Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:




If anything went wrong in automation, it would most likely be on the weekend -- and especially on a holiday weekend when the regular staff is gone. One fateful weekend over Memorial Day in 1973, took the prize for tape mishap. The AM combo newsman/board operator had the added responsibility of changing and cueing up the FM CM automation tapes, which were on special mammoth-sized, 14-inch tapes. Following the age-old pre-recorded program norm, the tapes were wound "tails out."

That's a key phrase! "Tails out" means the tape has to be rewound before it's played. This custom was carried over from the days when magnetic tape would tend to print-through the next layer of tape, if not rewound. Then the tape would have a weird-sounding pre-echo on music or a person's voice, that could be so distracting that the tape would be unplayable for broadcast. That rule certainly applied to the ancient, syndicated tapes we still used. We had been slowly phasing out these (gasp!) monaural tapes. After this weekend, no more of the syndicated programs ever ran again on weekends! And they were all very simply "heads out." Just thread up and play.

But back to this fateful weekend. Enter a new AM news/board op, who had never encountered the norm of rewinding "tails out" automation tapes. His experience was entirely with tapes wound "heads out," ready to instantly play. So, he threaded the tapes without rewinding them.

The result was some very interesting music -- all played backwards. Not only that, the usually 50 Hz inaudible cue tone imbedded on the right track, which switched the big tape deck to the cart machine, was now quite audible. What did it sound like? Well, this normally inaudible very low tone sounded like flatulence, the "Bronx cheer, the "raspberry" over the air.

Manager Ray Ose had anticipated problems with a new AM board op, so I was summoned to "keep an ear" on the FM. I'd been invited to a golf tournament and was mainly enjoying the weekend over beverages in the club house. I had a portable radio kept low.

Sure enough, the tapes were running backwards. I frantically dialed the unlisted AM station number. An equally frantic news/board op answered the phone. I told him to "just rewind the tape," which he did -- over the air! "Whirl," (flatulence), "whirl," (flatulence) went the gigantic tape.

"Jimmy, the cart machine is going nuts!"

"Forget that. Just get a tape rolling the right way." He finally got a tape on the air. I ran to my car and drove through red lights to the station. Fortunately, the police were out on the highway trying to catch speeders drunks on Memorial Day weekend.

I laboriously re-loaded the carousel cart machine, which was jam-packed with spots for this memorable weekend, then made sure all the spots that were missed were re-run and logged as "make goods," since the paperwork for missing these many spots was akin to filling out an accident report for the government!

Sure enough next weekend, all the automation music tapes were heads out and ready to play.



On the evenings when I missed supper, I'd take a supper run to Zapata's, the closest fast food eatery which was two blocks up the hill. It was a bit tricky in that it was best to make a mad dash out the door right after I introduced the long work on the Northern States Power Company show. I'd make a deal to bring something back for the AM DJ, if he'd look in on my record.

There was always the danger that the record would skip or catch in a groove and no-one would attend to it. And I'd time myself, to see if I could surpass my speed record. Try as I might, I never made it up and back in less than 10 minutes. And I never had a stuck record!

One of my most embarrassing misadventures in radio was on a Sunday morning several years earlier at another station when "The Lutheran Hour" program electrical transcription (phonograph record) stuck on the phrase, "go to hell." I was dozing at the console and wasn't aware of the sticky message until the phones started ringing!

Then there was the ongoing "we hear next" inside joke. That came from Ray's catch phrase in introducing records in automation, "We hear next." Within the monitoring technology of the automation equipment, his disembodied voice coming out of a pre-recorded commercial cart would fill the AM control room. This was the rather jarring signal for the engineer running the console in the control room to log the time and the spots, since AM kept track of the FM program log during the weekdays, as well as on the weekends.

Thus, our AM colleagues adapted "we hear next" as a running gag. I can hear it now. Long after the rest of the staff left the building, the AM announcer would sometimes wait by the door of the FM control room and sneak in behind me when I was on the air, whispering, "We hear next," imitating Ray's Minnesota nasal baritone. It invariably made me laugh, since I have no composure for jokes.



Things were going well for WLOL-FM during 1974. It was going so well that we showed up quite well in the Arbitron listener ratings in the second quarter for the first time. Ray was able to sell more time, and we all sounded a little happier on the air. In the next Arbitron, we slipped a bit, but it was all right, going into Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Then around the middle of January, 1975; Ray told me, most seriously and cryptically, "If I were able to sell out all the time on all the breaks inside all the hours, we would still only gross (he gives a $ amount here, which I figured was rather respectable.) However, I was not actively involved in sales. He repeated what he had just said. I shrugged and we both went back to work.

It wasn't until I sold radio time several years later did I know what he meant. Grave concern for sales after the first of the year might well spell "format change" or "station sale." By summer of '75 when a consultant was hired and thereafter when new automation decks were installed, was I finally told that the FM format was changing. By then, I finally connected-the-dots from all the hints given me!



Thus one of the oldest FM stations in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the first commercial all-classical FM station in the area, would change its format to beautiful music. Why?

FM radio ownership was no longer a matter of a breaking even or just making it in sales. FM had matured to a viable commercial radio enterprise. Adding to the mix was the competition. Previously the only heads-on competition was St. Olaf College's WCAL AM & FM, later WCAL-FM, Northfield, Minnesota, which broadcast a combination of classics and public affairs. KUSD-AM, the University of Minnesota, broadcast even fewer classics, in their mission to provide a mix of public affairs, education, and classics.

But the most formidable force was KSJN, St. Paul, the flagship station of MPR (Minnesota Public Radio), which was expanding their radio empire via additional stations around the state. Their bulwark was the classics network feed, which originated at KSJN. In fact, if you're driving around the U.S. today, you may very well tune in the vast MPR network affiliates, carrying classics originating at KSJN.

The other factor that spelled format change for WLOL-FM were the aggressive promotion and fund raising tactics of MPR, which built a massive listener loyalty. MPR listeners felt they were a fundamental part of this public radio service. And they were treated to discount tickets to concerts and retail stores.

WLOL-FM had only the free listeners program guide, and there was no talk about any other business tie-in, promotions, T-shirts, or coffee mugs!

And what of the beautiful music that replaced two full-time employees and one part-timer? Well, that lasted several years, after which, WLOL-FM was sold. And the irony! What goes around, comes around -- as the old saying goes. For today, the same old 99.5 MHZ WLOL-FM spot on the dial is now KSJN, the home base of Minnesota Public Radio! And sister station WLOL-AM, 1330 on the dial? It's now WMIN-AM, the all-news station of MPR.



Sometimes on cold winter nights, when I miss working at the little cubbyhole studio where we worked so hard to keep a good on-air classics sound, I wonder whatever happened to all those ancient memos, sales contracts, equipment, and tapes? Perhaps one of those old tapes, still tucked away in a corner, was an audition tape from Jim Stokes or Ray Ose?



This account of what it was like to work at WLOL-FM classics is one of several adventures I had in radio before and after this station. In fact two years later, I joined Ray at KTWN-FM for our last go-around in Twin Cities classical music radio. If you enjoyed my adventures at WLOL, KTWN had its own quirky milieu of a radio tower in a swamp, snowed-in roads, strange listeners, stranger music requests, bizarre sales calls, and great expectations at the last Twin Cities commercial classical station. And like WLOL's sister AM operation, KANO-AM was the kibitzer of KTWN!

That account, along with my other adventures in radio from the 60s through the mid-70s is in "A Radio DJ Life." Here are only some of the bizarre and hilarious happenings, including "the record that would not die," "the snarling tiger in the sales office," and "the falling tape machines."

My years spent in radio (and television) were unlike any other work. It's not so much a job, as a lifestyle. There were times when it was if I were in a movie, but it was real life!

Speaking of movies, I've also written/directed/produced "Beethoven's Tenth," an action/drama about two musical sleuths who find the lost Tenth Symphony of Beethoven. It has an original score in the style of Beethoven's music. Copies are available.

For details on all of the above, please E-mail me at "".

Return to Part 1   Part 2

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: