Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:



What then is it like to work at a classical radio station as a "live announcer?" Well, what you hear on the air is the tip of the iceberg! The term "multi-tasker" applies here. Back when I worked as a CM DJ, as soon as I keyed the mic switch off, there were administrative and production duties to attend.

There were several reasons for that. One very obvious reason was the large amount of time available during the playing of longer works. For that reason, longer works such as symphonies and ballets, running from around half an hour to 45 minutes, were programmed back-to-back later on in my shift. As aforementioned in this article, when I showed the program schedule, the station was only live during the early morning drive, which was handled by the station manager, and during my shift from 5 to 10 p.m., when most people listened during the week. The rest of the time during the week and on weekends, programming was almost entirely via automation. And I'll recount an hilarious misadventure with pre-recorded tapes later on in the article, so "stay tuned!"

As you read on, you'll find that this multi-tasking had some comic highs and lows. And at times, some drama! The prosaic job of typing the next day's program log fell upon me, the night-shifter. Now, you'd think that just sitting down and typing is a simple-minded task that shouldn't take too long while a long musical selection is playing. It would be, had there been no interruptions. For there was one element that disrupted the entire multi-tasking process -- the telephone.



Listeners would call to inquire, inform, and argue at the times when I had the least amount of time to spare. "What did you just play?...I can't pick you up over here in Kenwood...Didn't you used to work at a rock station, I'd swear it was you!...What did you play last week at this time?...You play way too much flute music!...Is your needle stuck in 20th century romanticism?...You talk too fast...You talk too slow...You sound sexy...Are you in a TV ad?...You don't look anything like you sound on the radio."

With tongue-in-cheek humor, I'd only admit I sounded sexy. And indeed I was in a local TV ad during that time. And herein lies the other magical show business paradox between what you hear and what you see. Physically, I resemble a construction worker. However, what's a classical music DJ supposed to look like anyway?

Then there were the more hostile calls. They were manageable at my end of the line as long as I kept my sense of humor. Here's one conversation I recall during the Christmas Holidays, where the caller had the slurred speech of celebrating the season.

"Hello, can I talk to the announsher? He needzh a lesshon in pronunciation!"

"Yes, can I help you?"

"I said I wanted to talk to the announcer, Jim Stokes. Who are you?"

"I'm Jim Stokes."

"You don't shound like him. You'd better not be puttin' me on."

"I've got to go on the air very soon. What can I do for you?

"It's 'Shah-bree-ay' (for Chabrier). Not 'Sha-bree-er.'"

"Thanks very much, sir. I know it's Chabrier. But I didn't play anything by that composer during my shift. Uh, what station do you have on? Can you put your phone up to the radio, please."

There's a big pause, a clatter, and then my "listener" plays another station, loudly, into the phone.

"You're listening to another station, sir. Um, did they advertise some wine perhaps?" Then I had an "ah-ha", recalling there were a ton of wine commercials running on other stations. Our caller, although classics-literate, was quite scrambled between wine and French music. "So, please have another Chablis (Sha-blee) on me, sir -- and Happy Holidays! Right now, I've got to play some music. Bye!"



Typing program logs and answering the phone were but two of the duties as the records played. As the turntables turned and the console meters bounced back and forth during the "air show," another task was before me -- production. Never an idle moment!

Commercials had to be "dubbed to cart." All commercials came in on 7½ speed full track or two-track stereo open reels. New or revised commercials with their accompanying sales contract showing the times to be aired greeted me nearly every night when I came to work. These were keyed to the daily program log. Some were "write-ins" on the log, where I had to "field-expediently" run the open reel tape during the air show as I juggled live spots and records. Then in my spare time, I duplicated the open reel tapes to tape cartridge. In any event, the remaining spots loomed before me as entries to be typed into the next day's program log. And the log reflected the billing. Any errors of not logging the paid spots meant lost revenue. Those spots had to run or be re-run.

While longer records were playing, spots had to be transferred from open reel to tape cartridge ("dubbed to cart") with a live-to-tape station ID tagged at the end of each spot. That was to fulfill the FCC station ID requirements and simply to let listeners know what station they listened to, for it might be a very long time before symphonic music ended during the day when the station was in automation mode.

I was challenged to not only voice the station ID "trippingly-on-the-tongue" without a stutter or flub, but also to avoid sounding repetitious and to sound a bit different as I voiced the call letters along with a varied slogan after each spot. For there was my disembodied voice alternating amongst, "the Twin Cities Voice of Classical Music, WLOL-FM, St. Paul/ Minneapolis," "WLOL-FM, classical music from Minneapolis/St. Paul," and the like. There were something like a dozen variations on the station ID! Correspondingly, my style varied from enthusiastic to soft to matter-of-fact to casual. It helped to have the dozen ID variations typed as I voiced and checked off each one!




During my shift, I had to record the last two hours of CM, which ran in automation from 10 to Midnight. Most of the time this task went very well. Once in a while the big Scully 1280 tape deck would decide to shut itself off, since it was mounted vertically and rather awkwardly against the force of gravity.

With hardly an inch to spare, the deck was mounted so that the spring-loaded arm that guided the tape past the capstan would be constantly fighting gravity versus the tape/capstan/motor path. The quick fix was to tape the arm, so it wouldn't "de-arm," tripping a micro-switch, and shutting the deck off. However, if the tape ever got stuck or a reel jammed, tape and reel hubs would literally fly across the room! So, if the tape deck stopped, I'd have to cue back to where there was a break in a movement or track in the record and start over. Of course, we had standby tapes.


The real yeoman's task at any radio or TV station happens every Friday afternoon. Advertising agencies have the "weekend runs," as they say in that business, when an account executive (aka - "salesperson") takes advantage of the good spirits of the client over Friday lunch or beverages -- and a Friday-through-weekend spot buy is often signed, taking advantage of weekend rates.

Thus the Friday night and weekend logs are often cluttered with last-minute ad buys such as weekend sales. At WLOL-FM Classics guess who dubbed the spots and/or read the ads live-to-cart, including a station ID, all trippingly on the tongue! C'est moi, the night CM DJ!



It doesn't take a lot of real estate to house the actual production part of a radio station. While the transmitter and antenna take up several acres of land, the studio itself may only comprise a 9x12 foot room. For instance, the separate studios of WLOL-AM and WLOL-FM were housed in a small brick building in St. Paul, Minnesota on a bluff near where the Minnesota River joins the Mississippi River, and the bigger river makes a huge curve and heads south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The building included the 5KW (5,000 watt) AM transmitter. It was the same hulking model that RCA made since 1945. And from the looks of the transmitter, it may very well have been made in that era. Out back were the three WLOL-AM towers, from which emitted "the Talk of the Twin Cities" at that time.

WLOL-FM, "the Twin Cities Voice of Classical Music" at the time; was allotted a tiny manager/sales/administrative office and a cramped control room at one corner of the building. Our CM FM signal was feed via equalized telephone line to a transmitter and tower located on the northern bank of the Mississippi River, upstream, several miles away from the studio. It was, literally, a highly strategic location because from there the line-of-sight signal offered good coverage to Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Back at the studio, the FM program logs were typed in the station manager's "catch-all" office, which adjoined the control room. The office would have made a marvelous set for a movie comedy about a radio station. But this was for real! At one wall was a desk that looked as if would not hold one more piece of paper.

Somehow there was always room as the shelves extended up to the ceiling, ready to retain and devour any messages, radio spot sales contacts, and the taped spots themselves. Interspersed with the paperwork was an assortment of open reel tapes, packed randomly into cubbyholes. At one time in the station's distant past, it may have been a studio since whatever walls that were visible were covered with white soundproofing panels.

Not only was this the manager's office, it was also the classical music library, which held its domain on two walls, from floor to ceiling. Nearly every time I rummaged around for office supplies or pulled my records for the evening shift, a memo or radio spot contract from yesterday to ten years ago would float to the floor. And it's almost a scientific principle that tiny rooms accumulate the most memorabilia.

In the nook and crannied walls opposite the classical record stacks were a hodgepodge of forgotten albums. It wasn't until the last days of the station's CM format, that I discovered the likes of a rare (Mr.) Fred Rogers & Josie TV Show record among a vast array other children records, left over from the days when the AM station had what used to be called a "variety" format. Next to that was another forgotten section of LPs from the now defunct FM "Spoken Word" program. Included were a set of mint-condition Shakespeare dramatizations, and a vast, entire program series "French Music and French Musicians" from ORTF -- all of which I was invited to keep when the station changed format. Several years before that sad day of format change, these treasures were all rendered "not-for-air play" anyway because they were guilty of being monophonic. But they were kept "just in case," the motto of the packrat!

In those last, sad days before the format change, we announcers were invited to take whatever duplicate stereo records and any "broadcast-obsolete" monophonic records we found in the cramped library/office before an inventory was taken. Those remaining records were given to KUSD, the University of Minnesota radio station, and KSJN, the Minnesota Public Radio flagship station, to boost their record collections. That small handful of records were a small, but still-treasured perk. And I still play them often at home. Many are British light classics. The monophonic spoken word and children records made for good listening by my children, who were elementary school and pre-school at the time. Many of those records wound up at the public library. And I imagine it might yet be an ever-ending cycle of enjoyment.

But a format change was not to happen until several years later. Meanwhile, I settled back into my "dream job" as a CM DJ. The rewards, along with the usual harried "beat the clock" routine, were many. For over the years, I have decided that it is not the leisurely times I reflect back on, but the times that were full of ups and downs, with the adventurous highs winning out as wonderful memories.



I found delight in the older, but rock-solid control room equipment. There was the old-fashioned looking, but excellent quality, Altec 639B microphone set on cardioid pattern, which gave a hearty low frequency boost to any announcer's voice. The closer you got to the mic, the more boomy it sounded on the air.

Then there were the standard broadcast Collins turntables with high-end audiophile cartridges. Two or three Gates cartridge machines, one of which was used for recording spots, took care of produced commercial playback. And way back to the rear of the room was the aforementioned Scully 1280 open reel recorder for playback of agency spots and recording automation program tapes.

To the right of the Altec microphone was the FM transmitter remote control readout unit, from which the announcer wrote down the plate current, power output, and all the other necessary functions on the transmitter log.

Part 3

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