years so AM had little competition.

I worked about five miles away from this juggernaut over at WOHO(AM), a respectable number two in the ratings, but far behind WSPD. While WSPD played easy-listening stars like Patti Page and Perry Como, we played slammin’ top 40 during the week and oldies on the weekend. Yes, I was one of the WO-HO “good guys,” shouting silly stuff, slinging jingles and taking requests.

One day I was asked by our sales secretary to drop off a commercial tape at WSPD on my way home. I agreed and called a buddy there whom I’ll call “Glen,” and asked him if I could have a tour when I stopped by.

[Read: Adventures in 1970s AM: The Big Kahuna]

Even though I was in the radio business, I didn’t know any more about WSPD than a typical listener on his way to work in the car. WSPD sounded impressive on the air, with disk jockeys who were older than the WO-HO “good guys,” and who all came from the deep-voice school of announcing.

WSPD resided in its own building as was common for AM stations then, this one a faux-colonial with pillars in front and a nicely manicured lawn. I parked my car in the lot and headed up the walk to the entrance where engraved upon the glass door was the legend: “WSPD, the Voice of Toledo.” Stepping through a glass vestibule, I entered the reception area which was quite nice with a black and white tiled floor. A young woman sat at the front desk, putting postage on outgoing letters. I introduced myself and told her that I was there to see Glen, and she summoned him through the intercom.

Glen arrived promptly, accepted my tape and walked me down a hall to the main part of the station which is where I experienced my first moment of culture shock. I felt like I had exited a plush hotel and entered a shabby office of low-rent hustlers. These sales guys were all talking loudly on their phones and teasing the secretaries. The carpet was worn, there were no decorations on the cheaply paneled walls and the stench of cigar smoke hung over everything.

“Wow,” I said to Glen. “This is not what I pictured” He nodded his understanding and said “Wait until you see the studios, Ken.” Taking another turn down the hall we reached the main studio, visible through a large plate glass window. Inside I saw the air talent, whom I was told was the station’s afternoon drive time disk jockey “R.T.”

Surprisingly he was wearing an enormous caftan with a lovely floral print which barely covered his large bulk. His thinning hair was styled in what we now refer to as a “comb-over” as he waved us into the control room. Glen made introductions and Ron stood up and offered his hand and said “Hi, guy! Sit down for a while!” My friend Glen said “I’ll leave you to chat and I’ll be back in 10 minutes.” So R.T. and I talked between records as I watched him stack his commercial carts, check items off the log and occasionally answer the phone. He was quite friendly and larger than life, but looked nothing like the image in my mind of a dignified gentleman in a dark suit and tie.

While R.T. worked I began to take note of the equipment, which looked like it was left over from the early ’50s. The microphone was WWII-vintage and the turntables went back even further. Our equipment at WOHO was state-of-the-art by comparison. On the walls were autographed pictures of some big stars: Rosemary Clooney, Glenn Miller, The Ink Spots and several others that hadn’t had a hit in 20 years.

So much for my mental image of “the big station.” I felt like the curtain had been pulled back and the Wizard of Oz was just an old guy in a mumu.

Ken Deutsch is a writer who lives in sunny Sarasota, Fla., and has a book of these tales available, Up and Down the Dial.

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