|By Jim Meads, Retired Glenville State College Professor|
Bob Weaver, who publishes the Hur Herald, asked me to jot down some of my experiences when I was a high school student and worked at WSPZ in Spencer. Bob is trying to collect stories on the early days of broadcasting. Here are my memories.
In 1963, when I was 17, the Spencer High School counselor, Ray Harris, hooked me up with a job lead. He told me the folks at the local radio station, WSPZ (now WVRC), needed to hire a high school student for part time work Two other high school students, Denzil Yoak and Scott Ward, were student disc jockeys, but they were leaving for college in the fall.
Scott had a top 40 show at 5:00 P.M.- “The Scott Ward Show.’ The next day, I went to WSPZ for an interview.
WSPZ was owned by Gordon Minns, who also owned the Coke Cola bottling company in Spencer. Bill Brannon was in charge of radio advertising. The main disc jockey was Tom T. Hall. At that time, Tom was singing and writing country music, but who knew that he would become a successful Grand Ole Opry member, storyteller, singer, and songwriter?
The other full time disc jockey, who was also the radio transmitter engineer, was Charlie Ray. Charlie was like Mel Tillis – when he spoke, he talked with a severe stutter. As soon as the microphone was turned on, the stuttering stopped and his announcer voice was strong and natural.
Before I was hired, Tom T. Hall interviewed me. He gave me a list of words that I should practice at home. In my second interview, I was hired after just a few minutes of recitation. Tom left for Nashville soon after I was hired. Glen Durst replaced Tom T. Hall at WSPZ.
Charlie Ray instructed me on the operation of the broadcast console which consisted of the Collins control board and turntables. A turntable was located to the left and one to the right of the operator. These were, of course, adjustable for 33 1/3 through 78 rpm records. All commercials were recorded on large plastic tape cassettes and were stored in a shelving unit to the right of the turntables.
When I sat at the console, the door to enter the control room was to the left. Straight ahead was a glass window that opened into a broadcast studio that was used for live performances and to record programs that were to be aired at a later date. To the right was also a window where the broadcaster could see the transmitter. At this time, WSPZ was transmitting with a power of 1000 watts.
I remember that in the evening, the FCC required that we decrease the power to 250 watts. I would go into the transmitter room and throw the switch that decreased the power. Large vacuum tubes supplied the transmitter’s power. Even though fans cooled the machinery, the room was still warm. To the right of the transmitter was the Associated Press teletype machine, which supplied not only breaking news, but also current weather. We would remove the latest headline information for broadcast at the top of each hour.
The record collection was located in shelves on the walls opposite the console. Each week in the mail we received current top 40 hits on 45 rpm records. There was also a large collection of 33 rpm records in the collection that had a very diverse genre.
I recently gave a presentation for an academic banquet for the local public school students. As we were talking, I mentioned 45 rpm records. I realized that they were puzzled. I asked, “How many of you folks know what a 45 or 33 1/3 rpm record is?” No hands went up. The next question was “how many know MP3 and ipods?” All hands quickly went toward the heavens! Am I getting old?
After DJ Scott Ward left for college, his top 40 radio program became “The Jim Meads Show.” (Go figure!) No one had much imagination those days in naming radio shows. I recall clearly the new songs that I played.: “Rhythm of the Rain”(Cascades), “Sugar Shack (Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs), “Surfin’ USA” (Beach Boys), “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” (Roll Harris), and “He’s So Fine” (Chiffons). There were also those crazy songs such as “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” (Allan Sherman) and I vividly remember that Peter, Paul, and Mary had hits in 1963 such as “Puff, The Magic Dragon” and “Blowing In The Wind”.
In my broadcasting career, I witnessed a music history event during the 1963 Christmas season. How would I know that the Beatle’s releases “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “I saw Her Standing There” were the beginning of Beatlemania. Later, I was one of the 73 million viewers who watched the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964.
Top 40 was not the station’s only venue. I have fond memories of Lester and Linda McCumbers and The Sandy Valley Boys from Calhoun County. Their Saturday morning music programs were transmitted live from the broadcast studio. Their old-time music being transmitted out of the control room was a little strange to my young ears.
What nice folks! I love to tease Linda about her performance when she would place her guitar on her very large belly and sing without any effort her rendition of “Ruby”. During those broadcasts, Linda was very pregnant with the next to the last of their nine kids.
The band’s broadcast was sponsored by local businesses. One week Bill Brannon said that the local sponsors were no longer providing support to broadcast the McCumber’s Saturday show. Gordon Minns, president and owner of WSPZ, said “They don’t need a sponsor!” and he left them on the air.
In addition to live performances, the studio was the site for recording religious programs during the week. Those presentations were recorded on a very large reel to reel tape machine located to the left on the console. The religious shows were then broadcast Sunday mornings.
The shift on Sunday evening was slow for announcers. Easy listening was the music broadcast during this evening and most advertisers did not purchase the evening time slots. When we turned the wattage back to 250 watts, the number of recorded advertisements diminished quickly even on weekday nights.
I recall that on one Sunday evening, my eye caught an obscure album entitled “German Beer Hall Songs”. I thought, “Why not educate the hamlet of Spencer with a little culture?” From around 8 o’clock until we signed off, I played those songs – all in German. Not a person called to complain. I guess the two folks listening (remember 250 watts is not a powerful signal) turned their dials to WWVA.
As I reminisce, it is strange that events at the time seem to not be of great importance. I can remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I heard his “I Have A Dream” speech, but did not realize that it would live throughout history.
In my 34 years of teaching experience, I realize that, throughout one’s life, many stories and experiences mold one’s persona. WSPZ is certainly an important part of my life’s special memories.