Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:



by Jim Stokes

(copyright, 2001, James H. Stokes)

[Foreword -- This account from my radio life is excerpted from my longer work, "A Radio DJ Life," an anecdotal collection about what really went on behind-the-microphone in classical radio as well as other radio formats, from the 60s through the mid-70s. For full details, my E-mail is "".]


Ever wonder what a classical music (CM) DJ does while the music plays? Drawing upon my own experience as a CM DJ -- and it's similar to work at other radio stations -- it wasn't spent dozing, reading poetry, or drinking espresso with my feet up on the console! A plethora of duties befall any DJ when he's not on the air. It's more so when classical records may easily play a half hour or more, rather than the three minute pop music selections.

Well yes, there still may be those rarified atmospheres in broadcasting where the announcer can read a book between breaks, as was the case in the bygone days of television booth announcing. However, nowadays that task is mostly pre-recorded. And there are the Sunday morning pre-recorded religious and public affairs programs, where an announcer might doze a bit between station breaks. But that's far from the norm, when you consider that the frenzied "rock jock" only gets a potty break during the news.

I had the distinction of being the last full time announcer/operations director at WLOL-FM -- "the Twin Cities Voice of Classical Music" -- from 1972 to 1975. It was one of the most memorable experiences in my life, proving that real life overwhelms fiction.

The GM (general manager) Ray Ose and I were the only full-time employees. There was a part-time weekend announcer as well. Therefore, it was a small operation that was destined to get even smaller, since the programming would eventually become easy-listening music pre-recorded tapes, replacing all live air talent.



The station itself, located at 99.5 MHZ on the FM dial, had the distinction of being the first commercial all-classical station in the area. And it was one of the first licensed FM stations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market -- which we call the "Twin Cities."

I spun the last classical tune on the turntable, Delius' "Prelude to Irmelin" with Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic. That wonderful low string counterpoint "groan" in the song said it better than any words about the format change. And it was some form of poetic justice since it was also the same hauntingly beautiful theme for New York's WQXR noontime classics show. After the last note of that dreamy music, the format changed from CM to fully-automated beautiful "elevator" music.

Ironically and prior to the programming switch, WLOL-FM enjoyed a popularity that showed up in the Arbitron listener surveys for the first time. We had "numbers." We can sell more ads! Alas, it was too late to rescue the format. But more on that later in this article.


Here's the Monday through Friday program schedule, before the format switched from classics to elevator music. In addition, weekends were mostly pre-recorded automation tapes, except for certain specialized live-in-studio block programming, which included opera records with live commentary and a live German records DJ show. A pre-recorded Scandinavian music program and an organ music program were also run in automation.



6am-8am -- Live morning drive with GM Ray Ose

8am-5pm -- Pre-recorded automation tapes

(5pm-10pm -- Live programming, as described below, which was my night DJ shift)

5-6 -- "The Golden Hour" -- "Afternoon drive" light classics (between commercials :)

6-7 -- Sealy Dinner Hour (aka "Silly Dinner Hour" to us), sponsored by the Sealy Mattress Company. Light classics in quarter hour segments.

8-9 -- Longer works, sponsored by Northern States Power Company

9-10 -- Classics -- mix of light music and excerpts from ballets

10-Midnight -- Pre-recorded tape, recorded on duty by night CM DJ

Midnight-6am -- Simulcast with WLOL-AM Talk Radio



My night shift started at 5 p.m. with what we insiders called "music between the commercials." Privately, I called it "the golden hour" for a couple of reasons. First, what little commercial time that was sold during the playing of automation tapes was certainly made up in this "golden hour."

Secondly, during this "afternoon drive" hour I got to play whatever musical gems fit in between the commercials. I used a lot British light music from a little niche of uncatalogued records in the music library, which also included concert waltzes, Broadway show songs, marches, and an interesting collection of production music from Radio Netherlands. Quite a motley album cache!

And never mind if the records aren't all stereo, since light music took an unfortunate nose dive about the time that rock music dominated the air waves and stereophonic records took over as well. Consequently, there was not a lot of light music re-recorded or re-channeled into stereo since the record companies had discovered a gold mine in rock music.

Amazingly, people would stop their cars on their way home from work and call in from pay phones, since this was the age before cell phones; and ask where they could get the music. Sure enough, most of the inquiries were for the mono tracks. So, we were caught in the quandary between playing fabulous out of print mono cuts or play newly recorded stereo "cliché classics" like "Greensleeves" and "Clair de Lune," which were highly available in record stores, but ruinous to any imaginative, fresh programming.

The problem of finding refreshing but neglected, non-cliché, light music was solved by laboriously going through our heavy backlog of yet uncatalogued new stereo records and making a separate Light Music file. In the process, I discovered little gems that were used to fill out longer, featured works on albums.

Some of those discoveries included shorter works by such composers as Lars Eric Larrson, Elgar, and German. This new file also helped add new selections to the Sealy Dinner Hour, which relied on short cuts as well, and the new batch of automation tapes that we recording ourselves, replacing the older syndicated program tapes.


At this point, I want to salute Capitol/EMI for several stellar LPs, a couple of which I have now and continue to play at home. Whatever technology Capitol/EMI used to record these European performances and whatever groove technology went into the manufacture, these vinyl records have held up to this day!

"London Pops," with its closeup Rolls Royce album cover had an extraordinary collection of light music, with George Weldon conducting the Pro Arte Orchestra. The LP included my favorites, Alan Langford's (Alan Owen) "Waltz for String Orchestra", Haydn Wood's concert waltz 'Joyousness' from his "Moods" orchestra suite, and Anthony Collins' "Vanity Fair." I've yet to see an album like this with the aforementioned along with other light concert melodies by Coates, Elgar, German, Fletcher, Quilter, Tomlinson, Bayco, Vinter, Dexter, and Curzon.

Another Capitol/EMI LP worthy of mention had Britten's Matinees Musicales and Soirees Musicales, and Malcolm Arnold's English Dances and Scottish Dances, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Robert Irving.

Then from among the steady stream of new LPs, I discovered a most unusual album, whose music would fit nearly every program format we had. It was an RCA recording with Igor Buketoff conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Arnold Bax' Overture to a Picaresque Comedy. It was Bax at his usual best, with this piece going back, astonishingly, to 1931. People would call and ask what movie it was from. It could have been a score from a British comedy/adventure movie. Music on this same record by other Brits included Richard Rodney Bennett's "Symphony #1" and Lennox Berkeley's "Divertimento in B-Flat."

And I'll leave this discussion of favorites with one piece also worthy of mention. It's Don Banks' "Coney Island," played by the Sinfonia of London, conducted by Douglas Gamley on Capitol. This piece has special significance because when I was stationed in the army at Governor's Island, New York, it was often played by WPAT, the light music station in Paterson, New Jersey. And it made its way onto the play list as well on New York's "classic classical" station WQXR. Every time I hear this ballet-like concert waltz, I think of the steamy hot, dreamy summers in New York. It could quickly metaphorically melt a sub-zero Minneapolis every time I played it on WLOL-FM.


Whatever revenue WLOL-FM took in could largely be attributed to our general manager, Ray Ose, whom colleagues named "Mr. Classical Music." Ray was a born salesman, whether trying to sell more radio time or trying to convince announcers to somehow put in more hours without putting in for more pay.

Always the deal-maker, Ray would bargain with me to put in more hours with "comp time" in return, which is time off, hour-per-hour, for the extra time put in. Thus it was overtime without the overtime pay. At that point in my life, I wanted the time off more than the extra pay, so that was a deal.

Like other devoted salespeople, Ray was obsessed with numbers -- Arbitron listener ratings, sales figures, sales rates, and the like. A carefree lunch away from the station, would morph into business talk. He'd figure on a table napkin how much more revenue a new account might bring in. He never saw him use a computer! And he would laboriously figure in longhand, carrying the zeros, even after I tried to explain the convenience of powers of ten.

It was essential that he have that aggressive salesman ethic because, although the station has its listener niche, it did not have heavy audience ratings. It was a continual struggle to sell radio time. Later on in this article, I'll deal with the changing market forces and how that led to a format change.

If you have the stereotype of a classical music station salesman as someone stately and dressed in a three-piece suit, that wasn't Ray. With his Nordic blond features and Minnesota farm background, Ray truly resembled a Scandinavian farmer. He dressed "down home" as well. His year-round business attire came from an eclectic collection of tweed jackets and dress slacks. And he always had an earthy "Ole and Lena" joke, designed warm up a sales prospect.

If you've never heard an Ole and Lena joke, here's a printable example. Many are rather ribald. The spellings, below, reflect Scandinavian speech.


Lena went to the drug store to get some sweet smelling bath soap, so she'd smell good to Ole.

"Have you tried, Oil of Olay, mam?" asks the clerk?

"Yah sure, yew betcha!" exclaims Lena. "I get Ole's oil on me all dah time fixin' the tractor. I came here to get somethin' dat smells lots better!"


When overburdened by his constant sales call routine and programming work, Ray longed for a farm. Not surprising after the classical music format demise, he eventually bought a farm and divided his time between managing the farm and advertising sales on his own. In the last couple of years, I've lost track of him.


When I was a child back on the farm near Britton, South Dakota, I had two ambitions in life -- to be on the radio and to be in the movies. I've been incredibly lucky to attain both those goals. That is, a little fame without fortune. Eventually, I settled on being a CM announcer because they had access to lots of music. That wish was prompted by my parent's put-down of any phonograph. "What good is it?" asked my father. "You have to feed it records, and you can't eat it." One could hardly argue that practical viewpoint!

KUSD, Vermillion, the non-commercial University of South Dakota radio station, provided my first opportunity to play CM on the air, while I majored in English. It was there I learned how to say "Vagner," not "Wagner," and the host of other composers' names correctly.

Along with a university degree, there were two other essential items I acquired that kept food on my table for many years -- how to type and a First Class FCC Radiotelephone License. Paradoxical as it seems, the latter was by far the most basic criteria to getting a job in broadcasting.


There was a very practical reason. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) required by law that every broadcasting station had to have a First Class License holder either on duty at the station or on-call. An option was to have a Third Class "meter reader" announcer on duty. It was by far preferable to have a fully licensed "broadcast engineer" on duty just in case an FCC inspector pulled a surprise inspection. And that does happen. Stations are known to be fined, or in worst case scenarios lose their license to be on the air, because the chief engineer was nowhere to be found or the transmitter logs weren't kept up. Thus the night announcer at a small to mid-sized station might well be an announcer stumbling over words. He may not have verbal skills, but by golly, his First Class License is posted on the wall!

To this day, when you visit a radio station, you'll see at least one First Class FCC License hanging on the wall alongside several Third Class Licenses.

That essential license, aka a "First Phone" or "ticket" could be acquired by studying long hours from a license study guide, then taking a series of Third, Second, and finally, the "holy grail" First Class License exam. There were formal trade schools a person could attend. But if you were already into electronics as a hobby, which I was, it could be done by many hours of studying the thick red Kaufman Manual from Ryder Publications. And now I've lived long enough to be "grandfathered" into a Lifetime "First Phone." No more running frantically to the nearest FCC office to renew my license every five years, where if you missed that window of opportunity, you got to take the test over again. 'Tis a strange set of hoops to jump through!

So there I was back in the summer of 1960 with all the essentials for making a living in broadcasting. I had a university degree; I knew how to type; and I had the "First Phone." There followed a succession of jobs at radio and TV stations in South Dakota and Minnesota, broken only by two years draftee service in the U.S. Army. Alas, none of those jobs required any knowledge whatsoever of classical music.

However, that opportunity finally arrived in 1972 when I took a part-time engineer/producer job at listener talk station WLOL-AM in Minneapolis, which led to my first commercial CM DJ job at sister station WLOL-FM, which was tucked away on the opposite side of the same building as the AM.



Although a few radio announcer jobs come by way of formal audition tapes and resumes, a great many jobs follow the rule of "right place/right time." Such was my luck at both WLOL's. At the time, I was the in-house PR and Audio-Visual Director at a large health agency. A series of provocative and comic anti-smoking and air quality radio "PSAs" (public service spots) that I produced got the attention of WLOL-AM. That prompted my "radio bug" to resurface. And I thought I was all done with radio after my last experience as a producer/engineer for a frantically-formatted Minneapolis pop music station.

There's an old radio adage, "hang around a station long enough and they'll put you on the air." It's true, largely because of the large personnel and format turnover. I kept coming in the door with my produced PSAs and subject matter experts for the talk shows. In this case, my return to radio was as a board operator/producer for WLOL-AM "Talk Radio." The station had a fast-paced atmosphere that made my adrenalin run.


The fast-paced format required a bevy of separate control board operators. And there was a lot of turnover for part-time "board ops." Thus, my jump back into radio was part-time at first, since I was the likely candidate with my proven flair for production -- and the FCC license. It was a great way to keep my AV day job, earn extra money, and see if I still liked the radio biz.

That led to my jumping into a vacated CM DJ shift on the FM side, since the former announcer had simply taken some time off and never returned! That tactic is done quite frequently in the transitory world of broadcasting. For around two months I was an AV director by day and a CM DJ at night.

Although I labored long over quitting the AV job to get into CM radio at FM, there were the naysayers on the talk radio AM side. "Are you NUTS? You want to take a 'fool-time' job in radio when you have a good steady day job? Let me know when you quit. I'll take your AV job!" But I figured this opportunity might not happen again. Thus, the quirky adventure began.

Part 2

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