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Radio Terms of … Endearment

There Was Somethin' About That Automation System That Made You Want to Give It a Nickname

There Was Somethin’ About That Automation System That Made You Want to Give It a Nickname

Perhaps you call your significant other “sweetie.” But when it comes to automation or other equipment systems that present daily challenges, your pet names may not be so affectionate.

Radio World contacted engineers and equipment dealers in an effort to round up some of these nicknames and not-so-nice sobriquets for gear, wayward and otherwise. We have changed supplier names here as some of these manufacturers are still with us.

James Flinn, now CEO of 11 Software, toiled at Marquette, Mich., blowtorch WUUN(FM), “Stereo 100,” back in 1982.

“The station is long gone, as is the old automation it had,” he said. “But we nicknamed it ‘Ralph’ because it would belch smoke from fried IC chips and timer clocks from time to time.

“We even put a one-foot name plate on the front of the automation system – which made it promptly crash and wipe out the controller.”

Maybe it’s just something about Flinn, but he later ran into another uncooperative system, this one in Gladwin, Mich.

“It was at WGMM(FM), which stood for ‘We’ve Got More Music,’ and the system would, for no reason I could ever find, start playing any deck it felt like. Everything would be going along fine, and then – click click click – multiple reels would start up, cart decks would fire, and then everything then went back to normal for a few hours.”

Because this phenomenon would only occur about three or four days each month, Flinn came up with the politically incorrect moniker “PMS-601.”

The bad old days

When Dave Morgan, now director of engineering for Sinclair Telecable’s Norfolk cluster, worked at WTBC/WUOA in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he had an automation system that needed a lot of handholding.

“It was an electromechanical creation to behold, something that had a life of its own,” he said. “Every night at midnight the jock on duty had to take the paper commercial log and move pegs up and down for scheduling spots in the carousels. Of course the jocks on duty would sometimes forget to check the music reels, so that only spots and IDs on cart would play when the reels had run out.”

Morgan called the system Max, which might have just been a friendly name – or could have stood for “Most Aggravation eXtant.”

Mike McCarthy, director of engineering for Newsweb Radio Group in Chicago, mentioned a transmitter in Park Forest, Ill., which he called “Brutus,” an acronym for “Blows Regularly Unannounced Trapped Ubiquitous Stuff.”

Erickson Broadcast Service President Ron Erickson worked at KUGN(AM/FM) in Eugene, which had an automation system everyone referred to as “Mom.”

“In the downstairs kitchen a note appeared near the sink,” said Erickson. “It read, ‘Please clean up after yourself; Mom only works upstairs.'”

Oh, behave!

Joe Benson is news director at KPRL(AM), Paso Robles, Calif., but when he was at WYRQ(FM) in Little Falls, Minn., he had an automation system that had been cobbled together with carts, reels and a control panel that used hexadecimal programming.

“You had to be a mathematician to figure that one out,” he said. “Frequent replacements of very expensive cards and visits from company reps came with the territory. We called it ‘The Dippy One’ – but never in its presence out of fear that it would burn down our building.”

Henry Engineering President Hank Landsberg said that he built his own automation system for his “experimental” (read: “pirate”) station KCHZ(FM).

“The station was called ‘K-Cheese’,” he said. “And the system was called ‘Cheese-O-Mation.'” Tthe station was on the air in the mid-1970s; Landsberg assures us that the statute of limitations has run out.

Milford “Smitty” Smith, vice president engineering at Greater Media, said that at one of his locations, someone cut out a portion of a newspaper ad for a circus high wire act and posted it on the automation system. It read “Tempting Fate Daily.”

And Jim Withers, chief technical officer at Koplar Communications International in St. Louis, told us, “When I was chief engineer at KPLR(TV), St. Louis, I had a transmitter we nicknamed FRED, which stood for Fix, Repair Every Day.

“Of course, our standby rig was named Ethel.”

And some guys just have all the luck. James Flinn – he of ‘Ralph’ and ‘PMS-601’ – was at WKQS(FM) when he encountered the amazing “POS-V11,” which had to be sent back to the factory for a good spanking.

We leave it to you to suss out the meaning of the initials on that one.

RW Editor in Chief Paul McLane used to work at a station with an automation system called Rocky; and he recently spotted a rack of gear labeled Mir, after the notoriously clunky Soviet space station, and an HD Radio exciter named Glynn.

Did you work with an automation system called HAL, Satan or Aunt Bea? What were your terms of endearment for equipment, functioning or otherwise? Tell us – and send pix if you’ve got ’em – by writing to [email protected].