Old dog, new tricks (Stayin’ Alive)

My broadcast buddy, Dave Williams, and I decided to write a book together about what life is like for former rock and roll disc jockeys who are now more mature in years, if not behavior.  We’re grandparents now.  We’re both still working, and everything about the way we work has changed. We haven’t written the book, but we talk about it a lot, which is almost the same thing.

We’re on opposite ends of the Boomer curve.  I’m the older one.  He’s the former high school student who stood outside the window at the radio station where I played rock and roll music (KROY, Sacramento, CA) where fans lined up before heading off to join the local cruise, with their car radios turned up loud. Somebody ushered Dave in to say hello and it wasn’t long after I left that Dave took up that same chair alongside those same turntables (yes, turntables) at the station.  We became friends back then and we’re still friends, decades later.

A career spent talking into microphones is nomadic.  When we began, we had to be in the same physical location as our audience.  We moved home and hearth and families to the next town (“markets” in broadcast-speak) with the goal being to eventually occupy a chair in front of a microphone in one of the major markets.  Both of us accomplished that.

It would be impossible to overstate how drastically technology changed our industry.  Those of us who worked in radio, television and print, ran fast just to keep up.  In order to survive on the air, we had to learn new skills overnight, and we’re still adjusting.

When we began, we launched our records from a slip-cue position (you can see the slip-cue technique demonstrated online) with one hand holding the record while the other hand twirled knobs or slid controls up and down to regulate our microphones, our music, and our commercials (spots) which ran in a separate cartridge machine and often got stuck or completely failed, requiring a new plan.

Both hands were engaged, along with head, voice, and yes, heart, all required to fast-pedal in order to sound either upbeat and party-ready or mellow, depending on the station’s music.  In larger markets, we sometimes had engineers who did the twirling and regulating, but much of our time on the air was spent with us doing all of it at once and never letting it show in our voices.

Technology altered all that, and moving from music into talk radio also required a different set of skills, but through it all, it’s been the “air personality” as we were called, who had the biggest, fastest adjustments to make, just to stay employed.

I don’t talk for a living anymore, but Dave still does (KLIF/ Dallas every morning.)  The studio in the picture above is where I learned to slip-cue a song before moving into a whole new world.  (Thanks Gary Avey, KHSL, Chico, CA.) The studio below in this “after” picture is similar to where Dave works now.

Today I write in Northern California, connected to my computer, and if I have something to say on the air, I don’t have to leave this room to do it. Dreams we never could have dreamed during the Age of Aquarius.

 

Christmas On The Radio

I’ve spent much of my  life on the radio, playing music.  Every year when the Christmas songs started, the radio station staff revolted.  Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with the Program Director (in the days before a computer picked the music – and before every city had a radio station that plays continuous holiday music starting at Thanksgiving.) 

PD:  So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one per hour?

EVERYONE ELSE:  No!

PD:  And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME:  Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE:  Shut up!

ME:  Could I have more Christmas music on my show?

ON-AIR PERSON:  I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON:  You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now.  I’ll be gone for a month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated.  I haven’t met many radio people who like Christmas music as much as I do.  For me, it can’t start too soon. Give me a couple of songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.

After years of being on the air,  I had the opportunity to host a nationally syndicated show.  Something Special aired on stations around the U.S.  I was also writer and producer for this weekly four-hour radio magazine and we began making our Christmas show while the weather said it was still summer. 

Show prep (a rather unimaginative term that means exactly what it sounds like) included knowing a lot about the music we’d be playing.  No problem here.  I love Christmas music and in addition to the music sent over by the record companies, I also have a big personal collection.  We knew many of the artists who performed the music and had been pre-recording their holiday greetings all year when they were in our studio.

John Schneider was the guest co-host for this Christmas extravaganza.  He’d become a friend through my daily radio show in Los Angeles. Generally the new show featured a celebrity guest for only the first hour of each week, but at Christmas John would be with us for all four hours. 

John arrived with one of his ever-present dogs – maybe it was Smudge or, God rest her soul, Gracie.  Cathleen (my daughter worked on the show) baked Christmas cookies and brought in a small Christmas tree. John contributed warm apple fritters he picked up at that place he knew in Burbank.  We took our positions at the microphones.  

We sailed right along.  I don’t remember any re-takes.  It’s one of my favorite radio shows ever.  I play it again every year by the light of my plug-in-desktop tree with the twinkle lights. Sometimes I play it in the middle of summer, or whenever in the words of a favorite song, I “need a little Christmas.”    

Anita Garner 2008

Christmas On The Radio

I’ve spent much of my  life on the radio, playing music.  When the Christmas songs start, the radio station staff revolts.  Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with the Program Director,  in the good old days before a computer chose the music you heard.

PD:  So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one per hour?

EVERYONE ELSE:  No!

PD:  And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME:  Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE:  Shut up!

ME:  Could I have more Christmas music on my show?

ON-AIR PERSON:  I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON:  You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now.  I’ll be gone for a month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated.  I haven’t met many radio people who like Christmas music as much as I do.  For me, Thanksgiving starts my own Christmas music marathon.  Give me a couple of songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.

After years of local radio, I had the great opportunity to host a nationally syndicated show.  Something Special aired on stations around the U.S.  I was also writer and producer for this weekly four-hour radio magazine and it was more work than I could have imagined.

We began making our Christmas show while the weather said it was still summer.  Show prep (a rather unimaginative term that means exactly what it sounds like) included knowing a lot about the music we’d be playing.  We also knew many of the artists who wrote and performed the music and had been pre-recording their holiday greetings all year when they were in our studio.

For our first annual Christmas Is Something Special, we’d back-timed, to the second, all the music and scripts.  Radio people live by the second hand.  One of our pre-recorded “bits” for this show came from another broadcaster.  My family loved a song called Christmas Isn’t Christmas Without You, found on an album sent to me by a record company years before.  Researching the song for this show, I was surprised to learn it was written by a fellow radio person, Allan Hotlen.

Allan and I met when he was Program Director at (then legendary) KSFO in San Francisco, and now here he was, right around the corner at a station in Los Angeles.  I asked him to tell how he came to write this song and he sent over a perfect recorded “talk-up” to his own song.

John Schneider was the guest co-host for this Christmas extravaganza.  He’d appeared on my show and had become a friend.  Generally we featured a celebrity guest for only the first hour of each week, but this time, John would be with us for all four hours. 

John arrived with one of his ever-present dogs – maybe it was Smudge or, God rest her soul, Gracie.  Cathleen (my daughter worked on the show) baked Christmas cookies and brought a small plug-in Christmas tree. John contributed warm apple fritters he picked up at that place he knew in Burbank.  We took our positions at the microphones.  

One of our song-stories was about Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas from the movie, Meet Me In St. Louis,  about how the lyricist had written alternate words that didn’t make it into the movie.  At half-past-early in the morning, John, apple fritter in hand, sang the original lyrics and the mood was complete.  We sailed right along.  I don’t remember any re-takes.

It’s one of my favorite radio shows ever.  I’ll play it again in a few minutes, right after I plug in my desktop tree with the twinkle lights.

Ó By Anita Garner