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.

Ideas, Politicians, And Party

Hillary Clinton,Bill Clinton

When I worked in network radio in the 90’s, Stan Major would often to talk about the seven sisters of the media, and how those organizations are controlled by liberal ideology. They were, according to him, Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, the New York Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC. I guess those sisters now have had children now with the advent of MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News over the past few decades.

I’m a believer that the world of politics has three plateaus. Regardless of whether or not you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist, or a believer in some other party or movement I didn’t mention, these plateaus exist.

First you have the most pure process of the three: the idea. Ideas are to politics what the ace is in most card games. They’re bulletproof. An idea can’t be killed no matter what legislation or humanity passes with time. Once an idea’s time has come, it happens. Think of healthcare in America, for example.  It took a long time to implement healthcare here, and when it got passed in 2009, many conservatives say it got rushed in. Now with a Republican president (though I think Trump is more of a De facto Independent), and Congress, the GOP can’t seem to find a single way to replace the healthcare system.

Politicians are the next step down. How do they implement these ideas? How do they maneuver and manipulate? The execution of ideas by politicians determines who the good politicians are, and who the bad ones are. Leaders lead by the vote of the people, and are sometimes repellents to those who vote. Only Hillary Clinton could have lost to Donald Trump a year ago. Put Bernie Sanders in there as the Democratic nominee, and that likely would not have happened.

Then we get to political parties. They are to society what an adult video store is to a city. It’s where ideas get degraded and prostituted. I see a “mob mentality” in both parties. Those who don’t “get with the program” get way too easily ostracized, and which party’s “mob” sticks together often decides who carries the day.

Ideas, politicians, and party. Somewhere in that link of chains, the system is broken. Where the break is, and who’s to blame – well, that’s something that isn’t very clear. Both the pro-Trump and anti-Trump elements of our society can’t really be sure in their heart of hearts if they are on what will be the right side of the history books. That’s why I try to stay impartial, follow my heart to determine what’s right, and even that isn’t easy at times with the various news outlets prostituting either the DNC or the GOP.

As things stand now, the political climate is bound to for more calamity before things improve.

Aircheck: WNWS (Miami), 7/4/1978

In honor of what would have been Stan Major’s 81st birthday this Friday past (September 9th), I thought I’d play his July 4th, 1978 interview with former President Nixon.

After his 1974 resignation, the former President didn’t give many interviews to the media, with the exception of the famous exchanges with British reporter David Frost. But on this Independence Day, Stan was lucky enough to get a hold of him to tell him he’d fare well (or so it was thought at that time) if he re-ran as President. But, under the terms of the 22nd Amendment, since he was elected twice (1968 and 1972), that would make him ineligible to ever run again.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was very fortunate to have worked with Stan briefly at the Sun Radio Network in 1991 and 1992. Political leanings aside, I still say to this day he was an exceptional talent who could have wrote his own ticket there if SRN didn’t let him go. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the network folded a little over three years later.

Aircheck: WINZ (South Florida), 10/10/1987

It’s Uncle Neil’s (Neil Rogers) last show on WINZ in South Florida, as he headed over to WZTA (Zeta 4, 04.9 FM) to do an FM morning drive talk show (on a rock station, no less) two days later on October 12th. He’s playing a lot of his bits on what would wind up being his last ever Saturday talk show.

Later in the show, Neil’s on and off sidekick Glen “The Bird” Hill joins in, as does Stan Major.

Now a days, WINZ is an all sports station in Miami that is the flagship station for the Miami Marlins, and WZTA is now WMGE, an all Spanish pop radio station.

Rest In Peace, Stanley

I’m very saddened to learn tonight that Stan Major, who I’ve mentioned on this blog many times, has recently passed away, according to his son Chris. I figured something might have been up for a while now since his blog hadn’t been updated for over a month, but it could have been computer problems or whatnot.

He was simply the best talent I ever had the pleasure to work with, and sometimes in life you don’t know what you have or have had until it’s long in your rear view mirror. (He had to be, he put up with me. Just a joke, Stan!) He was also the best talent Sun Radio Network ever had, and looking back it is no small wonder that a little over three years after he left SRN, the network folded. But that’s just my opinion.

It should also be mentioned that he also had runs on some of the great Miami talk stations (WINZ and WIOD standing out) along with other major US markets too numerous to mention (including WDAE in Tampa), and as a newsman for NBC over a variety of TV and radio programs. He also served NBC as a war correspondent during the Vietnam War, once getting to interview Bob Hope for the NBC Monitor program.

It was nice to get to connect with him one more time through our respective blogs. He gave my blog a bit of a boost, and I appreciated the gesture that he thought enough of me to do that.

Rest in peace, Stan, and I hope you enjoy meeting all the people up in heaven who’ve “invaded” your dreams as you mentioned in your blog entries.

Cynthia Geary And Mr. Rogers

Cynthia Geary of
Cynthia Geary of “Northern Exposure” and “8 Seconds” fame.

The good people over at the Neil Rogers Show Facebook Group reminded me I was running board the night Stan Major chatted with Cynthia Geary back in 1992 when Geary was a smoking hot commodity in the land of Hollywood.  I had mentioned it before nearly three years ago in this blog, but this might be a good time to revise and extend my remarks, as they often say up on Capitol Hill.

The best nights you can have as a board operator, especially when you’re board operating a show all by yourself, is when you don’t have to worry about callers, either in quantity or quality.  You always have to keep an ear to the show while doing everything that needs to be done, because you never know whether or not you have to hit that “dump” button in case someone says one of those seven dirty words you can’t say on the radio.

A brief explanation if you don’t know what a dump button is: it basically puts the show up on a seven-second delay that builds from zero once you activate it in the normal gaps there are while speaking on a talk show.  If someone says one of those words that makes the FCC cry (George Carlin did a famous monologue as to what those words are, and there are seven of them), you hit the dump button, and it jumps seven seconds ahead to the live portion of the show, and builds up the seven seconds again.  The key to the whole thing is to remove the caller immediately (by “potting down” the caller on a series of sliders, or in the old days, small circular pots) so that he or she can’t use any more dirty words, because once you hit the dump button, the delay needs a few moments to a few minutes to build back up.

After Stan makes contact with the Northern Exposure people, we get this call from Jim in Anchorage, Alaska.  Let’s just say it’s the most memorable call I’ve ever had running the board, kind of like Neil Rogers and his famous “Bridge Tender” call or Bob Lassiter and his “Mr. Airstream” call.

fredrogers

I’m listening to this call and I type into the computer to our old TRS-80 computer to Stan that this guy sounds like Mr. Rogers, and Stan runs with the idea.  Every single solitary word Jim says is cracking Stan up, and I’m the control room I’m nearly rolling on the floor laughing.

While Jim calls, the 813 hotline rings and I hear this sweet, youthful voice. Cynthia Geary, I presume, and I presumed correctly.  I’m usually suspicious when we get celebrity callers because on an overnight talk show it’s easy to get people claiming to be something they are not.  Considering Stan had just given out the hotline, logic prevailed.

Having a lot of calls makes for a busy night.  Having a lot of calls and some quality ones to boot make for a GREAT night.

Amazing that Netflix, considering they have a lot of CBS shows from the past in their lineup, hasn’t put up Northern Exposure yet.  Probably something that will happen in due time.

Witnesses Of An Execution

It’s May 25, 1979.  John Spenkelink is about to be executed at Raiford prison in Florida after capital punishment was re-instituted nationwide in 1976.  Gary Gilmore was the first person killed while incarcerated in Utah in 1977, Spenkelink’s execution was the second such event two years later.

i was seven years old when this happened, and I remember it well for some reason. First was the odd last name kind of stuck with me. Second was that the young woman who gave her account of the execution that Stan Major mentions about 37 minutes into the clip was someone who worked at Channel 8 here in Tampa on WFLA, Kris Rebillot.  Unusual last names usually stuck in this filing cabinet of mine throughout the years.

As I mentioned on social media yesterday, you don’t see this long form of news reporting on the radio anywhere these days outside of NPR or Amy Goodman, and it’s the very same Stan Major who’d I work with nearly 12 years later at the Sun Radio Network, describing the scenes. A good piece of audio.

Slices From 2014

According to WordPress, here were the 10 most viewed blog entries I posted during this year:

1. RIP Dave Wagenvoord: My first boss in the radio biz passed away on April 21st.

2. The “Howie Sucks” Banner: Unearthing footage of a Thursday night NFL game in Tampa from 1980 that involved Howard Cosell and some banner trickeration.

3. Proof Of A Former Life: My first show as a board op for Stan Major at the Sun Radio Network is unearthed and archived.

4. Thanksgiving, Shortwave, and Uncle Neil: On Thanksgiving Eve, I board op another Stan Major show.  This one was picked up on WWCR, the Nashville shortwave station, which gets called from England and Canada.  A famous Miami talk show host calls me after the show who the Tampa area would get to know a few months down the road.

5. Bubba To Beasley, And Why It Won’t Work: Rumors swirl that Bubba the Love Sponge will return to the Tampa Bay airwaves in 2015, but it was my opinion back on December 3rd that Bubba and Beasley will not get along.

6. And There Goes My High School: My alma mater of Largo High School in Largo, Florida gets torn down, to eventually be replaced by a high-tech version to open in a couple of years.

7. My 2014 Predictions: Predictions I made at the start of 2014 for the coming year.  Nailed the Super Bowl prediction cold!

8. The Land Of Gerrymandering: A look at the local House of Representatives special election in March, won by David Jolly, heavily contested by Democrat Alex Sink.

9. Brutality And Its Glorification: Thoughts on how the news has desensitized us to terrorism and the brutality of the present day world.

10. Flashback Friday: “Poor Man’s Son” by Survivor: A look at Survivor’s first top 40 hit in 1981 after the passing of Jimi Jamison.

Hoping 2015 will be just as good…

Thanksgiving, Shortwave Radio, and Uncle Neil

Last week, I had mentioned that one of the shows I ran the board for at Sun Radio had been unearthed: Stan Major’s debut on October 1, 1991. I had the honor of exchanging comments with Stan on that post, and I had reminded him about the show we did on Thanksgiving morning of 1991 on WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio), a shortwave station based out of Nashville.

Getting WWCR to carry the show, even for one night, was a big deal. Only two other shows from Sun had aired on WWCR: For The People with Chuck Harder (which by late 1991 was long gone), and Tom Valentine’s Radio Free America. Remember, the Internet wasn’t as easy to get for the home computer hobbyist (if you were one in the early 90’s) as it is now. These days, all you need is one station and the ability to promote your show and promote the hell out of the Tunein website or the IHeartRadio website or app. The bigger the show in those days, the more affiliates you had to have. In that particular time frame, overnight talk shows were ripe for the pickings. Larry King was in his swan song years at Mutual, plus Tom Snyder and Deborah Norville had shows that could be competed with.

I’m very proud of the work I did with Stan, especially. At Sun Radio, like Mutual or ABC at the time, his crew of the show consisted of one person: me. Larry King would have a person who ran the board, a person who screen calls, and probably a person or two who did whatever gopher work was needed. (I also didn’t have a union behind me either to insure I got paid well, working in Florida, as I would have if I were working out of NYC or DC.) That’s not me trying to brag, that’s a fact. Thank God I (or any of the other board ops) had a medical emergency (or fell asleep, as I once did for a few minutes on another show) of some kind, because whoever the host was would have been s*** out of luck had that ever happened.

My work on this particular show was not as good as I remembered it, to be honest. The last 15 minutes of Stan’s weeknight shows during this time frame where a Chinese fire drill, and I felt more like an air traffic controller than I did a board op! Not only am I answering phones (doing very light screening) and running the board, but I’m also getting the next show prepared, hosted by Max Stewart, calling him up on the Comrex. With that many balls in the air, s*** tended to happen, like leaving the outro music pot a little too hot at the end of the show.  Ouch.

At the end of the show, I get a call on the hotline we had set up for the evening from none other than Neil Rogers. This was three months before WSUN picked up Neil’s WIOD show out of Miami, so what I knew about Neil came from Stan. Neil asks me for Stan, and even a few moments after the show Stan is long gone. Neil’s in disbelief, but I’m telling him the truth. On top of this, Stan was filling in for Joel Vincent (Howard Hewes) for a 8pm-10pm shift the following night (Thanksgiving Night), on top of his normal 12am-5am shift, or 12 hours in a 29 hour stretch.

The call the farthest away that night wound up being someone in Scotland, but Stan also wound up getting calls from Canada and England as well.  Out of all the shows I did in seven years behind the scenes, it is the one that sticks out in my mind the easiest.

Again, thanks to John Baker, the Neil Rogers Archives and Stan Major for making this recording possible.

Proof Of (A Former) Life

About two and a half years ago, I had mentioned I was a board operator for a various radio stations from 1989 to 1996.

This weekend, a little bit of proof of that former life of mine came to light as Stan Major’s first show on SRN was posted on YouTube from October 1, 1991.

Just as I remembered a couple of years ago, I had to pot down the phone numbers that first night because the numbers mentioned were incorrect, and Stan mentions that I should rip off the label on the cart in question! Listening to these first few moments once again for the first time in a couple of decades, I realized either I had him on the wrong microphone, or he had the wrong one on, and it took me a few moments to grasp this.

You could tell right away, even from my board operator’s perch, that Stan was in his own league in terms of the level of skill he brought to the table. I didn’t know much about him at the time (though I’ve learned a great deal afterwards), but I left work that early morning thinking he’d bring stability to my employers, as long as we kept him. He’d wind up at Sonny Bloch’s old Independent Broadcasters Network a year later, which wound up being of the first few nails in Sun’s coffin, as SRN folded on October 31, 1995.

A caller from San Diego (the first of many women to call Stan’s show) ironically asks what happened to Jim Bakker. I say ironically because I wound up meeting him in Charlotte in eight years later.

Thanks to the Neil Rogers YouTube channel for posting in, and Stan Major himself for preserving this piece of tape.

Fun With Stan And Jade

Back on January 18th, I had a clip of Stan Major talking to the late Robert Ludlum back on New Year’s Morning of 1992.

Today, I have another goody for you thanks to the Neil Rogers Audio Restoration efforts over at NeilRogers.org:

This time, the clip comes from August 27th, 1992.  Hurricane Andrew had hit just south of Miami as what was thought as a Category 4 hurricane. (Years later, the storm would be reclassified as a “5” hurricane, the strongest category possible). Stan’s fielding calls from the Clearwater Sun Radio Network studios where I worked.

As was the case with the clip from January 1st, I am not the board op here, but the “ship” was in capable hands as one of my pals from those days, Troy L., was running the board. By that time, I only ran the board on Stan’s show on Friday nights.

A couple of more notes to set the scene, if you please:

This is one of Stan’s last shows on Sun Radio Network, as he was replaced by Frank Kinsman about a week or so after this show aired.  Stan simply went down Ulmerton Road about a quarter of a mile and did his overnight show on Sonny Bloch’s Independent Broadcasters Network, which was a spin-off of SRN of sorts when Bloch got canned from here in 1991.

At the 47:30 mark of the clip or so, you’ll hear the infamous Jade from Tampa that I mentioned back in December and that sexy voice of hers.

And finally, it wasn’t too long after this that the SRN studios moved from East Clearwater to new digs in northeast St. Petersburg, which was actually a trip of a few minutes and not even a mile away. I was the last board operation on shift at the Clearwater location and the first one at the new location.  We switched locations at 12:30 on a Monday afternoon, so when the mid-hour news summary came on, I took the carts that I had used that half-hour, walked down to my car, and drove over to the new location while another board-op station keeped until I could get there.

When Robert Ludlum Called Stan Major

The night was January 1, 1992 when this took place. Normally, I would have been the board operator that night, but I was given the option over the ’91-’92 holidays to take either Christmas off or New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day off at the Sun Radio Network where this interview took place.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we just played reel-to-reel tapes of Christmas music with the exception of top of the hour news from UPI. Easy way to earn double time pay, I thought.

Trained a board operator named Randy (whose last name I forget) who came to us from WPSO up in Pasco County around that time, because I also had the weekend off before Christmas and had gone to Fort Wilderness in Disney World with my family. Thus we needed another op who knew the ins and outs of the shift.

But good to hear that clip again. Hadn’t heard it in years.