The WTAN Years

For those of you who ask whether or not I’m the same Paul Blom who was a board operator for WTAN, the Sun Radio Network, People’s Radio Network, and worked for Stan Major back when he was on Sun, I’d have to say that you are…absolutely correct, sir.

It all started one night in the late summer of 1989.  I had graduated Largo High School a few months before, and was working at Ricar Microfilming in Clearwater as a document preparer.  A local AM station, WTAN, was carrying the radio feed of a Chicago Cubs game.  During one of the commercial breaks that take place every half inning, it was mentioned that the station was looking for board operators.  The next day, I applied, and soon after, I was hired by Dave and Lola Wagenvoord (who still own the station today), for the princely sum of… four dollars an hour, before taxes.

My job was to basically keep the station on air, such as it was.  The Church Of Scientology bought time on the station from 12am to 6am overnight, and the selling point of their block was a novel called Mission Earth.  It was about a bunch of aliens who visit Earth, and decide that the people on it were so damn crazy that they do a mock destruction of it.

So my job was to play one side of the cassette, play commercials, play the other side, play commercials, and so on.  Plenty of time to get whatever I need to get done accomplished.  If you could stay awake, you’d be doing your job correctly.  No supervision, no one reminding you how badly you were screwing up, if you were.  I also had to tend to the owner’s dog, a big Doberman, as tall as me (and I’m 6 feet and an inch), and made sure it got out to do her business.

The thing is WTAN was not in the best of places.  Once some drunk dude, mad at something or other, kicked the owner’s motorcycle into the front window, breaking the bottom panes.  Nothing better than to have to answer for that incident as if I had done the deed.

The station was on the corner of Pierce Street and Pierce Boulevard in Clearwater.  Pierce Boulevard was a busy street that ferried people from downtown to State Road 60, which was the main road that took people out to Clearwater Beach.  This is before the Memorial Causeway was rebuilt in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, using Pierce Boulevard as an exclusive feeder to the Causeway with no exits.  So one Saturday night, I get to the station, and the owner’s window had been smashed in by an errant tire, knocked away from its car in an accident.

There was also a time I got locked out of the station, and I didn’t have a key!  Had to smash a window myself to get back in.  Didn’t tell the Wagenvoords that.  Blamed it a vagrant that I juuust couldn’t get a good glimpse of in the dark.  Oh, shucks.  Hated to lie to the Clearwater fuzz, but I liked my job, and I wasn’t ready to leave it yet.

With the dawn of a new year and new decade of 1990 brought new challenges.  At the tender age of 18, I was becoming a bit of a hot shot.  I did five shifts a week, all except Sunday and Monday nights.  I also got to be the exclusive board operator for two shows: Spotlight On Success, which was a short lived radio show that focused on companies and the positive things they do…basically propaganda.  Louis Faulkner and Richard Benton hosted the program on WTAN before moving it to WEND.  Louis was also kind enough to throw me an additional $100 a week for the few hours of airtime per week it got.

The other show was hosted by Charles LeCher, the former mayor of Clearwater.  He hosted a talk show, and was desperate for callers that he had a psychic on almost every night.  He’d also do a sports show on occasion, which is where I came in and threw in an opinion or two.  This added a sixth night to my schedule, Mondays, but was only a two hour shift.

But alas, it was too good to last.  It seems to be a habit of the Wagenvoords that if anyone got too popular, a show, a host, or a board operator (in my case), they soon found an excuse to get rid of them.  They were a good place to get a start in the business, but not a place to stay.  The end for me came in October of 1990.  WTAN was not only a station where anyone can buy time, but could put a program on in any language.  And so one year, they bought the rights to carrying the MLB playoffs…in Spanish.

So one night, there was a communications mix-up as to what show was supposed to air.  I thought it was Charles LeCher who would supposed to be on, but nope, it was the MLB playoffs.  And boy, did I ever get an earful for that, needless to say.  Dave Wagenvoord was pissed off, saying that I should have been following the station log.

Log?!?  What is this log you speak of?  I haven’t been given a log at the station for months on end, I programmed the station as board operator off of the seat of my pants.  Didn’t think I needed a log.  So when I mentioned that to the Wagenvoords, it was probably one of those things I should have kept my mouth shut about.

The next night, I wrote my letter of resignation.  That turned out to be a good thing, because they were just about to fire me.  My first radio experience was over just a few weeks after my 19th birthday, but it turned my career had a few years left in it.

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