The Sun Years, Part II: The Guy Who Gave Good Phone

As 1990 concluded, and 1991 began, I had the honor of doing my first board operator shift at the Sun Radio Network in Clearwater, Florida.  It was a quiet night, running the board for a taped show, then a live show in the middle of the night hosted by psychic Frankie Z. Avery (who used to be a guest on Charlie LeCher’s show that I board oped on WTAN), followed by Max Stewart.  For the final two hours of the shift, I had a reduced role during the fast paced American Sunrise news show, hosted by Frank Kinsman.  I merely threw tones and recorded the show, as I did with the other shows.  We recorded as many shows as humanly possible on those reel-to-reel machines, in the event that at some point in the future an in-studio host got sick, fired, or somehow couldn’t come in, the show could go on.

By the start of 1991, I had four shifts, plus whatever shifts the other 10-15 board operators we had at the time couldn’t get to.  When I wasn’t board operating, I made it a point to listen to other shows, in case I had to board op them at some point in the future.  How did such-and-such a host like to do his show?  Was he or she guest intensive?  Did he or she like to go to the phones early and often?  I tried to study the other shows as much as my personal life allowed.

Our flagship station (if you can call it that), WEND in Brandon, was not an easy station to listen to, truth be told.  Our daytime signal was pretty good, but our nighttime signal was pretty pathetic.  Listening in Largo some 35-40 miles away, I could clearly hear a Cuban station better, and on some nights, WJR out of Detroit would bleed through WEND.  Pretty wild listening to one of our shows and hearing Bruce Martyn call a Detroit Red Wings game at the same time.

At the start of 1991, we had several good radio programs.  And when I say good, I mean that in the context of they gave us the ability to send shows to several stations across America.  For instance, we had Chuck Harder and Sonny Bloch back to back to start the year, and I board operated both of their shows.

Harder was a forerunner to the kind of show Alex Jones does today, except he came at it from a consumer friendly point of view.  He was not a Democrat or a Republican, the best that I could tell.  In ’91, he was doing his shows via Comrex from Cedar Key.  He founded the Sun Radio Network in the 1980’s, but was a distant player in SRN by the time I board oped his shows.  But during those 2pm to 5pm hours, SRN was carried in 300 stations nationwide.  Chuck’s focus was not to get big name stations in big markets, but to get rural “mom and pop” AM stations to carry his broadcasts.  For instance, you may not hear Harder on in Jacksonville, but you might find him on in a station in, say, St. Augustine.  He was very good at finding his niche.

Sonny Bloch was once the lead singer of the Coralairs, a short lived doo-wop band from the early days of popular music as we know it now.  By 1991, he did a three hour weekday radio show, plus a three hour show on Sunday mornings.  The first hour was a financial news recap of the day’s trading.  The second and third hours were a normal talk show, with Sonny handing out financial advice to his callers.

It was another show that got a lot of stations on board to carry.  Sonny’s flagship station was WABC out of New York City.  The station Howard Cosell used to broadcast from!  The station this newcomer named Rush Limbaugh did his show from.  This was big time radio, folks, and it was a honor to be kind-of-sort-of affiliated with this radio giant.

So one day in early 1991, I had been pressed into service to screen calls for Sonny, as Sonny’s producer got held up in Tampa Bay area traffic and couldn’t start his shift on time.  So the ability to get good calls on the air so Sonny could look good all rested on my shoulders.  Somehow, I managed to get Sonny’s show started and through it’s first wave of callers without fucking things up, which was still a minor miracle for me.

Sometime after that, Sonny sought me out to compliment me for my fill-in work.

“Hey, kid…you give good phone.” Sonny said, chomping a cigar in the corner of his mouth.

An odd thing to say, but I accepted it as high praise.

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