By 1971 my only radio experience was with a carrier current college station, but in my 20-year-old brain I was ready for the big time! When I saw an ad in the paper for a disc jockey I didn’t bother mailing in an application but instead got into my car and headed for a town called Berkey, Ohio.
With a map spread out on the seat next to me in my VW I drove a long way out into the country, passing nothing but farms and fields. Finally I found the address but there was nothing there but a shack, a few cars in the gravel lot, and a tower. I thought this must just be the transmitter site, but seeing no other building I knocked on the door.
A young woman let me in and after I introduced myself she said, “You’re the first to apply for the job. I’ll get the program director for you!” So this little building in a cornfield was a radio station! Shortly a guy about my own age came out to the lobby and told me his name was London. I didn’t realize that he was on the air at the time and had come out to chat while a record was playing. He invited me back into the studio with him where I spent an hour or so. London explained that the call letters were WGLN(FM) and the format was country music. During our brief time together he hired me (Yay!) and I found myself officially employed at my first commercial station, starting the following Monday.
After I had been working there for a while the wave of euphoria began to wear off and I learned some of the finer details about WGLN. My salary was $1.87 an hour, and even in the early ’70s that was not wonderful. The station was climate-controlled: in the summer we sweated like dogs and in the winter we wore every piece of clothing we owned to keep from freezing.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but there were other issues with the station. The bathroom was located in the same tiny closet where we stored the logs and other legal documents, and there was no lock on the door. If someone had asked me if the toilet worked I would have answered “mostly.” Once when I walked down the driveway to the street where our mailbox was located I looked down and saw a snake between my feet. The parking lot was never shoveled in the winter so we parked out on the paved road.
Our owners were two farmers from the equally rural Delta, Ohio. Apparently they thought it would be a swell idea to brand WGLN as “The Home of the Jones Boys,” and they bought a jingle package suffused with that phrase. Musically it was happy hoedown time, and we were stuck with jock jingles for John Paul Jones, Deacon Jones and Davy Jones for example. Each time a DJ left, his replacement had to use the same name jingle as his predecessor. I considered myself a whiz with a razor blade, but there was no way I could edit anything usable out of those jingles, which were reminiscent of the country swing band “Spade Cooley and his Buckle Busters” circa 1935.
I was not a complete stranger to country music but neither was it my métier. When I mispronounced the name of an artist my listeners called in to correct me. And sometimes callers would relate their personal experiences with the stars. One animated fan spoke of meeting Merle Haggard in the restroom of a truck stop in Indiana. “He washed his hands.” Good to know!
A former waitress wanted me to know that Buck Owens was a regular guy, polite and friendly, and he left a big tip. Another brush with greatness. But I learned a lot from people on the phone during my stint at WGLN. When I told a brief story on the air about buying shoes a man called in during the next record to say he didn’t care about all that “happy horse s**t,” suggesting I shut up and play the music. Point well-taken, sir!
While on the air one afternoon with my mic open I heard a tremendous crash of glass which sounded like it came from the roof. I brilliantly ad libbed something like “what was that?” and played a commercial. I found out later that an engineer had scaled our transmitting tower to replace a giant light bulb near the top, and oops, he dropped it.
And on it went for about a year and a half, my time as a Jones Boy. The people at the station were all friendly and helpful, but I knew that this was just a stepping stone on the way to real stardom in AM top 40.
Or so I thought.
Ken Deutsch is living in semi-retirement in sunny Sarasota, Florida and has written for Radio World since 1985. After 34 years he is still learning about writing and radio. His book of these tales is available, Up and Down the Dial.