It’s All Fun And Games Until The UPI Wire Breaks Down

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I don’t think I’ve ever told this particular story from my radio days – so stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

I don’t remember the exact date this happened – but it’s sometime in early 1992, and I’m working with the late Stan Major overnights at the Sun Radio Network at their old Feather Sound studios in Clearwater, Florida. For most of the night, the only two people in the building are us – which changed when morning newsman Frank Kinsman came in around 4:00 to 4:30 or so.

Our Sun Radio network feed is being simulcasted on WEND, 760 AM out of Brandon, plus various stations across the country large and small. A few times an hour, I hit a set of buttons in front of my console to trigger something called a “35 Hz” tone – which sends automation to the unmanned stations to play a brief, ten-second recording called a “liner” so that local stations can identify themselves or promote something.

If local news broke during the shift, we didn’t have the means to break whatever that news was. One night, an early-spring squall line is coming through central Florida, setting off various weather advisories such as tornado watches. Stan and I are debating: how do we get the information on our local station with no staff? If I did it, no one could run the board – and if Stan did it, no one would be doing his show. We reached the compromise of Stan giving out the local weather information nationally, apologizing for the awkward setup to everyone outside of Florida.

I have a open-air booth where I run the board, answer the phones, record the current show, and have playback standing up in the case of emergencies. Stan is in a soundproof booth with a window so he and I can communicate with hand gestures and through a private intercom. We’re using an old TRS-80 computer to log the calls Stan works through as the show progresses.

On occasion, news breaks through the night – but what if the news stops coming to you? One night, that happened when the print on the UPI machine – one of the two wire sources we used, the other being AP (though it couldn’t be acknowledged). On this one night, I’m hearing the UPI wire machine making strange noises – and I can’t remember whether or not the machine is jammed or it has run out of paper. Here I am, trying to run a nationally syndicated talk show and also playing a printing repairman – and this was back in 1992 when my computer knowledge is next to nil. It’s not an easily fixable problem back then as it would be today in the era of laser printers and the like.

It’s freaking me out, and Stan notices – saying that I looked like someone who needed his mommy. At this point, I’m just trying to stay off the unemployment line – which is where I think I’m heading, Stan Major or no Stan Major to save me.

I call the staff that would come in ahead of me and alert them to the problem – thinking I’ll get my ass chewed on for doing so. The one thing I can’t do was the one thing I needed to do – fix the printer to avoid a news-gathering catastrophe for our AM news show, American Sunrise. If I’m going to be screwed either way, I figure it’s best to be screwed trying to help people out – which was my intent.

The “crisis” gets solved – but I don’t seem to remember a procedure put in place so that something like that couldn’t happen again. A few months later, American Sunrise was cancelled – management must have figured out the futility of having a skeleton crew putting out these kind of possible fires.

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