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Back From the Trenches: 25 Years Hence

Al Peterson marks his Radio World anniversary with a walk down memory lane

This art accompanied Al’s original bimonthly column. Happy anniversary, Al! To celebrate this milestone, I turn my pen over to you this issue.

Paul McLane

It’s a pleasure for me to pen this issue’s guest column for Paul McLane, as it coincides with an interesting personal milestone: 25 years ago this month, I joined the Radio Worldfamily when former editor Judith Gross rolled out my original “From the Trenches” column. I wonder how many readers remember that feature?

When Al came on board as tech editor in 1995, his column changed focus and format.

RW was always a go-to read for me, starting in 1986 during my music jock days. I read Radio & Records for the Help Wanted ads, but RW showed me how to tear down and modernize an obsolete tube console with op amps. That was just cool.

I read where Judith had worked in upstate New York. I passed through there twice myself, so I began mailing her little local tidbits for her amusement. Some she printed in her column, and it was a hoot.

In April 1989, I was fired from WHEN(AM), Syracuse by then-PD (and present-day CBS Radio news reporter/anchor) Peter King. I was just 31, had never been let go from a gig before, and it hit me hard.

I wrote Judith a really elaborate letter — almost embarrassingly so — as to what I was going to miss from the job and what I was going to do next. On the basis of that letter, she offered me my own column. “From the Trenches” became a bimonthly feature formatted as letters written from whatever station I was working at during that time.

When I became RW’s tech editor in ’95, my column was retooled and retitled, “The World According to ARP” (my initials), and it stayed that way when I dove back into broadcasting in 1999.

Along the way, I was confused several times with “the other Al Peterson,” who today runs Great fun.

So where did I go? Severe personal health issues derailed me in 2004. I couldn’t meet my obligations, so the column ended. Just as well — the industry changed seismically, and the things I wrote about were no longer relevant. I would have started sounding like those cranks that wished for the return of cart machines and 6L6 tubes. “The World According to ARP” ended badly but humanely — and just when it should have.

Modern-day Al takes time for a selfie while covering the 135 AES convention for Radio World.

To sum it all up: What a long, strange trip those 25 years have been.

Magnetic tape made way for digits. CDs stepped aside for music on hard drive. Spots arrived on reel, then via DG Systems, then over the Web in an email. Former rival stations all piled inside one building as a new family. Staffs shrank, debt grew. The Web beckoned, then threatened. AM suffered, satellites merged, dashboards changed. The morning guy is now six states away, and the traffic guy even farther than that.

Not only isn’t this “your daddy’s radio” anymore, it’s barely radio as I knew it when I started writing for RW. But somehow I’m still at it, much like you.

I’ve been honored to work under four fine editors: Judith, Alex Zavistovich, Lucia Cobo and current head honcho Paul McLane. While I’m not “Trenching” anymore, this has been the greatest writing gig this perpetually 31-year-old broadcaster could have asked for.

May RW, and your enthusiastic readership, go on forever.