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David Sproul Signs-Off at WMAL (Almost)

CE at WMAL in Washington looks back at four decades of service

Sproul enjoys playing the organ.

David Sproul, chief engineer for WMAL(AM/FM) and WRQX(FM) in Washington recently retired (though he’s part-timing a little until a full-transition is completed). TechBytes recently spoke with him.

TechBytes:How did you decide it was time?
David Sproul: My predecessors all retired at 62 but I’ve hung in there until 65 (in December), so I hope I’ve excused myself from any accusations of selfishly retiring “too early.” My 93-year-old mother and beautiful one-year-old grandson need my company a lot more than, well, my company!

By the way, I still have Randy Stine’s August 2003 Radio World article framed on my office wall. He wrote it back when I passed the 30-year mark.

TechBytes:What will you do after you step away?
Sproul: My colleagues are tired of hearing about my all my neglected hobbies. I like to play the piano and pipe organ, to paint, to fiddle with old cars, to travel and to fly airplanes. I’m a member of the TSS Flying Club at Montgomery Airpark out in Gaithersburg, Md. We own two Cessna 172s and two 182s for use by club members. I also soloed a helicopter three years ago and would pounce on a chance to advance those skills should an opportunity arise.

TechBytes:How did you get into this business?
Sproul: When Tim Timberlake (later long time morning man at WRVA in Richmond, Va.) went off to college, he helped me inherit the job of hosting the Saturday evening Top 40 show on WTON(AM) in Staunton, Va., when I turned 16 in 1966. It was a fabulous way to get some peer respect at that delicate stage of maturity. I stayed there part time on weekends and summers through 1972 and went straight from there to WMAL in 1973, where I have been ever since.

Sproul now has more time for flying. Yes, he voluntarily gets into that machine. TechBytes:Did you have a particularly influential person or Elmer?
Sproul: Yes, Tim Timberlake showed me the way on program content and Rex Houser, the chief engineer at WTON, introduced me to engineering principles. Ironically, it was Houser’s defensive reluctance to share any real access or authority which stoked my determination to keep learning what I could on my own. Even though I went on to get a BS in Biology from Randolph-Macon College, I credit a mail-order course in broadcast engineering from Cleveland Institute of Electronics with handing me the broadcast engineering knowledge I needed in a very efficient manner. I still have the study guides and I see that the course is still available online all these years later.

TechBytes:What’s the most noticeable change in the business that you’ve observed over time?
Sproul: When I started at WMAL there were 18 (yes, 18!) well-paid union (NABET) engineers on staff for the two stations. Now I am lucky to be able to justify having one full time assistant. I don’t believe any elaboration is necessary!

TechBytes:Any projects, facility moves or other big jobs that you’re particularly proud of?
Sproul: No, with a studio plant that has been in continuous operation for 41 years I’m afraid my greatest accomplishment has been simply to avoid any embarrassing disasters.

TechBytes:What were your favorite products over the years?
Sproul: The Bauer FB-5V AM transmitters in use from 1967 through the early 2000s gave us amazingly good sound and reliability for decades. I believe they are still on the air in Mexico. ITC cart machines were loyal troupers in the 1980s. I also loved the PR&E BMX and RMX consoles. We still have several and somehow keep them going with routine refurbishment by Bob Moore at Mooretronix out in Michigan.