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Classic Gear Hobby Keeps History Alive

Former Engineer Collects Cart Machines and Anything With a Gates Label on It

With almost a half-century in the broadcasting business, I collect antique radio equipment and refurbish it to resell or collect for myself. My favorite trolling ground for the Gates Yard consoles and cart machines that fill my two studios: eBay. But first a little background.

The year: 1961. I was 14 when I won a guest announcer contest at WEZN(AM) 1600, a 500 watt two-tower DAD in Elizabethtown, Pa. The prize: A gateway for a summer job at this local radio outlet.

Bootleg radio

This was not the first time I had an interest in a radio station. My brother Ross, chief engineer at a local television station, and I had our own bootleg radio station in the garage at home. On occasion, Ross also would let me, his budding broadcaster prodigy, run the Saturday morning programming at the TV station.

For me, the prize from the 1961 contest was the introduction to small-market radio and its equipment: a well-used second-hand RCA 500L transmitter, an Ampex 600 reel-to-reel recorder, a Crown recorder, two Gates 16-inch turntables, one Gates StaLevel leveling amplifier and a Gates “The Yard” console. Plus, it was the start of my (so far) 47-year career in radio and television broadcasting, and my love affair with the Gates Yard.

Three years later in 1964, as a student at DeVry Technical Institute, I received my first phone radio license and with it, my first big job on the air at a major-market radio station in Chicago.

I loved it the first time I gave the station ID: “This is FM for everyone, WCLM Chicago at 101.9, broadcasting from the site of Ft. Dearborn, the 333 building on Michigan Ave., with a power of 60,000 watts and serving you 24 hours a day.”

This great announcing job paid $1.75 an hour. My boss was Burt Burdeen, now a professor at Columbia College in Chicago. He taught this young cuss proper announcing skills, and believe me, Burt was a very patient man. A seasoned announcer, Burt did the announcing tracks on most of the programming. These programs were played back on a Magnecorder reel-to-reel.

Some of the WCLM programming included “Showtime on Broadway,” “Frank Sinatra Sings,” “Coffee Concert” and the show “Meet the Dawn.”

“Meet the Dawn” was my show. Remember in 1964, I was in a major market, but FM was still just the little sister of AM radio. Everyone in those days would listen to WLS, WCFL, WMAQ, WIND, WJJD or WGN.

Although the little sister of AM, WCLM had a great array of equipment: Rek-O-Kut turntables, Ampex 350 reel-to-reels, a Raytheon console, eight Collins tube-type PB190 cart machines and the Gates ST-101, the tape deck with the (almost) foot-wide tape. The transmitter was a modified GE Phasitron with the 10 kW power amp.

Ahead of its time, WCLM also broadcast background music on two subchannels, 41.5 kHz and 67 kHz. The music was provided by Seeburg jukeboxes.

In my mind, I had hit the big time. I worked across the street from the great WLS.

Over the next decade, I worked a variety of small-town AM stations in Pennsylvania: WCMB, WCOY, WHAT and WLAN. Then, while in the Navy during the Vietnam era, I worked at WMOG, Brunswick, Ga., and, while stationed in Charleston, S.C., was one of the emcees during the “Navy Hour” every Saturday night on WCSC.

In 1971, I received my big break, the afternoon drive slot on WHP(AM) radio, the CBS radio affiliate and major powerhouse, in Harrisburg, Pa. This station owned the best equipment, the best signal and something I never had before: an audience! I was in heaven. Gates cart machines, Gates turntables and an RCA BC-7 audio board. At WHP, I ran the last Arthur Godfrey show — live.

Five years later, in 1976, WHP moved from the downtown Harrisburg high-rise offices to a completely new, dedicated broadcast facility featuring five fully-loaded studios. The main air studio used a Collins IC-10 console, and those aforementioned Gates turntables made the move with as well.

Going one, going twice

I discovered eBay in 2005 as my best place to buy Gates broadcast equipment, and another great favorite of mine, cart machines of any kind.

I search sites two times each day, and the rotation goes like this: Spotmaster, Tapecaster, Fidelipac, Audiopak, Gates Radio, Gates Broadcast, Harris Broadcast, Gates Yard, Gates Producer, Collins Broadcast, RCA Broadcast, Ampex 600 or Ampex 620.

I also bid on the manuals for all the gear. My method of bidding might be against the norm. If I want something, I bid the most I am willing to pay first. From that moment on, I watch the bids and see if I win it or not. I do not add any more bids.

Also, to get one cart machine that works, I need at least three machines in various states of disrepair. Some are so bad, I categorize them as “parts only” machines. In my garage, you will find at least 55 cart machines. My favorites are the Collins PB150 and Collins PB190s because they are tubes. My training at DeVry was in vacuum tubes. Plus, these are some of the oldest cart machines made dating to 1959, so they tell me. My score on these is three good out of seven machines.

In addition, most Gates Yards usually come without the power supply amp, so I need to throw a b+ power supply together. Once I got lucky; one of my Yards came with everything. However, the regulator part of the power supply did not work. In this case, I bypassed the regulator and added a buffer resistor and extra capacitance. Most Gates Yards have eight attenuators for mixing audio. The first version had six mixable; this was the one I first used in the summer of 1961 at WEZN.

Some of the Yards use 6267 tubes in the preamps, some 5879 tubes elsewhere. Most of the program amps need some renewed solder joints on the program and preamp modules due to hairline cracks in the phenolic board. The work is worth it for that great tube sound.

The Kauffman basement, aka Studio A, the entryway of which proclaims 1964 on the door, houses three stacked Yards with an assortment of cart machines. Across the room, in Studio B, you’ll find the Harris 5 mono console with Spotmaster, IT, Sparta and BE cart machines. In another portion of Studio B there is a Rek-O-Kut turntable to put 45s onto carts.

The studios do get used. I do some voiceover work for local merchants who are clients of my wife Barbara’s PR firm. Also, I do DJ events that take the audience back to a day, say in 1964, and do an hour show just for friends and family that includes newscasts and the Top 40 music from that day.

Every now an then, I get asked to do DJ “record hops” for charity along the same lines. When I perform, I take a Gates Yard, five cart machines and 400 Fidelipacs to put on a show most people can’t believe when they see it. Plus it takes most of the day to set up. I do enjoy the setup and sharing my eBay finds as much as, I hope, the audience loves looking at the old equipment.

For those of us who made our living in small-market radio, it was the time of our life. I believe our communities were better for it. Having the equipment to return to those wonderful days is like traveling in a time machine. For me, it is a labor of love.