Classic Radio

I miss radio that involves live human beings and the audience. I liked the excitement that many of the older stations exuded. Radio now is so incredibly terribly bland. I don’t understand how it pays for the electricity to run the transmitters.

When KJR, KING, and KOL were all “top-40″ in Seattle, I could also hear CKLG and CFUN in Vancouver BC, which were also top-40 as well as KTAC in Tacoma.

I liked the people on KJR in the 1960′s and early 1970′s. I enjoyed all the crazy stuff they came up with.

I remember some crazy ass thing Lan Roberts did where he was going to try to talk to space aliens or some such with the stations transmitter. Something about getting special permission from the F.C.C. to turn it off momentarily to listen for a reply. (never mind the fact that AM signals are absorbed by the ionosphere in the day and refracted back to the surface by the ionosphere at night thus never making it out into space).

And.. Mr. Science Mr. Science It’s Me! Jimmieeeeeee!

I was unaware until now that Lan Roberts had passed away from cancer in 2005. I knew he had been diagnosed with cancer way back when he was in Texas and I remember him saying in a post way back that he was thankful because he’d beat it, it had been six years or something like that and there were no signs.

They used to have that woman in the morning that screamed “Wake Up!” at the top of her lungs.

CFUN in Vancouver BC Canada, I took a liking to when KJR started to die. CFUN was high energy. Dead air didn’t happen, not even for a millisecond, music never stopped. If music wasn’t playing a musical station jingle was, commercials were done to music, cues were perfect, air personalities were excellent at talk overs right up to but never stomping on the lyrics.

I also liked CFUN’s audio processing, it was much like XERB and XEPRC when Wolfman Jack was on, they used heavy fast compression combined with reverb so the audio density was high, but it wasn’t flat bland, it was high energy exciting. It also wasn’t grossly clipped or distorted which was a problem with AM stations here in the Seattle area.

An engineering firm here in Seattle, allowed me to accompany them once when they did some maintenance work at KISW several decades ago. The transmitter site for KISW used to be on 92nd and Roosevelt, a couple of blocks from where I lived at the time. I’m not going to name the firm because of what I am about to describe.

I cringed when I saw how they adjusted the limiters / clippers at KISW. They had regular programming feeding, turned the clipper off and adjusted the limiter so limiting heavily, maybe 20db gain reduction, the output would drive the transmitter to about 120% modulation, then they turned on the clippers and clamped it down to 100% with the clippers. Thus the audio was essentially continuously clipped.

Now in fairness to them, many stations wanted to sound “loud” at the time and that was a way to achieve that (though I think there were much less audibly destructive methods of achieving loud high density sound). This particular firm was top-notch otherwise doing many complex tasks that others would not or could not take on.

That method of setting up audio processing, all I can say is Ick! Other stations took a different approach, using multi-band compressor / limiters like the Orban Optimod units which could achieve a quite loud and high audio density, especially if you added a small amount of reverb up front.

Arguably any of these methods would make an audiophile gag, but I particularly disliked the heavy use of clipping because of the intermodulation distortion and high order harmonics that it would introduce. In my view given AM radios limited S/N ratio, heavy processing was justified, but not so FM.

KING used to do a lot of promotions, a lot of music give-a-way’s. I got real good at manual speed dialing (this was back when you could only have AT&T Bell telephones) and they had no rule regarding the same person winning more than once, so they contributed to my album collection.

I met Bill Wolfenbarger, the chief engineer at KOL AM 1300, after contacting many radio stations in the area looking for used broadcast equipment we could use in our pirate station. Bill used to allow us to use a production studio to record things. I ruined that by exploding a tape reel in the studio.

They used to have these great big reel-to-reel floor standing tape recorders. I had recorded a reel of tape and was going to rewind. Now these machines had a fast-forward and fast-fast-forward, they also had a rewind and fast-rewind. The “fast” versions had red lettering that said, “Do not use with plastic reels”. Being the stupid teenager I was then, (as opposed to the stupid adult I am now), I had to know why so I hit the fast-rewind. The machine spun up and then Boosh! There were pieces of tape reel embedded in the wall, my shirt and T-shirt were sliced, but somehow I and others with me all escaped injury. However, that did, understandably, ruin my welcome in the production studio.

I was working on getting into radio legitimately and working towards my 1st class radio telephone operators license (which I did get in my junior year of high school) and Bill was one of the engineers willing to let me pick his brain and see a real station.

I saw quite a few actually, but KOL was uniquely impressive and Bill was uniquely willing to talk about radio and share his knowledge. It wasn’t new and sterile, but it was a class act. It was real organic radio with real human beings at the helm. The station was saturated with life energy. I was so sad to see it go when it was bought out and became KMPS country.

If you have any old photos of KOL, especially with the lighted call letters, and would be willing to allow me to share them here on the blog I’d really appreciate it.

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