Over the course of the last 44 years in the radio business, there are so many incidents and funny things that have happened that make great radio stories. The following are just a few that recently came to mind….As Johnny Donovan use to say to me, “Stop me if I’ve told you this story already!”
The following happened in the later days of Musicradio WABC…probably 1979 or 1980. Howard Hoffman was the evening DJ at that time, and one of the elements that he integrated that was new to WABC, was an occasional phone call on the air. Somehow, one night, a disgruntled parent got the number of the WABC News Room, and WABC newsman Rick James was lucky enough to get the call. The lady started ranting about how long her son had been on hold to speak to Howard, and did we have any idea how much the call was going to cost her, and she went on and on and on. Rick kept trying to get a word in edgewise to tell her that she had gotten through to the News Room, and that there was nothing he could do about it, but she never took a breath. Finally, after about 5 minutes, she ended her harangue and said, “and what are you going to do about it?”
Rick calmly answered, “Madam, do you have any idea who you are speaking to?”, and when she answered back that she didn’t, Rick replied, “Good…Go Fuck Yourself,” and promptly hung up the phone….She didn’t call back!
When I started at WABC, there was a staff of 36 Engineers who ran the board at WABC and WPLJ, worked in News Control, Production and Maintenance. Vacations contractually ran between April and October, and every year about 8 Vacation Relief Engineers were hired to cover that period. Everyone started that way, as it was a lot easier to get rid of a VR than a Staff Engineer should the person not work out. Over the years, there were some oddballs that slipped through the hiring process and made their way to the 8th Floor of the ABC Building. One year, we had a VR who was unfortunately, virtually blind…not the best when you were working with a DJ who would cue you visually for the next element. Then there was the girl who was assigned to News Control one year. In addition to working for the News Department cutting audio, when you were assigned to News Control, you were also signed on and responsible for operation of the WABC Transmitter. Well one afternoon, this young lady was in there during Dan Ingram’s Show, and in a quiet moment, decided she’d try a bunch of buttons of the Remote Control Panel and see what they did. In rather systematic fashion she first turned off the echo on WABC, then the auto transfer system, and finally the transmitter itself. Because she had disabled the auto transfer, when the transmitter went off, the other one didn’t come on, and WABC was off the air. This was not something that happened very often, especially in the middle of the Ingram show. As soon as the transmitter was off, people began running around the halls, and when George Berger, the Maintenance Supervisor ran into News Control, he found her buffing her nails, completely ignorant of what she’d done! Another classic VR was the guy who didn’t come to work on a Friday because when he was leaving on Thursday, WABC Assistant Chief Engineer Bob Deitsch told him to have a “nice weekend”. His answer when asked why he didn’t come in on Friday was, “Oh, I thought Bob gave me the day off!”. This same guy was on the board one night with Johnny Donovan. Johnny set up the break, passed his “Johnny Red” name jingle cart across the overbridge, and told him that when he cued him “give me the Johnny Red jingle, and then hit the next record cart”. Well, they sat there with their headphones on, Johnny called for the mic, back sold the record, and cued the VR for his Johnny Red jingle. Rather than play it on the air, this VR took the cart and gave it back to Johnny across the overbridge..literally following Johnny’s instructions! One year, a VR found out the hard way that when Dan Ingram was on the air, Dan Ingram got what he wanted! This young lady sat down for the first time with Dan one afternoon, and promptly reached up and turned the studio monitor down to a very low level. Dan looked up from his magazine and said, “Did you turn the speakers down?” With no clue that she’d done anything wrong, she replied, “yes, I don’t work the studio with the speakers that loud.” Dan said nothing, but got up, went down the hall to Chief Engineer Win Lloyd’s office, and within 2 minutes she was relieved, and never again was she assigned to work with Dan.
In the four years I worked at WHN Radio, at their very old studios at 400 Park Avenue, every summer some component of the studio air conditioning would die, leaving us without AC in some of the hottest weeks of the summer. At that time, we had a News Director who was very much like the Ted Baxter character on the Mary Tyler Moore Show….he sounded great till you listened to what he was really saying. Well, when the AC died, the SOP was studio doors open and fans blowing whatever air was available around the studios. For some reason, the On The Air light for the News Studio had an electrical pigtail coming out of it. One morning we got to work and discovered that the cleaning lady had left the vacuum out in the hall, and the temptation was just too much, and we plugged it into the pigtail from the News Studio’s On The Air light. For the entire morning, every time the mic was turned on, the vacuum started down the hall. After 3 or 4 newscasts, our Ted Baxter said, “I understand she’s got a job to do, but why does she have to start vacuuming every time the mic opens.” As far as I know, he never figured out what was happening.
This was also the time when every radio station had to do Public Service Shows in order to meet a requirement in their FCC license. One day, this same newscaster was doing one in the production studio with a bunch of NY Dentists, when he asked them, “Why is it that black people have such white teeth?”. To say that the 3 dentists on the show were speechless, would be a fairly accurate description of what the next couple of minutes in the studio were like, till one of them tried to explain that it was more about their skin pigment, than the actual whiteness of their teeth!
During the summer of 1977, there was a 5 1/2 month NABET strike against ABC, and we spent the summer outside of the ABC Building rather than working on the 8th floor. As I was a single guy living at home, it wasn’t too bad that I just made $4500 that year, but of course for our older married fellow employees it wasn’t much fun, but those of us who were young and single, had a great summer (I met Susie that summer), and just picketing 3 hours a day every other day, we had lots of other time to be available to have fun!
Unfortunately, life wasn’t so much fun for our friends inside the ABC Building. Broadcasting back then was much more technical, and all the really good folks were shipped off to TV. Our radio friends at WABC and WPLJ ended up with local management folks and secretaries from around the company. Some of the secretaries were very good, and went on to having careers as NABET Engineers after the strike, but there also were some losers in the mix. We didn’t see this happen, but we did see the aftermath after we got back to work in October. It seems that George Michael was assigned this young girl who was more interested in looking good, than she was in running the board in studio 8A. Well, that was a dangerous mix in a room with George who was a stickler for perfection, and one night, after a series of on the air screw ups, in his frustration, George got up and kicked the big chrome sign board in studio 8A. This did nothing for her ability, nor for his frustration, but he did manage to break his foot! When we came back to work, he still had a huge cast on his foot, and I must say we laughed at his expense a lot over that. It also became the basis of an un-written rule at ABC…when you are mad, throw one piece of ABC property against another piece of ABC property, never a part of your body against a piece of ABC property!
NABET wasn’t the only union that ABC had to deal with and when I started there in 1976. There were some weird contract clauses that even I had trouble believing. Take for example, the water pitcher that sat by the jock in Studio 8A. Apparently ABC’s contract with the Stage Hands union said that they had jurisdiction over water pitchers, and three or four times a day, a stage hand would come down from the ABC TV Studios on West 66th Street to change the water in the pitcher. Another was the Sound Effects union. One year they wanted to record a local Volvo commercial with a door slam. Now today, you’d Google “door slam” and find hundreds, but back then a member of the union came up to WABC with a small rack with 2 ITC cart machines in it, and 5 carts. He then proceeded to play for us the 5 door slam sound effects he had, so we could record the one we wanted. That’s just the way it was back then!