(click thumbnail)Royal, right, and Jimmy Johnson work in the WPTFmaster control room circa 1984. Photo courtesy Gary Saber. The Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller sat atop the Billboard chart. FM didn’t exist and commercials were cut live to 78 rpm wax disks. That was in 1942, the year a young man named Bob Royal started as an engineer at WPTF(AM), Raleigh, N.C.
The world changed a great deal over the next 60 years, but in 2002 Bob Royal was still working at the same radio station. He retired later that year.
Royal passed away on Oct. 3. Radio World was scheduled to interview him the following week to collect recollections about his long career.
Don Curtis owns Curtis Media Group, which purchased WPTF in 1991. He worked with Royal and remembered him as a man who never dwelt on the past.
“He wasn’t one of those old guys who sat around and talked about the glory days, even though he went way back to when Chet Atkins had a daily live guitar show here,” he said. “We tried to get Bob to write about the station’s history but he wasn’t too interested in that. He was always looking to the future. Maybe that’s why he lived to be 84.”
Curtis said WPTF moved its studios three times during Royal’s tenure.
“The original building had a pipe organ in the main studio and could seat 150 people,” he said. “The station moved out of there in the early 1960s.”
Gary Liebisch, now a product manager at Harris, was Royal’s supervisor and WPTF’s chief engineer from 1985 until 1997.
“He was a great guy, very dedicated,” Liebisch recalled. “He never let his age or anything related to his physical condition get in his way. In fact he ran circles around the other guys. He took a lot of pride in the sound of the station and would work long, hard hours to set up our remote broadcasts. I didn’t really appreciate how good he was until I moved on to the next station.”
A respect for history
“Sometimes you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going in radio,” said Eddie Harrell, who worked as an engineer at WPTF from 2001 until 2005. “Bob was one of the old-school guys who knew telephones and vinyl records. But he was always there, every time you asked him to do something.”
“He was a giving person,” said Jimmy Johnson. who now owns a station and operates two others in North Carolina. “He gave me my first assignment in radio, setting up football and basketball broadcasts for North Carolina State University games. I once mentioned to him that I was looking for a car for my father. Bob just gave me one he had and said he was going to buy a new one anyway. I couldn’t believe it. He was more than just an employer, he was like family.”
Royal specialized in studio work and remote broadcasts, according to Chris Waldrup, who spent three years at his side. “He didn’t want new technology to pass him by so he went out and bought that set of learning CDs and taught himself about computers,” said Waldrup.
While not generally known for being a big joke teller, Royal could come up with the occasional funny line.
“My wife was working at my station back in the days when cell phone long distance was expensive,” said Curtis. “One time she didn’t hit ‘end’ after a call so the line was left open a long time and it cost some huge amount like $125 when we got the bill.
“I ran into her office and started yelling about it, but what I didn’t know was that Bob Royal was under her desk working on something. I was going on and on, and Bob eventually leaned out from behind the desk and said, ‘Well, the way I see it, you could fire her, but she’d probably get a divorce and end up owning half the company. Then she could make as many calls as she wanted!’”
In his early years, Royal served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army as a radio technician, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Kathleen. Memorial contributions can be made to Highland United Methodist Church, 1901 Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607.