Below you'll find the ORIGINAL SERIES of Radio Daze columns, which ran in "What's In It For Me" in 1997 and 1998. At that time, I was the Program Director/Operations Manager/Morning Host at WIFM...a job which I enjoyed TREMENDOUSLY! Thanks for all the WONDERFUL memories!

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

I love radio. Always have. Ever since I was kid, I've known one thing....I wanted to be on the radio. I began practicing at age nine...when my grandfather game me my first tape recorder. I still have it....top shelf of the closet in my spare bedroom. I'm a packrat too....but that's another story.

At age 15 I decided that I had waited long enough. It was time to actually become one of those voices on the radio. Besides, Gilvin Couch, a good friend from school, already had a job at WIFM. I knew if he could do it, I could too. So I worked up the nerve to stop by the station and talk to Leon Reece...the recently retired 30 year General Manager of WIFM. Leon told me that if I got my 3rd class radiotelephone license, he'd try me out on weekends and see how I did. I'm certain he thought that was the last he'd see of me. After all, in those days getting that license required taking a REAL test...including the dreaded "element nine", full of math problems. And you know about "these kids today".

Little did he realize that two months later I'd actually be back, license in hand, ready to join the grownup world of work. Grown up I WASN'T....my sixteenth birthday was still a month away....but nobody could've told me that. I was ready to WORK. So ready in fact that nothing was going to stop me. Including the lack of a paycheck. You see, there were no openings, so I volunteered to do Sunday afternoons on the am station for nothing.....just to get the experience. What small businessman could turn down an offer like that? So the first Sunday in August of 1974 I went "on the air" for the first time. I was TERRIBLE....but reasonably certain I wouldn't be fired. After all...I wasn't being paid!!!!

Early in my career I was fortunate to work with others who shared...and cultivated my love for radio. Names like Ralph Shaw, who taught me that I'd be a better person if I just knew the call letters of at least three stations in every city in America, to Russ Pomeroy, who first opened my eyes to the wonderful creative possibilities in commercial production....including that the only sexier combination than a man and a woman is a razor blade and a reel of tape. These people, and others whose names you may not recall, inspired me. And their thoughts still rattle around in my head.

Here I am twenty three years later. A lot has changed....both in my life and at WIFM. My career has taken me to several stations....large and small, am and fm. But in 1990, when for the only time (so far) I was between jobs, I got a welcome invitation to come home...to WIFM. And here I've been ever since.

Change is an inevitable part of life. And WIFM has been through lots of changes in the last couple of years. In fact, of all the folks at WIFM when I began in 1990, I'm the only one who's still here. And you know what? I consider myself the lucky one. Being "the old guy" gives me some historical perspective. And this perspective helps me appreciate even more the incredible growth that we've been fortunate to enjoy since FSA Broadcasting purchased us a little more than two years ago. From lovely offices and studios on North Bridge Street in Elkin, to fabulous new state-of-the-art digital facilities which I actually get paid to play with, I feel like I'm living the old song "If my friends could see me now".

But as much as I've enjoyed the changes and growth, the best part of my job is my radio "family". I'm not talking about the people I work with, wonderful though they may be. I'm talking about the people who listen every morning. They truly are like family. Let me tell you what I mean. Upon returning from a week's vacation recently, I got a phone call from a very friendly lady. "Mike....I'm so glad to hear your voice. You don't know what it means to me that you've returned home safely". How could you not love a job like that?

 

 

Radio Daze

By Mike Walker

"Bzzzzzzzzzz" goes the alarm clock. It's 3:30am. Time to begin another day. No matter how many years I do this, it NEVER gets any easier. .

5:30am. My wife and I pull into the parking lot of WIFM....30 miles from our home in Boomer. I am legally blind, and haven't been able to drive for seven years. Since then Robin has driven me to work EVERY morning. Inside she helps me prepare for my day..

5:45am. I take my first look of the day at the "Production Basket"...which contains orders from the sales department. As Operations Mgr/Program Director of WIFM it is my responsibility to make sure that all on air programming elements are ready to go when called for. Arguably the most important of these is commercial messages. They pay the bills. I assign part of the load to each of our announcers, and keep for myself what I think I can do. This includes my "regulars" who request me for their commercials. A number of clients do specifically ask that I produce their spots. Which proves that my dad was right. Some people will buy anything.

6:00am. Dustin ends his first newscast of the day, and it's my turn. I take my chair with no copy in front of me. The wire copy is too small and light to read with my diminished vision. Robin magnifies and darkens the copy for me. Just before the ABC news ends, she places the enlarged copy for my 6:05 weather in front of me. Now I can read the forecast...and relate it to sleepy listeners in sixteen counties whose day is just beginning.

6:42am. My first chat with Dustin. I lead into these with an unusual item in the news, followed by my own (hopefully) funny reaction to it. Then Dustin will add his two cents worth, and if I'm on my toes I can build that into a bigger laugh. That's the way it's supposed to work. Now that you know what I intend to happen, you can listen and judge for yourself whether I actually succeed. We do this again at 7:42, and 8:42. If I have a prize to give away during the 6am hour, I'll do it adjacent to this break...because it allows Dustin to be included in the mix..thus increasing the chances that something fun will develop. I consider these chats with Dustin important to the flow of the show because they give me an opportunity to do what I've been told I do best.....REACT. I frequently interact with listeners....putting myself into situations that may result in some golden moment. Often they don't. Live morning radio is not a job for the faint of heart. Risk is a part of the game..

7:45am. Time for "Name that Tune". The truth is I try to make this contest reasonably easy...because it MUST move quickly. There are two other sponsored segments before 8am. This morning's song was "Y.M.C.A." by the Village People. Not great art, but also not hard.. BANG!!! The first caller nails it.

10:00am. This is the "Trivia" hour. I usually have prepared Trivia the day before. But often I often find something when I get to work that I like better, and will switch at the last second. My goal is to make it challenging. I'm embarrassed when the first caller wins.

Trivia is one of my favorite parts of the show, and also one of the most frustrating. Since it's live, it's also unpredictable. Anything you can imagine going wrong has. But I believe a thing or two have gone right as well.. I especially enjoy bouncing one liners off callers in a shameless effort to make them giggle. You know us performers...always have to be the center of attention. Like children, huh?

11:00am. I again check for new orders from the sales department, assign these, then hit the sidewalk. Time for a brisk walk to lunch. Usually there has been at least one commercial I'll produce when I come back that requires a spark or two of creativity. Some of my best ideas are born on these walks. Often I have a complete commercial written (and produced) in my head before I sit down to my meal. All I do after lunch is lock myself in the Production Studio, and recreate those sounds "in my head".

12:00-2:30pm. My creative time, when I produce commercials, promos, and other programming elements that help define our sound, and ensure that our clients are satisfied. This is incredibly gratifying work, even if the pressure is sometimes enormous. During this time I am paid to simply "go in there and create something". I am very much into creating "radio cinema" as I call it. Just as with film, a radio commercial needn't settle for being "life size". It can be as big as your imagination can make it. A well written script, good delivery, careful layering of music, sound effects, and other elements, tight editing, and an ear catching mix can make a sponsor's message come alive.

2:30pm. In theory my day is done. In practice, that's often not the case. There are duties that don't seem to fit into other parts of the day...but must be done. Things like reviewing and modifying our music playlist each week. Every song on our station is there because I chose it. That's an important part of programming a radio station. I also must make sure all commercials are programmed into the computer in the control room which plays them back on the air. There's no tape on our station. Everything we produce is played back digitally, at cd quality, from computer hard drive. Plus I must make out announcer schedules, correspond with networks and other program suppliers, make certain that all equipment is functioning properly, and ensure that we are properly registered with Arbitron so we get ratings credit for our audience. My last thought before leaving? I've forgotten something! Oh well, the station will call me later.

Now you know what a typical day in a radio station is like. One of mine anyway. Future articles will examine the history of WIFM, and predict how technology will change the way we listen.

 

 

Radio Daze

By Mike Walker

I've gotta' have tunes. I never go ANYWHERE without a radio. And often it's more than JUST a radio. If you also hate to travel without music, this week's column is for you. Because this week Radio Daze examines portable music makers that are both good AND cheap!!!

First of all...radios. Want a really good walkman type am/fm unit that sounds like a home stereo, is small as a credit card, and cheap as dirt? Believe it or not one exists. It's the Sangean SR-77, also sold as the Radio Shack model 12-917. Either way the cost is just 29.95. But wait...the Radio Shack version is on sale now for 24.95!!! This little unit actually is credit card sized...just a little thicker to make room for the single AAA size alkaline cell. It has no trouble picking up distant stations in clear, rich stereo. The only thing that bothers me is that the analog tuning knob requires a surgeon's hand to tune properly. Yes...it's analog. Remember digital tuning is a convenience , not a performance feature. Inexpensive analog radios often perform better than digital ones.

If your headphones lack bass response...and the earbuds supplied with the radio certainly do, there's a "deep bass boost" switch which adds some heft to the sound. My suggestion is to trash the supplied "earbuds", and upgrade to a decent pair of 'phones. The Koss Porta-Pro springs to mind. These are the only small 'phones that produce REAL extended bass response. By "real" bass I mean the deepest tones your ears can hear...including organ pedal tones, and the lowest notes on synthesizer. The only catch is that the Koss 'phones cost more than the radio....49.95. But they're good enough to mate with the home stereo as well. And there is a less expensive version...the Koss "Sport Clip" 'phones. They're the same thing...minus the headband. They look like they'd be uncomfortable, clipping over each ear. But they are SO comfortable you can easily forget you're wearing them, and yank your radio off by the cord when you stand up. They sound the same as the Porta Pros, and are ten dollars cheaper. Headphone addict that I am, I own both.

In case you're wondering why I'd recommended a Walkman type radio without a cassette player, it's because I don't recommend using cassettes. It's a digital world, and the writing is on the wall for the lowly analog cassette. A product of the 60s, the cassette was designed for DICTATION, not for music. If ever a format has outlived it's usefulness, the cassette is it. Most cassette players are poorly aligned, and the prerecorded tapes are not only inferior to cds, they also come in a distant second to lps. Remember those?

So what do I use instead? Mini-discs. Mini-discs are a largely misunderstood format. When they were introduced three years ago, many (mistakenly) thought they were intended to replace cds. Not so. Although they sound incredible, mini-discs record at a much lower data rate than cds, so in theory they are not their equal. This is deliberate. Sony, which introduced the mini-disc, is also one of the co-inventors of the cd. They had no interest in replacing cds. Their real target was the CASSETTE. If that point had been driven home at the format's inception, perhaps more folks would have joined me in my love affair with these tiny wonders. Remember what I said about mini-discs being theoretically inferior to cd? In practice it just ain't so. With the newest units the two formats are indistinguishable. So now, on a disc you can record yourself, you get NO background noise, NO distortion, NO speed inaccuracies, and NO reliability problems. Think your cds, are rugged? Mini-discs are enclosed in a plastic carrier similar to a computer diskette...but much smaller!!! Life expectancy is WELL in excess of a century. No kidding. The darn things are nearly indestructible. Drop 'em, kick 'em, leave 'em in your car on a day hot enough to melt your cassettes, and they still play like brand new. Think that's cool? There's more. Mini-discs are non linear, just like your computer hard drive. So once your discs are recorded, you can still do some fascinating things with them. Like rearranging the sequence of songs without re-recording the disc. Try that with a cassette. Or editing out a verse of a song you don't like. Or even electronically "labeling" so that the title of the album is displayed when you insert the disc, and the title of each song is displayed when it's playing. Can your cassette player do that?

There must be a catch, right? Actually, there are a couple of 'em. There are very few prerecorded titles. You'll have to record you own. (I prefer to do this anyway). The discs are more expensive than even premium blank cassettes...a little over six dollars per disc. And you can't run out to the corner drug store to buy them. You'll have to go to a place like Circuit City, or mail order them from a supplier such as J&R Music World. Believe me...once you've experienced the mini-disc, you won't mind the extra hassle. It's worth it.

So how much are the machines? The Sony MZ-E40 that I carry with me just about everywhere sells for 199.95 at Best Buy, and at most mail order electronic outlets. It's a player ONLY. The portable recorders start at about twice that amount. At two hundred bucks it's about sixty percent more expensive than a cd "portable", but actually is PORTABLE!!!! It easily slips in a shirt pocket, sounds at least as good as a top quality cd-Walkman, and won't skip even if you run with it!!! Of course if you're buying a portable player, you'll need a recorder at home. Lucky for you Sony is now offering the "MD-Bundle", a package that includes the portable player, and a home recorder with wireless remote for about 399!!!!! Sony is serious about the success of this format. And finicky as I am, I can't find a darned thing wrong with it. So buy them. If you're serious about carrying quality music with you, you choice is clear. Mini-disc is the best portable music carrier ever. Period.

Why do I recommend these products? Because I use them. Every day I take with me to work my Sangean radio, Sony mini-disc player with about ten discs, and a full size pair of Sony MDR-V6 headphones, which I use on the air. This all fits in a pouch so small a portable cd player wouldn't fit...by itself. If I lost any of these items, I'd IMMEDIATELY replace them. Is there any higher recommendation than that?

 

 

Radio Daze

By Mike Walker

I've gotta' have tunes. I never go ANYWHERE without a radio. And often it's more than JUST a radio. If you also hate to travel without music, this week's column is for you. Because this week Radio Daze examines portable music makers that are both good AND cheap!!!

First of all...radios. Want a really good walkman type am/fm unit that sounds like a home stereo, is small as a credit card, and cheap as dirt? Believe it or not one exists. It's the Sangean SR-77, also sold as the Radio Shack model 12-917. Either way the cost is just 29.95. But wait...the Radio Shack version is on sale now for 24.95!!! This little unit actually is credit card sized...just a little thicker to make room for the single AAA size alkaline cell. It has no trouble picking up distant stations in clear, rich stereo. The only thing that bothers me is that the analog tuning knob requires a surgeon's hand to tune properly. Yes...it's analog. Remember digital tuning is a convenience , not a performance feature. Inexpensive analog radios often perform better than digital ones.

If your headphones lack bass response...and the earbuds supplied with the radio certainly do, there's a "deep bass boost" switch which adds some heft to the sound. My suggestion is to trash the supplied "earbuds", and upgrade to a decent pair of 'phones. The Koss Porta-Pro springs to mind. These are the only small 'phones that produce REAL extended bass response. By "real" bass I mean the deepest tones your ears can hear...including organ pedal tones, and the lowest notes on synthesizer. The only catch is that the Koss 'phones cost more than the radio....49.95. But they're good enough to mate with the home stereo as well. And there is a less expensive version...the Koss "Sport Clip" 'phones. They're the same thing...minus the headband. They look like they'd be uncomfortable, clipping over each ear. But they are SO comfortable you can easily forget you're wearing them, and yank your radio off by the cord when you stand up. They sound the same as the Porta Pros, and are ten dollars cheaper. Headphone addict that I am, I own both.

In case you're wondering why I'd recommended a Walkman type radio without a cassette player, it's because I don't recommend using cassettes. It's a digital world, and the writing is on the wall for the lowly analog cassette. A product of the 60s, the cassette was designed for DICTATION, not for music. If ever a format has outlived it's usefulness, the cassette is it. Most cassette players are poorly aligned, and the prerecorded tapes are not only inferior to cds, they also come in a distant second to lps. Remember those?

So what do I use instead? Mini-discs. Mini-discs are a largely misunderstood format. When they were introduced three years ago, many (mistakenly) thought they were intended to replace cds. Not so. Although they sound incredible, mini-discs record at a much lower data rate than cds, so in theory they are not their equal. This is deliberate. Sony, which introduced the mini-disc, is also one of the co-inventors of the cd. They had no interest in replacing cds. Their real target was the CASSETTE. If that point had been driven home at the format's inception, perhaps more folks would have joined me in my love affair with these tiny wonders. Remember what I said about mini-discs being theoretically inferior to cd? In practice it just ain't so. With the newest units the two formats are indistinguishable. So now, on a disc you can record yourself, you get NO background noise, NO distortion, NO speed inaccuracies, and NO reliability problems. Think your cds, are rugged? Mini-discs are enclosed in a plastic carrier similar to a computer diskette...but much smaller!!! Life expectancy is WELL in excess of a century. No kidding. The darn things are nearly indestructible. Drop 'em, kick 'em, leave 'em in your car on a day hot enough to melt your cassettes, and they still play like brand new. Think that's cool? There's more. Mini-discs are non linear, just like your computer hard drive. So once your discs are recorded, you can still do some fascinating things with them. Like rearranging the sequence of songs without re-recording the disc. Try that with a cassette. Or editing out a verse of a song you don't like. Or even electronically "labeling" so that the title of the album is displayed when you insert the disc, and the title of each song is displayed when it's playing. Can your cassette player do that?

There must be a catch, right? Actually, there are a couple of 'em. There are very few prerecorded titles. You'll have to record you own. (I prefer to do this anyway). The discs are more expensive than even premium blank cassettes...a little over six dollars per disc. And you can't run out to the corner drug store to buy them. You'll have to go to a place like Circuit City, or mail order them from a supplier such as J&R Music World. Believe me...once you've experienced the mini-disc, you won't mind the extra hassle. It's worth it.

So how much are the machines? The Sony MZ-E40 that I carry with me just about everywhere sells for 199.95 at Best Buy, and at most mail order electronic outlets. It's a player ONLY. The portable recorders start at about twice that amount. At two hundred bucks it's about sixty percent more expensive than a cd "portable", but actually is PORTABLE!!!! It easily slips in a shirt pocket, sounds at least as good as a top quality cd-Walkman, and won't skip even if you run with it!!! Of course if you're buying a portable player, you'll need a recorder at home. Lucky for you Sony is now offering the "MD-Bundle", a package that includes the portable player, and a home recorder with wireless remote for about 399!!!!! Sony is serious about the success of this format. And finicky as I am, I can't find a darned thing wrong with it. So buy them. If you're serious about carrying quality music with you, you choice is clear. Mini-disc is the best portable music carrier ever. Period.

Why do I recommend these products? Because I use them. Every day I take with me to work my Sangean radio, Sony mini-disc player with about ten discs, and a full size pair of Sony MDR-V6 headphones, which I use on the air. This all fits in a pouch so small a portable cd player wouldn't fit...by itself. If I lost any of these items, I'd IMMEDIATELY replace them. Is there any higher recommendation than that?

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

People sometimes ask me what I did before I went into radio. I was a child. With the exception of the closely related field of audio production for video presentations, multimedia, motivational tapes, and cable tv commercial voice-overs, it's all I've ever done.

My resume'

I began working part time at WIFM in August of 1974. In the fall of 1975 Gilvin Couch left the night shift and I got my first full time gig. No matter how easy you think radio must be...working forty plus hours a week while attending school was HARD. But I had found my first love.

I did nights at WIFM from September of '75 until December of '77. After graduating from the Radio/TV Broadcasting program at Wilkes Community College in '77, I asked to go into sales. I wanted to marry my high school sweetheart. But my paycheck was so small I didn't see how we could afford to live. Leon Reece, the General manager offered me a chance, and I began selling for the station. I actually made a couple of sales too, but in truth Dusty Ball (a classmate of mine at WCC) and I mostly rode together, talked about girls, and goofed off. As my wedding date approached, and my sales career nosedived, it became obvious that I needed more money. So I applied for a job at WKBC in North Wilkesboro in early November of '77, and got it.

Before moving to my experiences at other stations, let me slip in a few more from the WIFM of the mid 70s. Long time listeners will remember Ralph Shaw, Chuck Kenny, Alan Combs, and Karen Kelly. Plus Kathy Long was the Office Manager. Sadly, a few of my co-workers from the period are now deceased...Mike Ford, Russ Pomeroy, and Dick Paulsen.

On November 25th of 1977 I married the lovely Robin Thompson from State Road, N.C. Our first evening in our new apartment I received a phone call from Stan Clifton, then General Manager of WKBC telling me that I got the job doing nights on the FM station...for substantially more money. Two weeks later I was there.

My predecessor on the night show on 'KBC was a gentleman named Tom Klein, whose album rock show was very well received. At least in Winston Salem, Hickory, Charlotte, Boone...everywhere BUT Wilkes County. I played the album rock music too for a while. But two things convinced me that a change was needed. The lack of local listeners, and the fact that my tastes and style were more mainstream. I ain't esoteric!!!! I AM an egomaniac. I wanted to be a star...and this just wasn't gettin' it done. So I dumped the album music (without asking management, of course), substituting top 40 hits. I also took phone requests live on the air. The listener response was phenomenal. From 9pm-2am the phone rang CONSTANTLY. Winston Salem, Hickory, Charlotte, even Roanoke all checked in. But now so did Elkin, North Wilkesboro, and Miller's Creek. Mission accomplished We had a LOCAL audience. And people on the street finally knew me. I began to sound a little like I do today. For better or worse.

In the summer of 1980 I received a phone call one night at 'KBC from Duane Cozzen at WNNC in Newton. I had toured the station a couple of weeks earlier. Duane said there was an opening for a nighttime personality, and wondered if I'd be interested. An interview was set up with Dave Lingafelt, the Owner/General Manager, a job was offered, and quickly accepted. It was a real step forward. The population of Catawba County is roughly 160 thousand, three times that of Wilkes, with nearly a quarter of a million in the Hickory metro area. Not only that, the station was extremely well run, with a staff of young men who loved the business as I did. It was a natural fit.

After a few months doing nights, I was promoted to afternoon "drive time", and the first "Goin' Home Show" was born. WNNC still uses the name thirteen years after my departure. But every afternoon show I've done since has been a "Goin' Home Show". So you see the name for Paula's show on WIFM comes from nostalgia for my "Goin' Home" days.

 

The growth process that began at WKBC went into overdrive at 'NNC. Nothing less than perfection was expected..or accepted. I left work with my stomach in knots most nights. But I did GOOD work. I'm still proud of air checks (tapes of shows) from that period. In time I became music director, then Program Director.

In November of 1984 I left WNNC for my first morning show...at WWWC in Wilkesboro. Mornings are "prime time" for radio, and I wanted a piece of that. So again I had to move to achieve a goal.

I did mornings at 3WC until November of 1988 when another goal of mine...to break into FM Country, was realized. The format was becoming extremely hot, and I wanted to be a part of it. When I was offered mornings at WFMX in Statesville, I jumped at the chance. Just a little haggling over money, and I was the morning host at a 100, 000 FM that covered more than fifty counties!!! What a wonderful experience!!! When 'FMX was sold in '89, I was moved to afternoons. Another "Goin' Home Show" was born. Also I was made Production Manager...the person responsible for the production of all commercials, promos, and other material that's recorded before airing. I held these positions until January of '90, when the Program Director/Operations Manager fired me to create a position for a friend of his.

My first and ONLY dry spell ended in March of '90 with an offer from, of all stations, WIFM!! I soon became Program Director/Operations Manager, implementing the changes in our sound that you can hear today. I also began the third morning show of my career upon Leon Reece's retirement when FSA Broadcasting purchased the station two years ago. Since then we've enjoyed incredible growth. But I'm sure the best is yet to come. After all, WIFM celebrates it's 50th anniversary in just two years. In future columns I'll detail the stations history...dating back to it's humble post-war beginnings in 1949.

 

 

Radio Daze

By Mike Walker

The Creativity Faucet

Drip, drip, drip. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle. Water is a resource we take for granted. Turn it on, turn it off. Need a little? Take a little. Need a lot? That's on tap too. Wouldn't it be great if everything we need came so easily? Like creativity, for instance?

In my job creativity isn't something that's just hoped for. It's demanded. It's a part of the package. Often a sales person says something like this to me..."this guy's a new client, and we've REALLY got to knock his socks off. He's used WXYZ before, but our production is much better than theirs. I need you to come up with something so unique it'll make his head spin. And I need it by tomorrow".

"Whew", I reply. "For a minute there I was afraid you were going to ask for something unreasonable. Fortunately it's just the best commercial in the history of radio in twenty four hours, while other work gathers dust on my desk. No problem. And since I have some free time this weekend, can I mow your lawn too?"

When planning my column today at lunch, a question kept popping into my mind. Is there any other art form (yes...I consider radio production an art. If it's done right) where original ideas are DEMANDED on such tight schedules? Did Beethoven's boss say to him one morning "Ludwig my man, you know I dig you. Especially your early work.I can't get that number five symphony off my mind...'dadada-dummmmm'. But my employees have gotta' PRODUCE for me, Baby. So here's the deal. I need a new symphony by noon tomorrow. I SAID I NEED A NEW SYMPHONY FROM YOU BY TOMORROW. Man, you really should have your hearing checked".

This is the kind of pressure I deal with every day. Usually I come through. I'll even let you in on a trade secret. I specialize in two kinds of creative commercials. There's the whiz-bang ear popper...with lots of special effects and noise. Just what the doctor ordered sometimes. And for me, it's EASY. Write down the sponsor's message, lay down a few tracks, overlap some dialog, a snip here, a splice there, a couple of passes through the mixer and it's done. The promo we've been running recently announcing an opening in our sales department is a recent example of this brand of creativity. I wrote it around movie and tv sound bites I had on hand.

The other kind is a harder. That's the kind that's dialog driven. A situation with characters. The Jeff Johnson Chevrolet commercial that's running now is an example. With this type you must have really clever copy. So clever that it stands on it's own with no fancy audio tricks. It needs to get your attention up front, and convince you that a problem exists that only the sponsor can solve. It should take you through a couple of unexpected (perhaps humorous) turns along the way. Oh...and it needs a big finish. This kind of spot should make the listener ask a friend "did you hear...?" Once you have those elements, a production trick or two is icing on the cake. My favorite technique hopefully doesn't come across as a trick at all. If you think of the area between your stereo's two speakers as a stage, I believe in having the "actors" move around that stage as the situation demands. If it's done properly it adds realism to the situation conveyed by the "actors", pulling you deeper into the illusion of eavesdropping on real life. The reason for pulling the listener in deeper of course is so the spongy tissue between the ears can better absorb the sponsor's message. You think THIS isn't art?

When I sat down at the word processor I thought about two people talking cars. One of them is VERY confused. But who should the confused person be? Maybe an elderly man. A grandfather....giving advice to his grandson. And he just can't quite get things right. Including his grandson's name. So what's the problem? (Remember...you need a problem so the sponsor can solve it). The grandson is car shopping, but finds so many appealing choices (at the sponsor's business) that he needs his grandfather's advice. However, Grandpa is VERY confused. Time out!!! Does the thought of an elderly man being confused leave you a little uneasy? It did me too. Plus I hate writing stereotypes. So I added this twist (Remember, I said we needed one of those too). After getting the grandson's name wrong through the entire commercial, Grandpa gets it right at the end. The grandson is startled. Gramps laughs a knowing laugh, leading you to believe he was just teasing the young lad all along. Let me see...that has all the elements, doesn't it? So it's into the production room to produce this piece of "audio cinema". "Dustin, can you give me ten minutes?" I yell down the hall. My grandfather is cast. Ready for "Masterpiece Theater".

Although the specifics of my job are unique to my field, I'm sure the idea that creativity should be on tap like water extends to any number of jobs. Perhaps to yours. And I'll bet that just when you feel the well has run dry, somebody turns the #$%# faucet.

Drip, drip, drip.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Fathers

This is a difficult time for me. It's the first Father's Day with no father figure in my life.

FEELING is important. We must feel in order to live. Pain, joy, love, even hate. are all part of each of us. And these emotions can be broadcast through the air with the same fidelity as a favorite song. From horror movies that frighten, to passionate love stories that quicken the pulse, human beings crave EMOTION...FEELING. I strive to make my listeners feel through my radio show. Now I shall try to do it on paper as well.

My father was a wonderful man. A teacher, a mason, a shriner, deacon in his church, and a pillar of strength and love I could always count on. He died in 1988 two months before his 52nd birthday. It is a loss I shall never recover from. The hole in my life left by the passing of Robert Lee Walker can never be filled. Happy Father's Day, Dad. And thanks for the nightly visits in my dreams. I awake from them feeling as if we've been together. And I know that we have, and always will be.

Wilson Thompson was a unique individual. Quiet, reserved, but with a heart full of love. Particularly for his children....Ronnie, Ramona, and my wife, Robin. When I married his little girl in 1977 I know he didn't approve. Why should he? I was only 19, a long haired kid who played records for a living. What kind of job was that? And what kind of future could I provide for his daughter? He must've consoled himself with thoughts that at least it wouldn't last. I think those thoughts had faded by our fifteenth anniversary. As he and I talked we even found that we actually had some things in common. Politics for instance. Like all of the father figures in my life, Mr. Thompson was a proud Democrat. Needless to say the election in '92 pleased him. We spoke of that, and of many things on trips we took together. As my vision decreased, this dear man gave freely of his time and friendship. Because of my visual limitations, it's been seven years since I was able to drive. My father in law gladly took me home when Robin couldn't. During these trips it became apparent that he had come to accept, perhaps even love me. I hope so. Because I dearly loved him. He passed away suddenly in 1993, as had my own father five years earlier. And just as my father didn't live to meet his grandson Scott, Wilson Thompson's granddaughter Emma missed knowing her grandfather by mere weeks. He knew she was coming. And this knowledge gave him great joy.

Ralph Eugene Martin, my mother's father, was perhaps the best person I've ever known. He truly had no enemies. Everyone loved him. He earned that love with a lifetime of selfless service....to his church, his community, and his family. "Pa" as all the grandchildren called him, never missed an opportunity to help those in need. Which isn't to say that he was a solemn man. Far from it. He was perhaps the funniest person I've ever known. Pa saw humor and joy in everything, and everyone. As Sunday School Superintendent at Ronda First Baptist Church he always opened with a joke, or a humorous story. As my soft spoken grandfather began to speak, the room became silent.. so that each of those assembled could hear every word. Because they knew that what they were hearing would keep them smiling long after church had adjourned.

The last father figure in my life passed away in January. Robert Winfield Church of Ronda, my father's dad. His stepfather actually, but love is thicker than blood. And this kind, gentle man, though no blood relative of mine, loved me as much as any grandfather ever loved a grandchild. His love was so palpable I could feel it when I stepped into the room with him...see it on his face, and hear it in his voice. Even sadder than his passing is the knowledge that he lived his final months in pain, both physical and emotional. He suffered terribly from the death of his wife, Marguerite Church in August of last year. In declining health, he chose to enter Hugh Chatham Nursing Center. From the time he went there, until the ambulance ride to the hospital leading to his death, he never left. This was his choice. He chose to mourn in silence, and often in darkness. Most days after my radio show I walked to the nursing center to visit with him. It's a lovely walk from the radio station, particularly in the fall. When walking to lunch now I often pause to look at the street which once led to the nursing center, and my grandfather. Somehow a part of me believes that if I'll just cross the street and walk up that sidewalk the nursing center, and my grandfather will be waiting for me. Of course the nursing center has recently moved to new facilities near the hospital. We were making plans for my grandfather to move there. He told us he'd never see it. He was right.

To these wonderful fathers in my life, thank you. And God bless you for each of you meant, and continue to mean to me. Wherever you are.....Happy Father's Day.

Please...if your father or grandfather are still living, don't wait to tell them how much you love them. Another Father's Day isn't guaranteed to any of us.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Question. Which will last longer....fm, or am? BUZZZZZZZ!!! Time's up! If you answered fm, you are wrong. But then if you answered am, you're also wrong. The correct answer? Am and fm will die simultaneously. And in the near future. Perhaps a moment of silent meditation is in order while we contemplate the demise of these lifelong friends.

That's enough No sense crying over spilled milk. Especially since the corner grocery has a fresh carton...with a later expiration date.

The same principle applies to radio. Only the "corner grocery" is that wonderful, capitalist invention we call the free market. And the "fresh carton" is a whole new form of radio broadcasting, characterized by cd quality sound, and virtual elimination of the familiar forms of interference listeners take for granted. Since it's digital, tomorrow's radio broadcasts will either reproduce perfectly...with a silent background and no distortion, or you won't receive them at all. There will be no gradual degradation of signal quality as you drive away a favorite station. At some point it will simply go away. Imagine....full digital fidelity from one end of a station's coverage area to the other.

There are a couple of caveats here, however. First, even though there are digital broadcasting systems for both fm and am stations, am will still be at a disadvantage. Fm radio stations are allowed to occupy many times more space on the radio dial, so with digital radio they'll be able to broadcast a far higher data rate...which means better sound quality and a more robust signal. Don't fret though. The am system is GOOD. I've heard them both, and both sound FAR better than what we're used to. It's just that, once again, fms will have an edge. Who said life was fair?

The other problem is that before you can enjoy the improved quality, you'll have to buy a new radio. No current radio will receive digital broadcasts. Annoying? Sure. But certainly not too big an obstacle to overcome. Just look at how cds all but wiped lps from the face of the Earth in the 80s. Since most people spend far more time listening to radio than playing recordings, the transition to digital radio should go even faster.

You may not realize it, but the nation's radio stations have been preparing for the digital future for some time now. At WIFM we've been doing all of our commercial and other production work digitally at cd quality for two years now. And some of the things you'd expect to see cluttering a radio station control room...notably various types of audio tape are missing from ours. There still are tape machines. But they're almost never used. On my five hour morning show I typically play tape for a total of about ten seconds. It's a recording of applause during "Name that tune" at 7:45 in the morning. The only reason I use tape is that the computer in the control room can't play two "files" or recordings at once, so I play the theme music from the computer, and the applause from tape. Every other time you hear applause on my show it is from the computer's hard drive. Our cartridge tape machines which used to be the workhorses of our studios now are used for SECONDS PER DAY!!!

Other changes are taking place as well. Broadcast equipment manufacturers are falling over themselves trying to replace everything a signal flows through on it's way to your radio with a shiny new DIGITAL model. From microphones (yes they're developing digital MICROPHONES) and audio consoles, all the way through microwave links and transmitters, analog is out, and digital is in. Many General Managers are convinced by a sales pitch as simple as "everything you replace now is something you won't have to replace later when you go digital".

And don't worry about not being able to receive your local stations when digital radio arrives. There will be a transition period in which stations broadcast both an old fashioned "analog" (fm or am) signals as well as the new cd quality digital one. This period will certainly last a few years. But at some point in the not distant future, every am and fm transmitter will be turned off. For good. Knowing that does make me a little sad. I suppose sentimentality comes with age. After all, I never parted with my old lps either.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Passion

In life it's important to feel passion. Everyone should. That rush of pleasure when you are with that special person, or doing that special activity you do just for yourself is INTOXICATING.

Some people are by nature passionate. These are the ones I trust. I can understand them. Because I'm one of them.

Passion is a necessary part of the creative process. Artistic creativity at it's core is designed to make you FEEL something. Perhaps it's the peace of a tranquil country landscape. The heat of a smoky, lustful song passing the lips of a singer that can just tear your heart out. Or a commentary on the radio from someone who knows how to push each and every button, controlling your emotions as a puppeteer controls his "actors". Paul Harvey is an excellent example of that. Whether you agree with his politics or not (I often don't), you must admire the artistry with which he makes you FEEL.

Performance art (music, the spoken word, even RADIO) is more emotionally risky than other art forms. Because the performance is happening in real time, before real people, the feedback is often immediate. Your performance is either accepted or rejected. And I'm convinced that a need to be accepted drives all performers. Not JUST to be loved. That's too easy You can simply do what the other person expects. No challenge in that. And no risk. To perform in your own unique way, expressing points of view that aren't in the mainstream, and convincing the audience that they should change their minds, that their preconceived notions aren't the whole story...that your unique take on life IS valid...now that's a challenge. To do that, AND receive love and acceptance is ART.

Even if you hate the idea expressed in the art, if a passionate feeling is invoked in you, the artist was successful. Even if it means that you passionately disagree, or even disapprove, the goal of making you FEEL has been achieved.

In performance art, because the audience is right there before you (and they certainly are in radio...you hear from them on the studio lines immediately), if you've taken them to one of those controversial places...expressing feelings they may be in utter disagreement with, it's important to bring them back. And quickly. The most effective way to do this on radio is...with a punch line.

Here's an example "President Clinton says he's shocked at the implications of human cloning, and believes limits on the research should be immediately imposed. Personally, I think he's being hasty. Yes it's controversial, but there also are some real potential advantages to cloning......" (I've taken a very emotional topic, and raised the temperature even higher by seemingly putting a controversial personal spin on it. Here's how to bring the audience back around). "I mean with cloning you could turn just one Al Gore into an entire forest!"

See what I mean? The emotional buttons were pushed, a rise was gotten out of the audience, and then a simple punch line snaps them back...invoking perhaps the greatest emotional release of all. Laugher.

But perhaps you didn't find it funny. Perhaps you were even offended. If this had been the case, and you were listening, I'm sure you wouldn't have been shy about picking up the phone and telling me. Trust me...it would hurt. Because I passionately believe in my work, and put much of myself into it. That's the risk of performing.The risk of PASSION. In every passionate persuit the risk is as great as the reward. The risk of rejection.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Who are we?

It occurs to me that there are many folks reading this column who aren't familiar with our radio station. After all "What's in it to me?" goes to many communities that have stations of their own. You may not have stumbled across us yet. If that's the case, allow me a few sentences to convince you that you should. I think you'll agree that WIFM is a unique station that offers many rewards to our listeners.

WIFM is an fm radio station. That's something of an understatement. We were one of the country's first fm stations. Most of the fms up and down your dial came to be in the sixties or even the seventies. Not WIFM. When fm broadcasting got it's new home (after a brief pre-war experimental period on a completely different band of frequencies) after World War II, WIFM was one of the first stations to hit the airwaves. Signing on in 1949, we beat most of our competitors to the punch by decades.

Since 1995 WIFM has been owned by FSA Broadcasting, which has brought about MAJOR upgrades to facilities and programming. We moved into our lovely, state of the art studios on North Bridge Street in Elkin in August of '95 after 46 years in the old "closet" on Elk Spur Street. A lot of memories (and ghosts) still inhabit the old building.

WIFM's signal conservatively reaches sixteen counties....Surry, Wilkes, Yadkin, Forsyth, Iredell, Davie, Stokes, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Watauga, Mitchell, and Yancy in North Carolina, plus Patrick, Carroll, and Grayson counties in Virginia.

WIFM is a 24 hour a day source for music...the greatest hits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as numerous local newscasts from 5:55am though 10:55pm each day. We also are an ABC Radio affiliate with news at the top of each hour from 6am till 10pm, and America's number one radio host...Paul Harvey. You can hear Paul's "News and Comment" each weekday morning at 8:30, and the extended fifteen minute broadcast at 12:06pm Monday through Saturday. Plus there's "The Rest of the Story" weekday afternoons at 4:05, and Saturday mornings at 8:30.

We've got sports too...do we ever! This fall WIFM becomes the Flagship Station of the Appalachian State University Mountaineers...carrying every single football and basketball game, plus selected women's games as well. We also are home to the Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Hornets, and this fall continue our tradition of High School Football coverage as well.

Add to that the world of Nascar Winston Cup racing on "The World of Racing" with Mark Garrow weekday mornings at 8:05 and afternoons at 5:30.

Then there's local sports with Dustin Atkinson Weekday mornings at 7:30. If a game was played, we'll have the score.

There are fun and exciting contests too...including "Name That Tune" weekday mornings at 7:45, "TV Tunes" and "Bogus Headlines" at various times during "The Mike Walker Morning Show" and the area's original "Trivia" program weekdays during the 10am hour.

What's important

What's most important to you? There was a time recently when I would've told you that my career was at the top of the list. No more. Life has taught me a couple of hard lessons recently. Deaths of cherished family members, and problems with my own health have helped me to understand the wisdom of the old saying "if you don't have your health, nothing else matters".

As I am writing this I am well into my third straight week of poor health. Summer flu tuned to a sinus infection...with high fever, even fainting spells. This climaxed in my being rushed to the emergency room at Wilkes Regional Medical Center two Sundays ago. They even wanted to admit me. But I am not comfortable in hospitals. So I convinced them to let me recover at home. Which is what I've been trying to do ever since. The worst part for me is that I've lost my voice. For someone who does what I do, I can't tell you how much this frustrates and depresses me. It's been gone for about a week now. I thought it was coming back last Friday, but a weekend relapse took it away once more. Of course this isn't the first time it's happened. In twenty three years on the air my health has been through many ups and downs. It isn't even the worst case of laryngitis I've had. Once in the early 80s an extended bout with pneumonia took my voice from me for a MONTH. Fortunately the man I worked for was a dear friend, and he understood...taking me off the air until my voice healed. If I survived that, I can survive this too. But it's tough. And I'm quite self conscious about it. Embarrassed too...each time I open a microphone.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've had an epiphany of sorts. I've come to realize that each day of health is a precious gift from God. Our bodies are capable of causing us incredible torment. So when everything works right, and nothing hurts, we should be thankful...for one of the greatest gifts of all. The gift of health. Here's wishing good health to you and your family.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Our best friends

How do you measure the value of friendship? A friend who knows all about you, and loves you faults and all, is a wonderful thing. In my younger days I made the mistake of "blowing off" friends for reasons such as...."can't stand his wife!!!", "he steals on air bits from ME. Couldn't he think of a better source?", or even "HE USED MY HEADPHONES WITHOUT PERMISSION!!!"

With maturity I've realized that none of these are adequate reasons for ending a friendship, although I must confess I still don't like to share my headphones!!! I suppose even close friendships can be weakened, even dissolved by a variety of things. But there's one bond that can NEVER be broken. A bond of love that truly is unconditional, and lifelong. I'm talking about the love of a pet. Can you remember a special pet who has brought you such unconditional love? Perhaps a dog from long ago who loved you no matter what your mood, or how often you forgot to take him for a walk, even when you lost your temper. Remember how it melted your heart when you blew your top at your dog, and he whimpered in apology to you, assuming it must've been HIS fault? That's a character trait remarkably rare in humans!

I've had pets nearly continuously since I was a small child. From my dog "Tar", a gift to me the summer of my tenth birthday who seventeen years later put his head in my lap, professed his love for me, and said good-bye just before he died, to another childhood pet who survived until I was a young adult "Gertrude", a cranky, lovable, playful goat, animals have perpetually been a part of my "family".

There was Barry, my first and ONLY St. Bernard...all 200 pounds of him. He was the most adorable puppy you've ever seen...like a walking teddy bear. I still remember the sheer joy Barry got from running free in the snow. He'd stumble and fall head over rump, get up, shake himself off, and run some more. Barry was also a collector. On walks he picked up "treasures" he found along the way, and brought them back to his house. Some days he would retrieve an apple core, others a large stick. Different things caught his eye according to the day's mood. But few were the walks that didn't also become "treasure hunts". Barry died in the summer of 1986, just after his sixth birthday. A stomach ailment struck suddenly early one hot, steamy morning. By the time we got him to the "hospital" he had massive internal bleeding, and died a short time later.

Unfortunately sad endings are an inevitable part of pet stories. But not all of my critter stories end sadly. At least not yet! Our current family includes Megan, and eleven year old Chow whom we adore. She's the most independent dog you've ever seen. Her personality is quite "cat like"...she must have her way! Or so she thinks. Fortunately we've learned techniques for letting her think she's getting her way when in fact she's doing what we planned in the first place. Want to take her to the vet? Put on her leash and pretend it's time for a walk, casually strolling by the car. When she stops and INSISTS on going for a ride, she's sure the trip was her idea!

Also rooming at the "Boomer Zoo" you'll find Tiffany, a ten year old shaded-silver Persian who's afraid of her own shadow! This cat was born for one reason and one reason only...to be cuddled! She truly is a baby. Then there's Chester, a scrawny stray kitten my wife picked up by the roadside two years ago. He matured into an incredibly gorgeous long haired tabby with a heart of gold, and an eye for mischief. No feet are safe when Chester's around. Just try walking past him barefoot! My other "child" is Lincoln, a Blue Front Amazon Parrot who turns ten this November. Lincoln came to live with us as a helpless baby who needed hand-feeding with spoon and baby bottle. Not long after we got him he became quite ill, having to be hospitalized for two weeks. His odds of survival looked quite grim for a while, but he began to recover just as my father passed away. His survival instantly came to represent hope to me during the most painful time of my life. I still think of my dad whenever I play with Lincoln. There's a special bond between us that you just wouldn't understand. Unless you've felt it with a "surrogate child" of your own. In which case you've experienced firsthand the unconditional love that comes only from a pet.

Thanks for the many pet owners who have shared their photos of "family members" for the special pet issue of "What's In It For Me?" I hope you enjoy them as much as we have.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

How's your reception?

When you work in a radio station, you are asked MANY things. One category of question I've noticed being asked a LOT over the last few years goes something like this..."I've been listening to you guys for years, but suddenly I can't get you clearly. There's just a bunch of noise. What's wrong?" I always greet questions such as this with a series of questions of my own. The first is always "what kind of radio are you using?" What I'm asking isn't brand but type...i.e. clock radio, boom box, component stereo, computer radio card, walkman, etc. What difference does it make? Plenty! Each of these types of radio has a different t kind of antenna. And the antenna of each needs to be oriented differently to achieve best results.

If the radio in use is a clock radio or walkman, I'm usually informed that "it doesn't have an antenna...it's a clock radio/walkman." WRONG. Every radio uses an antenna. Without it, you'd receive nothing but hiss and static. The antenna is the single most important component in a radio receiver, because signal lost at the antenna can never be compensated for elsewhere. A signal is either received cleanly, or it isn't. If the antenna isn't sufficient to capture the signal cleanly, even the fanciest receiver won't produce adequate results from your favorite stations. What follows is information about the kinds of antennas used in various types of radios, and how to achieve the best results with each.

With clock radios the power cord doubles as the fm antenna. That owner's manual you discarded without reading told you all about it (just kidding). Best results will be obtained when the cord is extended in a straight line, with no curling, and no knots. *If reception of a favorite station suddenly changes drastically, it can almost always be traced to the position of the power cord/antenna having been moved. Simply turn the radio on, and experiment with placement until you get the best reception. In almost every case when a listener reports that we're suddenly "gone", and they are using the clock radio, it has been moved. Reorienting the cord is all it takes to fix the problem.

With a walkman type radio the headphone cord functions as the antenna (this was also covered in the manual you tossed on Christmas morning...tee hee). You may have noticed that fm reception can change quite a bit as you move around...particularly if you're more than twenty five miles from the station you're listening to. This problem is exaggerated by hilly terrain...the kind we have around here. The problem is "multipath". Ideally the radio signal should travel in a straight line from the radio station's transmitting antenna into your radio's receiving antenna, without being deformed, or "distorted" by objects between the two, In reality, particularly in our area, once you're more than twenty five miles from a radio station's transmitter, the signal has bounced off multiple objects (mountains, hills, buildings, your cousin Fred) before reaching the radio. Worse still, in most cases your radio will be receiving a little bit of the direct signal, plus increasingly smaller amounts of SEVERAL reflections of that signal from objects of varying distances. These signals arriving from multiple paths (hence the name "multipath") compete with one another alternately adding and subtracting signal content, causing distortion and "picket fencing" (the nickname for a type of fm interference that sounds like "fft, fft, fft, fft"). How do you fix the problem? 1)Move your antenna (headphone cord) until the signal clears up, and then don't move it. Kind of defeats the purpose of a walkman, huh? 2)Move to another location. Often moving just a few feet within a room can make an enormous difference in radio reception...particularly if you move nearer to a window. 3)Try getting higher. If you're on the ground floor of a building, try going to the second or third floor. The higher you get, the more likely you are to be in the direct path of the transmitting antenna. If all else fails, try moving within that "magic" twenty five mile radius of the transmitting antenna where reception varies very little with antenna orientation.

With a boom box the fm antenna is the silver rod that extends from the top or back of the unit. Fully extend and rotate it around the horizontal axis of the radio until you achieve the best results. It's tempting to just pull the antenna straight up and forget about it. But this will almost never bring you the clearest reception. With the antenna tilted at an angel, it becomes directional. Rotating a direction antenna helps maximize signal quality, and minimize interference. In the "straight up" position, it will receive signals equally from all directions, allowing the bad to mix with the good. Improper orientation of the antenna again is almost always the cause of poor reception.

On a home component stereo system you have the opportunity for the best results of all. Since the receiver is stationary, the signal isn't constantly varying as is the case with a walkman or car radio. And since home installations are usually at least semi-permanent, you are free to erect a much better fixed position antenna system. Best of all is an outdoor antenna on a rotor, just like the ones used for tv. If you still have one, you're already ahead of the game. Buy an "antenna splitter" from Radio Shack, and run a cable to both your tv antenna terminals, and those on your receiver. If fm reception is still poorer than you expected, it's possible that your antenna has an "fm trap" designed to keep strong local radio stations from interfering with tv reception. Depending on t he antenna this can be either removed, or switched out of the circuit for best results.

If you don't currently have an outdoor tv antenna, and simply want to listen to fm, there are dedicated fm antennas that have a slight edge over the "all in one" tv/fm combination units. Radio Shack has an excellent unit that sells for only 19.95, and is claimed to receive fm signals from as far away as 110 miles. Ratings such as those should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism however, because reception distance can be affected by many factors. Terrain (as mentioned), height of the radio station's antenna (and to a lesser degree the station's transmitter power), height of your receiving antenna, presence (or absence) of other stations on an adjacent frequency, etc.

If a proper outdoor antenna isn't feasible, here are a couple of other solutions which may work. The first is proper orientation of the "T" antenna that came with your receiver. You know the one...it looks like a piece of tv lead-in wire, because that's exactly what it's made of. If you've simply dropped it on the floor behind your stereo system, you may be amazed at the improvement you get from fully extending it, and tacking it (horizontally) to the wall behind your system. Better, buy a second one of these units, plus an "a/b" switch from Radio Shack, or the electronics store of your choice, and attach one to the "north/south" wall of the room, the other to the "east/west" wall. By selecting either a or b on the switch, you'll be able to choose the antenna that's positioned best for receiving your chosen station. If signals are still too weak (hissy), an "antenna amplifier" may help.

A simpler, though more expensive solution is to purchase an indoor "amplified fm antenna". These usually take the form of a small square, or rectangular box with a couple of knobs on them, and an ac adapter that plugs into the wall. Most electronics stores sell some kind of amplified antenna. The best of them produce results falling roughly midway between the basic wire "T" antenna, and a good outdoor rig.

I hope some of these reception tips prove useful. Perhaps you've thought of some that I neglected, or have some personal experiences you think might be useful. If so, I'd love to hear from you. Write to me c/o WIFM Radio..P.O. Box 1038..Elkin, N.C. 28621. Or you may reach me by e- mail at "RadioGiant@aol.com". I personally answer all e-mail correspondence. Till next time, good luck, and good listening!

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

How good is fm stereo?

Fm stereo has been with us for thirty five years now...since 1962. We enjoy it in our cars, at home, on walkpersons and boom boxes. But just how good is the sound quality? Well, as one who listens to fm through high quality headphones for five hours every morning I've got to tell you...it's better than you think.

With the introduction of the cd player in 1982 we all became aware of the potential (though not always realized) advantages of digital audio. No background noise...nary a tick, pop, or hiss in sight. No audible distortion. Sound quality that's identical from the beginning of a recording to the end (Unlike phonograph records which sound far better at the beginning of an album side than the end because as the stylus travels toward the center of a disc, music must be compressed into far less linear space than at the beginning of a side. Think about it, and the reason should be obvious. With the record spinning at a constant 33 1/3 rpm, there is a much greater distance around the disc at the beginning of a side than the end. So there is greater room to encode all the nuances of music.) Plus there's the undeniable coolness factor of cds. They're just plain fun to use!!! (If you think cds are cool, you ought to try mini-discs. Cds seem like 78 rpm records in your hand after you've used them. But that's another story.)

Fm radio can sound nearly indistinguishable from a cd. That's not just my opinion. Drop by the station sometime and I'll let you compare the sound coming straight from one of our cd players with the signal that has passed all the way through our signal chain, been transmitted through the air, and received on a tuner at our studios. The similarity between what goes in and what comes out might just surprise you. The major differences you hear are actually deliberate. We purposely "compress" our audio slightly to even out differences between loud and soft passages. This accomplishes two things. It keeps average audio levels high in comparison to the noise level...effectively extending our coverage area. And it takes into account the actual conditions under which people listen to radio... noisy cars during rush hour, at low volumes in offices, and while doing other things at home. Notice that you can turn the volume on your radio to a very low level and still hear everything. This is a result of our audio "processing". Try it with a cd on your stereo and you'll quickly understand why it's an important (probably indispensable) part of broadcasting. If done properly, the effect is quite subtle. I should know. I can easily compare "before and after" just by pushing a button in the control room.

If fm is do darn good, why do we hear so much noise and interference sometimes? Because fm is only that good (close to digital) when conditions are ideal. And in the real world of radio reception, they often aren't. Probably the worst possible environment for radio reception happens to be the place where a huge percentage of it is done. Moving cars. Reception conditions constantly change from good to horrible and back again, as signals bounce off mountains, buildings, you name it on their way to your antenna. Interestingly, for all it's virtues, plain old am radio has some real advantages in a moving car. It can be quite noisy of course. But there are some kinds of distortion unique to fm reception that just don't affect am because the frequencies used in fm broadcasting are a hundred times higher. The much lower am frequency spectrum simply isn't as terrain sensitive. I guess we had to give up something for a medium with low noise, frequency response as wide as the hearing of most adults, and that easily accommodates stereo while leaving room for even more information to be transmitted. These "extra" transmissions take the form of background music, paging services, talking books for the blind, and other uses that some fm stations put their extra "subcarriers" to. My only experience with s.c.a. (or subsidiary communications authority...the legal term for these fm "extras") was rather bad. A station I worked at in the late 70s had a background music service. And these transmissions interfered with the main stereo music programming by producing high frequency noises that could easily be heard. These are called "birdies" because they sound vaguely like birds chirping. They're quite disturbing to anyone who cares about sound quality. I know that equipment manufacturers have improved performance in this area quite a bit. But still when someone says "s.c.a." I think "birdies".

So if you have assembled a quality stereo system, but don't have a lot of money for cds, don't fret. Fm radio is a treasure chest of free music, entertainment, news, sports, etc. with audio quality that need not apologize to any other medium. So transparent is the sound quality of fm that the improvement when we upgraded the cd players in our control room a few months ago was immediately apparent to everyone. Listeners even called to comment. And if you can hear (through everything a signal goes through) the quality differences between cd players, the basic quality of the system must be quite high. It is. Especially with a quality tuner or receiver and a good antenna. I'd recommend a good pair of headphones too...my favorite way to listen. Enjoy!!!!

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Mid-life already?

I know everyone is supposed to go through a mid-life crisis. That time in our lives when the reality of our own mortality hits. And we realize that a large percentage of our time on Earth is behind us. Which brings us to ask the unavoidable (though hardly original) question "What have I done with my life?"

On balance questioning our choices, re-evaluating our lives, and making changes based upon what we discover from that evaluation is important. We are capable of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth. All we have to do is exercise the old "muscles". But the unfortunate fact is that, instead of growth, this self-examination can lead to self pity, and much time wasted wallowing in the past. Not that a little wallowing is such a bad thing. God knows I've done my share of it lately.

Strangely enough, my latest excursion into mental (backward) time travel has been brought about by the reunion of Fleetwood Mac. These five people were such a part of my youth that I feel I know them. I know it's silly, but through their music, interviews I've heard/watched/read, it feels as if they're friends of mine. Listening to the new cd "The Dance" actually brought tears to my eyes (what can I say, I'm a sentimental fool anyway). After hearing them again (in excellent voice, playing very tightly as a unit...and having a ball doing it), and hearing how the years had matured, and changed them, I couldn't escape images of my own past. The first time I heard "Say You Love Me" on the am radio in my black '72 Chevy SS. What a car. What a song. What a wonderful time to be alive. And young.

After Fleetwood Mac finished, the cd changer switched to "Dreamboat Annie" by Heart. WOW. What a trip. I had such a crush on Ann Wilson. Still do, I must confess. Her voice oozes passion. What wonderful pipes! Without question the most powerful female voice in rock and roll. And those songs bring such a flood of memories. Hearing "Magic Man" on the car radio (same Chevy) on the way to a "hot date". Ummm. It's like it was yesterday. As I listen now I'm hearing "Soul of the Sea". Great tune. Heck, I may even pull out "Court and Spark" by Joni Mitchell and complete the "lonely teenager locked in his room" experience.

Don't get me wrong. I have no desire to return to the past. Unlike many people my age and older, I believe things are getting BETTER. It's only the fact that we must lose so much to get where we're going (the future) that breaks my heart. Friends. Family. Our youth. Innocence. All of these fade to memories. But what sweet memories...so easily triggered by something as simple as a song on the radio. Which is one of the things I so love about my job. Knowing that this emotional connection that music has to each of our lives can be SHARED....beamed invisibly through thin air. And reminding me that, no matter what I lose, I am not alone. You're there. And for that I am more grateful than you can imagine.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

We didn't know them

The tragic death of Princess Diana has brought to mind a curious phenomenon. Most everyone this week has mourned Diana, prayed for her children, and wondered about her family's future. But there's something else most of us have in common. We feel as if we knew her. Just listen to your friends and co-workers talk about Di. "She was such a good mother", "She didn't deserve the treatment she got from Charles", "She only wanted to do good things with her life", "She sought publicity only to further causes she believed in, and to help others". Oh yeah? How do you know? Think about it. All of the typical "quotes" above are things we could really only know about someone we actually know. Was she a good mother? Only her family and close friends really know that. We saw only glimpses, and then only when she knew she was being watched. Was she a helpless victim in the demise of her marriage, or were her (destructive) contributions equal to Charles'? Before you answer remember the question that must be asked. How do you know?

I think the truth is that we don't know. Because, in truth, we didn't know her. The false sense of intimacy created by constant media coverage merely made us feel as if we did. But whether through attention sought by Diana, or created by the press without her consent, none of our "knowlege" of her was unfiltered (by others' points of view) in a way that input from a real friend is.

Of course Princess Diana isn't the only public figure we feel we knew. From Harry Truman to Princess Grace, J.F.K. to Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis to Marilyn Monroe, we all have images of certain famous people's personalities/likes/dislikes/character traits that are nearly as vivid as those of our real friends. Those whose words we hear, whose thoughts we share, and whose flesh we touch in real life.

Is there an exception to this "Don't assume you know them" rule? I believe there is. Radio. REAL radio involves a personality putting himself/herself on public display, warts and all. If after "visiting" with a personality day after day you don't know their spouse's name, political affiliation, taste in music, favorite movies, sense of humor, kind of car they drive, etc. then they're not really a personality. It doesn't take a private investigator to determine if a personality is really being straight with you, really sharing their unique perspective on life, really including you in their world. All of us have built in b.s. meters. If we're not getting the real thing, we can tell. From Paul Harvey to (wash my mouth out) Howard Stern, real personalities give you a "piece of themselves" every time they open the microphone. As is their sacred duty. Because anyone can pop in a cd or cassette and play music. If that's all radio offers, then it's superfluous. What radio is better at providing than any other medium is intimacy. A favorite radio show should be like a daily visit with a friend. Accept nothing less, and we who enjoy this most intimate of media, will all be better for it.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Righteous Indignation

I have a theory. When we are most passionate about something, when we most believe we are right, when that righteous indignation has a good head of steam, that's when we are often most wrong.

Have you ever been so convinced that you were right about something that your mind couldn't even entertain the possibility that you might be wrong, only to discover that you you were wrong? Short of zippers and buttons that aren't positioned as you'd thought, isn't that the most embarrassing thing possible?

Here is an example of how I've been completely wrong when I was sure I was right. How often have you heard that the new millennium is coming up in just three years? January 1st of the year 2000...or so we're told. A couple of years ago a listener began arguing with me on the air that the new millennium began in 2001, not 2000. "That's ridiculous" I replied, certain that nobody could possibly believe that and be sane. Then the station's private line rang. It was the General Manager, who pointed out to me that Christ's first year on Earth was year ONE, and that 2000 years from that is 2001, not 2000. Since there was never a year ZERO, the new millennium in fact CANNOT begin in 2000. The listener was right. And I was self righteous. And loud. And WRONG!!! The worst part was that I had to admit it on the air and then proceed with four more hours of programming. I know the average listener's attention wasn't frozen in time at that moment when I'd been proven wrong...but mine was. And my confidence was badly shaken. Which is one of the worst things that can happen to an on air performer.

We hear others being loud, passionate, AND wrong all the time. From the poor talk show caller expressing ridiculous opinions with absolute conviction, to members of a group representing only a small segment of the population who are convinced that because of their beliefs all of America should boycott a product/service, the world is full of wrong people who are sure they're right. Not that boycotts are a bad thing. In fact, they're quite admirable...the way things should be done: voting with our pocketbooks instead of through legislation and the courts. I'm suspicious by nature...but often most suspicious of those who think laws affecting everyone, even basic constitutional freedoms should be changed or tossed aside just because they're so sure they're right that nobody else's opinion need even be considered.

What's the point? Why am I hung up on this particular subject? Because it seems to come up and bite me at regular intervals...and without warning. And, as Murphy's law would have it, it always seems to happen when I think I'm doing my best work. A recent example...one day last week I did a (I thought) stupid, harmless joke that was really just a play on words....which I often do because I enjoy playing with words. "Did you hear about the dyslexic traveler?" the joke begins. "Went to the store to buy maps, but kept coming home with Spam." Short, silly, and harmless...or so I thought. A listener disagreed. "Mr. Walker" the caller exclaimed, "don't you realize that dyslexia is a REAL learning disability, and that many people's feelings were just hurt?". "Well....yes and no" came my reply. "Yes I know that dyslexia is a real problem. But no I don't think many people's feelings were hurt. The line was obviously done in fun. The pun was a wordplay, not a slam at dyslexic people."

It seems obvious to me that 1)-I meant NO harm, and 2)-MOST humor is at someone, or something's expense. From The Three Stooges and Burns and Allen to Seinfeld, listen and see if some person or group isn't the butt of almost EVERY joke. Particularly the ones that are funny. And there's nothing WRONG with that. Especially if the group was used only as a setup device to explain the premise, and facilitate the punchline.

We all need to lighten up. Geez....I'm visually impaired (legally blind), but certainly not above blind jokes. I'm a Democrat, but not above taking a few stabs at them too. If you can't recognize and shine a light on the absurdities of your own group, (in my opinion) you have no integrity. The other morning to give "time off from blonde jokes" I did stupid man jokes. I'm definitely one of them. But pointing out some of the foibles of the masculine gender didn't hurt me (or anyone else I'm sure) a bit, and (in my opinion) was FUNNY. A joke that puts down someone for the sake of it IS offensive. But a joke that singles out a particular individual or group to offer a unique twist, and facilitate laughter is fundamental to humor. And I'm convinced that it can't exist without it. Certainly not on my show. I'm absolutely certain that I'm right. But then, so was the caller. And you know what? One of us isn't.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

The 70s

The seventies was an important decade for me. I got my driver's license, had my first date, first kiss, first girlfriend, first broken heart, got married, graduated from high school and college, and voted in my first presidential election all during the decade of country rock, southern rock, disco, and punk. My radio career began in the seventies too, in August of 1974, here at WIFM. Since my part-time position became full-time in 1975, my senior year in high school I also somehow squeezed in a fifty plus hour work week. I didn't sleep much that year, but I sure had fun.

In 1974 WIFM AM was the "primary" station....the big money maker. It was the station that played rock music, hosted Open Mike, Paul Harvey, and the races on Sunday afternoons. The FM station was kind of supplemental to the AM. It simulcast part of the time (carried the same programming), and switched over to become the "primary" station when the AM wasn't on the air....such as early mornings and nights. WIFM AM was a daytime station, only authorized to operate between local sunrise and local sunset. The FM filled in for the AM when it was down. This was not unusual in small market radio. In those days the majority of radio listening was still on the AM band, with FMs left to "nibble at the crumbs" so to speak.

A typical broadcast day at the WIFM of 1974 began at 5:58am when radio silence was broken (on FM anyway) with the national anthem, followed by ABC News. At 6:05 "The Good Morning Show" began with Leon Reece...segueing into "Open Mike" at 6:30. For the first few years of it's existence "Open Mike" was a half hour show....from 6:30-7:00am. Twenty five minutes actually. Ralph Shaw did the local news at 6:55. "The Good Morning Show" resumed from 7am till 8. At times ranging from 6 to 7:45amdepending on the time of local sunrise) the AM station signed on, and simulcast Leon's program. Note that. ABC News at the top of the hour, and local news at :55 are still staples of WIFM programming, unchanged in more than two decades. Like they say....if it ain't broke, don't fix it!! We do, however, offer more local news broadcasts now than in years past. The first at 5:55am, a time when we weren't even on the air prior to going 24 hours in 1995.

At 8am Alan Combs took over the microphone on WIFM AM. Simulcasting ended at 8am with rock music programming continuing on AM, and country(!) taking over on FM. The country music came from hour long reel to reel tapes. Alan ran both stations. In the unlikely event that a commercial was scheduled on FM, he would run into the FM studio, interrupt the taped country music, and play it. Pretty slick, huh? NOT!!! But remember, FM was the, er, illegitimate child of the radio industry. It wasn't until the early eighties that FM and AM reached audience parity nationally.

 

At 12 noon Chuck Kenney's show began (on AM), and Wade Chappell began a live five hour GOSPEL music program on FM. At 5pm the gospel listeners got a rude awakening as rock music blasted from the same radios that only minutes earlier had played their favorite hymn. Sound like a weird mix? It WAS. I thought so at the time. BUT since there were fewer stations in those days, small market outlets tried to offer something for everybody with so called "block" programming (a block of one thing, followed by a block of another). Today's more sophisticated listeners expect a station to "make up it's mind already", decide what it's image is, and stick with it. This formula is followed not just in large markets, but in small ones as well. Finally station owners as well as programmers learned that "block" programming annoys EVERYONE!!!

At 5pm either Gilvin Couch (prior to 1975) or I (1975-1977) took the microphone until 12 midnight. I was a part-time announcer prior to Gilvin's departure in '75, taking the night show full-time after he left. There was some variation in this....for a time I worked 7 to midnight on and worked in the office on Saturday mornings for the brief time we kept Saturday office hours. Gilvin, by the way, is now the Chief Engineer at ABC 45 TV in Winston Salem.

In 1976 Chuck and Alan left the station, and a husband and wife were both hired. Russ Pomeroy and Karen Kelly were dear friends of mine. Karen, now a minister in Greensboro remains close, as was Russ prior to his death several years ago.

Karen lead our sales effort, and was a natural....warmly received by everyone she met. Russ did the 8am-12noon slot on the AM station, and sold and produced commercials in the afternoons and evenings. Russ was a guiding light to me, opening my mind to the possibilities of audio production. In those days WIFM had no dedicated production studio, so commercials were produced in the AM studio in the evenings after it signed off. This made for some long days, with various staff members filing in each evening to produce commercials that had been sold. But it also made for a spirit of great fellowship. We all got o know and love each other, becoming great friends in a way that I think is rare these days. Some evenings I was on the air doing my show, Karen was in the "live studio" voicing a commercial that was being produced by Russ, Ralph Shaw was in the newsroom digging up stories, and a couple of friends/girlfriends (his, mine, or both) were chatting in the corner somewhere. These were FUN DAYS. Days I shall never forget, nor (sadly) likely repeat.

In future columns I'll write more of my recollections from the 70s, and other former employees will share their own experiences dating back to the station's birth in 1949.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

The way things sound

Some people are visually oriented. They study the lines, angles, and colors of all that surrounds them. They observe the motion of objects in nature....leaves in the wind, clouds sweeping across the sky, flocks of birds flying overhead. They look for patterns...for visible evidence that their world isn't random, but has some meaning.

Others are more captivated by sounds they hear. I count myself in this group. Although I have spent much of my life obsessed with the visual (a filmmaker from age 12, my diminished vision forced me to put my camera away a few years ago), today it's sounds that most catch my attention. I listen intently to everything. When I walk to lunch I sometimes close my eyes, and concentrate on the sounds of the cars passing by. I can stand facing the road and, in busy traffic, keep track of how many and what types (large/small/car/truck) of vehicles are approaching. I'm usually quite good at it...as I confirm by opening my eyes to verify what my ears have told me.

As I walk I count footsteps, and pay careful attention to how different they sound on different surfaces...cement sidewalks, asphalt parking lots, gravel driveways, lawns littered with newly fallen leaves. Each has a different texture and sound. Each door sounds different when opened, each knob squeaking and scraping in it's own unique way. I store these sounds in my memory to use as reference points when doing audio production work. If you is going to try to recreate sound "effects" in a commercial, it's crucial to be familiar with the sound in it's natural state. Then you may either choose to capture it accurately, or (more often), enhance it....bringing out some particularly interesting characteristics, while suppressing less important ones. Sounds are routinely "shaped" and "colored" during production to ensure that each occupies only the intended "space" in the final mix. This is what a record producer does when recording your favorite musicians.

Today's audio equipment can capture sound with incredible accuracy. Not just in "spectral" terms.....from the lowest bass to the highest treble, but also in "spatial" terms...by which I mean placing sounds where they belong....in front of and to the left, straight ahead of, behind, or swirling around the listener. These "spatial" treats are run of the mill stuff for Dolby Pro Logic equipped theaters and home theater systems. Movies have been encoded with this "surround" sound information for more than twenty years. Now an increasing number of tv and RADIO programming is surround encoded as well. Producing this area's first surround sound commercials has occupied much of my time in our production studio. I know...most listening is still in stereo or (even) mono. But the sheer number of home theater systems....virtually all with fm tuners...causes something in me to scream "GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO! AND DO IT BEFORE THE COMPETITION FIGURES OUT HOW!"

So with all this technology, reproduced sound is coming closer and closer to reality, right? Truthfully (and much to the dismay of audio purists), the answer is NO. Instead of using audio advancements like noise and distortion free digital recording, and spatially engulfing surround sound to more closely simulate real life, the majority of audio producers instead choose to create "virtual" environments which they consider to be BIGGER, LOUDER, BASSIER, CRISPER, MORE FULLY SEPARATED, even BETTER than real life. They think most of us prefer it that way. And my hunch is that they (we) are right.

If you've gotten into home theater, or seen a film lately in a state of the air cinema (such as some of the ones in our area with digital sound), you know that when a truck drives by (for instance), the bass rumble will massage your tummy. I just returned from a long walk down North Bridge Street in Elkin, during which many trucks drove by. And not a single one sounded like that.

A commercial with Dustin Atkinson's voice just played on my radio. His voice was BIG, and FULL with powerful bass...yet crisp, with every syllable clearly defined. Dustin and I had a conversation a few minutes ago. And he didn't like that. Sure, you could tell it was the same voice. But that BIGGER THAN LIFE sound was obviously the result of deliberate "enhancement" in the production process. You should see what I do to my voice when producing. Of course if you did, I'd have to shoot you.

Among the most "doctored" of all audio media are the popular music recordings we hear on the radio, and buy to listen to at home. Every recording of rock, country, electronic jazz, contemporary Christian, southern gospel, easy listening, or any other type of music recorded on a "multitrack" recorder, and mixed down later is HEAVILY "enhanced". Individual voices are tweaked for maximum impact. The tonal quality of musical instruments is tailored to prevent their competing with voices for the same sonic "space". No thought is given as to where performers stood during recording sessions. Instead a virtual soundstage is created by the engineer as he/she manipulates knobs to place the lead singer, bass drum, and kick drum front and center, harmony voices spreading out to each side, and accompanying instruments in a 180 degree arc behind the vocalists. None of these spatial relationships existed in real life. But all are quite vivid when heard on the radio, or your cd player. Only purely acoustic music such as classical and acoustic jazz routinely escapes these "enhancement" techniques.

Is electronically manipulating sound wrong? I don't think so. No matter how much we like to close our eyes and fantasize while listening, live and electronically reproduced music are different experiences. So different that accurately recorded sound would probably appeal to us far less than sound that takes into consideration actual listening circumstances. But whether you are involved in production of recorded sound, or simply want to achieve the best results in your listening environment, it's important to remember the way things sound in real life. Otherwise, how can you fully appreciate the quality of sound reproduction made possible by today's technology?

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

An act of faith

Doing a daily radio show is an act of faith. Thousands of people may be listening. And the Earth's rotation may have reversed, then corrected itself while I slept last night. As I sit at my computer I can prove neither. But I have faith that one is true, and the other isn't.

An air personality must make a leap of faith each time he/she opens the microphone. The personality must believe that not only are people listening, but that he or she has some special insight into what they are listening for. What would please them, fulfill some need, amuse, excite, or even incite them? The intuition of a gifted radio personality guides him or her toward the target (pushing the listener's emotion "buttons"), as surely as the guidance system in one of Uncle Sam's smart bombs flies it through the window of an Iraqi building BOOM!!! A direct hit. Nothing is more satisfying. At least nothing it would be polite to discuss.

I'm often asked by young people considering radio as a career what they can expect from the business. The truth is (and it's seldom believed until experienced first hand) years of sacrifice for very little financial gain, and a payoff (for a fortunate few) in the form of a job where your talents are appreciated, and for which you are fairly compensated. Most who enter broadcasting never find such a job, and leave the business for something easier. A bitter pill for a fresh faced youngster to swallow? Indeed. But it is the truth. Let me share with you some of my experiences, which I believe are fairly typical of those (few) who've actually stayed in the business, and never given up their dreams, even after decades of abuse.

In 1974 minimum wage was 2.35 an hour. That's what I got. And if they could've paid me less, they would have. For this princely sum I worked weekends, every holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc.) In fact, of the 23 years I've been in radio, I've worked about seventeen Christmases. And I didn't mind. It was an act of faith. Faith that the path I'd chosen was the correct one for me, and that the sacrifices were worth it. After all I got to go on the radio every day. I'd probably have done that for nothing.

It took several years on the air before my salary level reached that of a first year school teacher. But at the time it seemed no sacrifice at all. Robin and I had all the money we needed. We had a roof over our heads, cars (though sometimes old ones) in the driveway, food in the refrigerator, and faith....that what we were doing was right. We had money to go to dinner when we wanted, to see movies, even take modest vacations. For a young couple to desire more than that would be selfish, wouldn't it?

As my career took me to various stations, and made me a part of various communities, I discovered that I had "family" wherever I went. I had faith that if I gave of myself on the air, that gift would be rewarded. And it was, time and again, with the love and friendship of people I sometimes had never even met. They truly were, and are my radio family. My faith that SOMEONE was there was well placed. Those who were there were kind, generous, and loyal in ways I never deserved...but for which I shall always be grateful. This generosity was expressed in numerous gifts of home cooked meals, t shirts and caps from various businesses, cds of music I'd mentioned on-air that I liked, balloons and cakes on my birthday, cards on anniversaries and when I'd been sick, sympathy cards at the passing of loved ones, and many boxes of heartwarming letters. If I never make another dollar, or speak into the microphone of another radio station, my faith has been rewarded many times over by the only people I've really ever worked for. My radio family.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

Magic

Imagine that you live in a world where electric lights and indoor plumbing are cutting edge technology. A world in which the weekly paper, with stories older than a week by the time they're published, represents the state of the art in the dissemination of information. A world in which most children are born not in hospitals, but at home. In this world telephones are those fancy things rich people use to talk to each other, because nobody else has them. What you've just imagined is the world our grandparents grew up in. A world not from another century, but from early in this one.

Our grandparents world one of isolation. So many of what today would be news events happened completely without their knowledge. After all...there was no CNN. Peter Jennings didn't visit their living rooms for a half hour each evening to explain national and world events. In fact the results of presidential elections were often not known till many days after the fact. But if the twentieth century has had one theme, it has been change. And an important one was about to take place. Into the lives of those fortunate to have witnessed the transition from horses to automobiles, the invention of motion picturea and manned flight, was about to come a truly magical invention..

Sometime in the decade of the 1920s (earlier in large cities, later in rural areas) most Americans were first exposed to the magic of "wireless". Magic? Certainly. The first broadcasts broke the silence with voices of new "friends" we'd never met, speaking to us from great distances, through glowing magic boxes called RADIOS. These voices traveled through thin air...no wires...no hard connection to the voices on the other end at all. To a generation still marveling over the automobile, this was indeed magic.

Suddenly the isolation ended. Information retrieval from great distances was instantaneous. There was even talk of newspapers becoming obsolete. Even daily papers contained, in comparison to instantaneous news delivery on radio, history, not news. This instantaneous information from anywhere on the planet is still one of radio's greatest strengths...one with which newspapers can never compete, and with which even today's television broadcasts have failed to catch up. A recent example...the verdict in the O.J. Simpson case. It came at a time when almost everyone was at work, with no access to television. More importantly, radio delivered the news BEFORE tv, and took this information to it's audience where they were (work, car, outdoors), rather than requiring they come to it (as with tv).

World War Two forced a new level of maturity upon this still new medium. From news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt's announcement of a Declaration of war in 1941, all the way through Japan's surrender, this war was different from any in history. The great battles of this war occurred not just in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but also in our living rooms, heard through that big glowing box. No longer would printed descriptions of Germany's bitter air attacks against Britain do. Each horrifying day the generation that lived through it could hear the bombs falling, hear the screams of the wounded, and hear the sirens in the distance.

For me the Gulf War proved that radio is still a vital pipeline for information during times of crisis. Each day I spent my lunch hour crouched over the table in my favorite restaurant, headphones on, listening breathlessly for each news bulletin. And chilling as these bulletins were, I was incredibly proud of my profession. Far from being spoiled by modern technology, radio networks used digital audio and satellite transmission to put the sounds of battle in our radios with shocking clarity and detail. Bombs whistled, then exploded, Jet Planes soared through the skies overhead, and Scud missiles were stopped in mid-air before they could rain death upon the people below. For all the nightly reports on CNN, and in depth summaries in the morning papers, it was radio that made the war real to those of us back home, and brought the news to us.. Just as it's always done. And shall continue to in the future.

The voices and sounds of real life, beamed to us from anywhere, through thin air, in real time. Now that's magic.

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

I love you, Punkin'

Saturday October 25th was a big day in Elkin. A brand new festival was begun..."The Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival". Thousands of folks came from near and far to make this first ever event a success. I talked to people who had come from Tennessee, West Virginia, South Carolina, and of course from throughout western North Carolina and Southern Virginia. I even spoke to several folks from Boomer (in Wilkes County, the community I live in) who'd come because they heard their "neighbor talkin' about it on the radio". Thanks. And thanks to everyone for your patience with me as I wandered up and down Main Street poking a microphone in the face of anyone who didn't threaten bodily harm.

Home Recording

In one of the columns that has brought the most comment from readers, I recommended some of my favorite portable audio equipment. A couple of the pieces were quite inexpensive. And the inexpensive ones were the ones our readers actually bought, and reported back to me that they loved...including the adorable little Radio Shack model 12-917/Sangean SR-77 credit card sized AM/FM "Walkman" style radio, and Koss "Sport Clip" clip on earphones (also available at Radio Shack under the "Optimus" banner.). The most expensive thing I recommended in the article was the one thing no reader has yet reported buying as a result of it....the Sony MZ-E40 mini disc player. At 199.95 (about 70 percent higher than a good cd portable) it may not seem like a bargain. But consider the case I made for the mini disc in my original article

"I don't recommend using cassettes. It's a digital world, and the writing is on the wall for the lowly analog cassette. A product of the 60s, the cassette was designed for DICTATION, not for music. If ever a format has outlived it's usefulness, the cassette is it. Most cassette players are poorly aligned, and the prerecorded tapes are not only inferior to cds, they also come in a distant second to lps. Remember those?

So what do I use instead? Mini discs. Mini discs are a largely misunderstood format. When they were introduced three years ago, many (mistakenly) thought they were intended to replace cds. Not so. Although they sound incredible, mini discs record at a much lower data rate than cds, so in theory they are not their equal (although the conceencus of most is that the latest generation of recorders sounds identical to cds). This is deliberate. Sony, which introduced the mini-disc, is also one of the co-inventors of the cd. They had no interest in replacing them. Their real target was the CASSETTE. If that point had been driven home at the format's inception, perhaps more folks would have joined me in my love affair with these tiny wonders. Look...with mini disc you can record with NO background noise, NO distortion, NO speed inaccuracies, and NO reliability problems. Think your cds, are rugged? Mini-discs are enclosed in a plastic carrier similar to a computer diskette...but much smaller!!! Life expectancy is WELL in excess of a century. No kidding. The darn things are nearly indestructible. Drop 'em, kick 'em, leave 'em in your car on a day hot enough to melt your cassettes, and they still play like brand new. Think that's cool? There's more. Mini-discs are non linear, just like your computer hard drive. So once your discs are recorded, you can still do some fascinating things with them. Like rearranging the sequence of songs without re-recording the disc. Try that with a cassette. Or editing out a verse of a song you don't like. Or even electronically "labeling" so that the title of the album is displayed when you insert the disc, and the title of each song is displayed when it's playing. Can your cassette player do that?"

Since I wrote those words a few months back, the mini disc picture has become even rosier. Until recently Sony, which originated the format, had been the only company offering it to American consumers (although several other companies offered professional machines to the radio the broadcasting and recording industries.).

In my own studio I use a professional multi track mini disc recorder to produce radio commercials and other announcements, soundtracks for cable tv commercials, motivational tapes, audio for video, and music recordings. My customers rave about the sound quality.

In the last few months Sony has been joined by Sharp, Aiwa, Denon, Pioneer, Casio, Yamaha, and several other companies in producing products for an ever expanding market...which now includes boom boxes, car stereos complete with multi disc changers, shelf and rack systems with cd players and mini disc recorders (in some systems in addition to cassette, in others in place of it), home decks, and more.

Sales of mini disc systems to consumers have skyrocketed by 400 percent from last year. Major electronics chains such as Best Buy are devoting entire display aisles to the format (including elaborate interactive video demonstrations). And prices are plummeting. Blank discs are now as low as 4 dollars when bought in five packs (about the same as premium blank cassettes...you don't use the el-cheapos, do you?). And home decks with sound quality superior to any cassette deck at any price (including those two thousand dollar Nakamichis) are just $299 for the Sony model 510 (available for this exact price at so many dealers that one might wonder if Sony has been dabbling in a little price fixing).

299 dollars is kind of the jumping off point for cassette decks....where they begin to aspire to better than pedestrian sound quality. It's about the minimum that someone serious about home recording would think of spending. Which is why a full featured mini disc recorder at this price point is such a milestone. In a side by side comparison, anyone with reasonably good hearing will immediately recognize the superior quality and VALUE of the mini disc format. So if you're thinking of buying a new recorder for a music lover on your Christmas list, please see what mini disc has to offer. He (or she) will thank you. And if you live with this special person, you'll thank yourself...each time they play a recording in that most cherished gift from you.

 

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

 

Real Radio

 

We've grown up in a century with more change than any in history. So much of what we take for granted in this modern world would simply astound a visitor from another time. But have we become so indifferent to change that we accept it even when the new is less satisfying than the old? Take radio for instance. I've previously discussed the "magic" of radio. Voices from everywhere, connected to NOTHING. Completely wireless. Compare that with newer services claiming to be "radio". Distributors of those cute little mini dish systems are touting them as delivering "radio" signals at "cd quality". Let's examine those claims and see if they hold up under the "microscope of truth".

 

(*Warning: the following is the first and only technical paragraph in this column.)

Let's start with the claim of "cd quality sound". I'm going to throw a few numbers at you, but I'll keep it simple. Honest. Trust me. Are you ready? Here goes. Adult human beings are capable of hearing a frequency range of approximately 20 hertz (extremely low bass) to 17,000 hertz (treble so high it vanishes if you turn your head slightly). Cd players are capable of nearly perfect response from below five hertz (lower bass than our ears can hear) to 20,000 hertz (higher treble than we can hear). In a digital system, the highest audio signal that can be accurately recorded is slightly less than half of the sampling frequency. (If you'll grant that that's so, it really isn't necessary for you to understand the nature of digital sampling to follow my argument.) The sampling frequency used for cds is 44,100 hertz. That's plenty high enough to record sound up to 20,000 hertz, higher than the limit of human hearing. But the so called "cd quality" digital satellite systems use a sampling frequency of 32,000 hertz. Not only is that not high enough to broadcast everything we can hear, it actually isn't high enough to exceed, or even meet the audio fidelity possible with the best fm systems. With a 32,000 hertz sampling frequency, the highest audio frequency (treble tone) that can be broadcast is about 14,000 hertz. That's more than half an octave less than cd is capable of, and slightly less than half an octave less than fm radio. (I could simply end the argument here, having already proved the claim of "cd quality audio" to be false. But for argument's sake, let's go a little farther.) The best fm tuners are capable of receiving audio right up to the highest frequency we can hear...about 17,000 hertz (even higher in models that use "pilot tone cancellation"). In addition to falling short of being able to broadcast the highest tones we can hear, satellite delivered audio uses "data compression", which deliberately throws away quiet sounds the system thinks you can't hear. Why does it do this? To allow room to offer more channels in less space. Let's give the designers the benefit of the doubt and assume we really couldn't have heard the sounds they deliberately threw away. Still since cds use no data compression, and record every sound (including those we can't hear) faithfully at all times, satellite delivered "radio" broadcasts are demonstrably, and measurably inferior not only to cd, but in some respects to current fm radio. (*End of technical paragraph.)

 

So satellite delivered audio clearly isn't "cd quality". Not let's examine a perhaps even more fundamental question. Is it RADIO? Well, how would you define radio? Perhaps a service that offers not only your favorite music, but also a friendly voice when you're lonely, weather forecasts when you need it, national and local news, ball games and sports scores from your favorite teams, plus contests you can play for prizes? Does that sound like radio to you? Of course to be able to enjoy these services anywhere at any time, REAL RADIO must be completely portable...able to receive programs at home, in the car, outdoors on the walkman or boom box, on your desk at work, even in the shower. Wouldn't you agree that real radio must be capable of delivering all of the above? Well conventional radio can do all of that and more. But how many items on the list can our cute little mini dish provide? By my count only ONE. Music. And even that is sequenced not by a human being that knows which songs sound good back to back, and certainly not by your requests, but by a bank of cd players playing cuts randomly, without even a clue as to what song you're hearing. I ask you, IS THAT RADIO????

 

Don't get me wrong. I love mini dishes. They are light years head of conventional tv in technical terms. But the audio services available on them aren't cd quality, and they aren't radio, exactly what are they? Er.....cheap?

 

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

 

Thanks

 

When I first started in broadcasting in '74, the "Christmas Rush" pretty much referred to the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've been keeping (approximate) track each year of when the first advertisements begin to mention Christmas. This year I produced several commercials mentioning Christmas Shopping well before Halloween. Now I don't mean to criticize advertising, and certainly not advertisers. They have kept a roof over my head and food on the table for many years. But I do think that pushing the Christmas season back too far is a mistake. In doing so, something important gets lost. That something is Thanksgiving.

 

I have such warm memories of Thanksgiving as a child. Sitting around the big table in the dining room/den at my grandparent's house...everyone laughing, and catching up on new developments in our lives. After lunch, the men (and boys) would do something as a group. Usually it involved target shooting in a big field below the house. Never mind that I grew up in Ronda, and that discharging firearms in the city limits was illegal. On Thanksgiving nobody seemed to mind.

 

The passage of time brings about so much change. As Joni Mitchell puts it in "Both Sides Now" "Something's lost, but something's gained in living every day". The trick to appreciating the gifts in our lives is to concentrate on what's gained, and accept the losses gracefully. After all, each of us are blessed. There is so much right in our lives, and our world that giving thanks is important. Even for someone without a strong religious faith, the appreciation of what's good and right in the world should bring peace and comfort. With this in mind, I'd like to share with you some of what I'm thankful for.

 

I'm thankful to live in a country where I am free to live my life as I choose, and where control of my destiny rests almost entirely in my hands. I'm thankful for the love of my mother, and the powerful memory of my late father, whose presence in my life is felt each day. Dad, you'll live forever in my thoughts and dreams. I'm thankful for the strong moral leadership and unconditional love of my grandfather, the most devastating loss in my life this year. I'm thankful that almost exactly 20 years ago, November 25th 1977, a brown eyed beauty named Robin became my wife. Sweetheart, you've changed my life forever. I have no idea what I'd have become without you, and no desire to know. I'm thankful for my sister Lisa, my brothers and sisters in law...Ronnie, Patricia, Ramona, and Greg, and for the wonderful nieces and nephews they've brought into my life.....Alicia, Emma, Calvin, and Scott.

 

I'm thankful that I have an outlet for my ideas and creativity. Two of them in fact...my on air work on WIFM, and column here in 'What's in it for Me?' I'm thankful for a radio family that has been so loyal to me through the years, even going to bat for me when I needed it. Whenever I don't do my best work, I feel that I've let them down. I vow to do everything possible to keep those times to a minimum.

 

I'm thankful for good friends with whom any thought can be shared without scorn or judgment. I'm thankful for Dustin Atkinson, whose help at work makes it possible for me to continue functioning at my (declining) peak, despite the creeping progress of my disability (R-P, a degenerative retinal disorder that's slowly robbing me of my vision.) Dustin, I thank God for you, but don't thank you often enough.

 

I'm thankful for our home. Humble though it may be, it's kept us safe and warm through good weather and bad...including a blizzard and even a hurricane! Stresses clearly not envisioned by those who built it.

 

I'm thankful that my dog Megan survived her recent surgery. In lieu of children, she, our cats Tiffany and Chester, and our bird Lincoln are our children.

 

I'm thankful for the love of God, whose presence I feel in my life, and whose guidance I must learn to follow more closely.

 

And I'm thankful for your patience in reading my column. I'm a "radio man" through and through. Although much of my leisure time is spent reading, prior to the advent of this publication becoming involved in print media never crossed my mind. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. I hope in time to actually earn them.

 

Happy Thanksgiving. And may God bless you and your family.

 

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

 

Two reasons to listen

 

Ok, here's a radical idea. Advertising is good. Even helpful. And we all benefit from it in ways we don't even realize. It's fun to criticize, and everyone does. But without it we'd be largely lost. Think that's an outrageous claim? Good. Then changing your mind should prove a challenge. And I love a challenge.

 

When you're looking for a car, what do you do? I'll bet you listen carefully to the radio commercials, drool over the shiny new models on tv, and check for deals in your local paper. You probably do the same when shopping for a computer, tv, refrigerator, furniture, or any number of other things. Without thinking about it, you use the advertising we've all complained about as a tool to help you.

 

I can think of many times when a commercial on the radio or tv caused me to purchase an item I'd been thinking about, eat at a new restaurant, see a movie, or attend a concert or other event. The most recent example was just last week. The vcr in our bedroom died for the second time in a year. Enough already! The last repair was a hundred bucks! Then I remembered a radio commercial I'd done for a client. They had a hi fi stereo vcr for $199! A new vcr for the price of repairing the eleven year old one twice. Seemed like a great idea. What clinched it was hearing that spot on the radio. Even though it was my voice, the argument seem persuasive, so I bought it!

 

Radio commercials have helped me make up my mind in elections too. Not that I consider myself gullible, but those little 30 or 60 second "speeches" by candidates, which by law cannot be edited without their consent, are valuable, if not necessarily truthful.

 

Of all advertising media, radio commercials have a special place in my heart. In part because they (in the hands of a skilled producer) can be wired directly into the listener's imagination. Well chosen words, and careful layering of sound effects and music can actually create pictures in the minds of listeners. And since these pictures are the product of each individual's imagination, they are automatically customized into a form with optimum aesthetic appeal to each. No tv commercial or print ad can do that. Once an image becomes concrete (on the page or screen), then it looks the way it looks, rather than how an individual would like it to look.

 

So what's the point of all this? I'd like you to think of advertising on radio in a different light during this Christmas season. Think of it as a shopper's guide. And unlike print or tv, radio advertising actually reaches you when you're in your car on the way to make a purchase. What could be more ideal than a guide to what to purchase at the exact time you're making the decision to purchase? If you think that's overstating the case for radio ads a bit, try this. Next time you're on your way to shop, listen...really listen to a commercial break. I'll wager that at least one of the ads in the break will give you an idea of something to purchase. Try it and see!

 

Plus there's another reason to listen to radio, particularly WIFM now. Again this year we're offering more Christmas music than ANY OTHER STATION ON THE RADIO. We know this time of year is special, and that Christmas music is crucial to the mood and spirit of the season. Since the other stations don't, and apparently never will "get it", aren't you glad that we do at WIFM? So lock your radio on 100.9 fm. If you haven't given us a preset yet, DO IT NOW!!! And enjoy two great seasonal services.....Christmas music, and a "talking shopper's guide".

 

Radio Daze

By Mike Walker

 

The Dark Side

 

One my primary goals in writing 'Radio Daze' has been to give you an accurate picture of what life in a radio station is like, from the perspective of one who's worked in them daily for all of his adult life. I've told you how much fun being on the air can be. I've told you how rewarding long term relationships with listeners can be, and how good it feels to be recognized, appreciated, and even paid for a job I'd probably do for free. But there is definitely a dark side to being a radio personality. And the inside picture I paint for you wouldn't be complete without it. So....here goes.

 

We all have a need for privacy. Parts of our lives are not for public consumption. But I've long since accepted that allowing listeners access to parts of me that ordinarily would be shared only with close friends is a part of my job description. Real life experiences, thoughts, joys, and disappointments are things that a successful radio personality must share. And they must be truthful...from the heart. Because listeners can tell the difference. Radio is the most intimate of all media. To a listener, a radio show should be a daily visit with a friend. Friends share things with each other. Personal things.

 

This bond of friendship is largely real. Over time I have come to know listeners and interact with them regularly. And they have come to trust me. They know that if they call me on air, I won't take advantage of them. It's very easy for one in my position to make a caller look bad. After all, I have total control over where the conversation goes, who gets heard, and when it ends. If a caller is scoring points against me, or if I simply don't like what they're saying, I simply pull back a fader on my audio console, and their voice fades behind mine. Remember, when you call a radio show the relationship between you and the host is never equal. Callers are never in control. This is another reason why trust is so important.

 

However the friendship bond is at least partially illusion. No personality knows, or ever will know, most of the people who listen. But even for the vast majority who never interact with a radio host, the illusion of a relationship (between host and listener) can be quite strong. Songs have been written about this. "Pilot of the airwaves" by Charlie Dore springs to mind.

 

"Pilot of the airwaves,

here is my request.

You don't have to play it,

but I hope you'll do your best.

I've been listening to your show on the radio,

and you sound like a friend to me"

 

Letting strangers into my life (through my work) has caused problems. Some were small and annoying, but others were large and scary. My life has been threatened several times by anonymous callers. The most frightening of these incidents came about seventeen years ago, when a caller said he was watching me, and that I wouldn't leave the station alive. My crime? I didn't play his request! Since both my movements and the control room could be seen clearly from outside, I took this threat quite seriously. Especially since it came at about 1am...when I was alone in the building. I turned off all the lights, and called the police. Fortunately the caller was wrong. I did make it home safely.

 

I've received obscene phone calls in the middle of the night. Consequently my phone number has been unlisted for a years. However, even an unlisted number is no guarantee that a determined caller can't reach you. Friends, family members, and even co-workers have given out my number without thinking. As a result strange, accusing phone messages have been left on my answering machine as recently as last week. Police are investigating. We already know where the calls have come from.

 

Odd letters have been sent to my wife....with words spelled from characters cut from newspapers and magazines, just like on tv.

 

Anonymous angry complaints have been phoned, or mailed, to employers. Fortunately most experienced station owners ignore them. After all everyone should be able to face their accusers. Even disc jockeys.

 

The truth is that complaints to employers are (for me anyway) far less troubling than those that come to me directly. Callers can be really mean. And, contrary to what you may believe, radio personalities as a group are sensitive people whose lives, livelihood, and self image depend upon the approval of others. Nasty, antagonistic phone calls are painful. Consequently they're also errective at attacking that most essential on air tool....self confidence.

 

So there you have "the dark side" of my business. And my experiences aren't unique. Friends of mine who also have enjoyed long careers tell remarkably similar stories. Don't get me wrong...radio is a rewarding, satisfying career. I don't regret choosing it for a moment. But there is a price paid by those of us who've been on the air a long time. Is it worth it? My answer to to that question depends largely upon when it's asked!

 

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

 

I remember

 

I've been obsessed with radio since I was a kid. Voices that came out of the "magic box" seemed somehow more important than those that didn't. I knew that one day my voice would come from there too. Because of this lasting passion for radio, my memories of the way things used to be are as vivid as the pictures in an old photo album. And as sweet as those invoked by the image of any old sweetheart found there.

 

I remember when tubes in the family radio glowed a magical gold/orange, and produced the warmth of a space heater. I remember when the only place to hear the latest hits was am, because all the fm band had to offer was elevator music. I remember when WTQR was WSJS fm, and played jazz. I remember when Barney Hall was a disc jockey at WIFM, and had never done a race. I remember when a young man named Rick Dees worked for 150 bucks a week at WTOB in Winston Salem, and WCOG in Greensboro...before his first taste of fame at stations in Memphis (where he worked when he recorded the number one hit "Disco Duck"), and eventually Los Angeles...where for nearly two decades he's dominated mornings on KIIS.

 

I remember when Jay Thomas did mornings at 61-BIG WAYS in Charlotte (before becoming a tv and movie star), and when Morton Downey Jr. was a kind, soft spoken talk show host at the same station.

 

I remember when hearing the hits in this area at night meant listening to clear channel am stations from many miles away. As a teenager names like John 'Records' Landecker and Larry Lujack (WLS/Chicago), The Spiderman (WLAC/Nashville), and even Wolfman Jack (XERB/Tijuana, and later WNBC/New York) were known to most people my age.

 

When I was young, the hottest stations in North Carolina had call letters today's teenagers wouldn't recognize....WAYS, WKIX, WISE, WCOG, WTOB. And of course they were all am.

 

I remember the real "Murphy in the Morning"...Robert Murphy from WAYS/WROQ in Charlotte. So you'll forgive me if I can't get too excited about the imitators (at least 3) that've come since. I also remember Murphy's brilliant pre produced bits (in truth the work of Larry Sprinkle...now a Charlotte tv weatherman) that made his show shine....from "Battlestar Gastonia" to the very controversial (then anyway) "Pass The Loot Club" (P.T.L.). He took a lot of heat then for suggesting that Rev. Jim Baaker might actually have been in it for the money. A shocking allegation, isn't it?

 

Most of all I remember radio. REAL RADIO. The kind that's loud, fun, and not afraid of stepping on toes. The kind you just can't forget. Even today, when everything's quiet,

unforgettable jingles echo through my mind. "89....WLS Chicago", "MusicRadio 77...WABC", "The Best Music...66 WNnnnnBC". Wow! What a time to be young, and to dream.

 

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

 

Bittersweet Christmas

 

"It's the most wonderful time of the year". At least the song tells us so. And when everyone in the family is healthy, home, and safe, it's true. But the holidays can also be the loneliest, saddest time of the year. I've heard people say that before. Now I know what they mean.

 

Ten years ago (1987) it was a Christmas much like any since childhood. Yes, it was sadder since my mother's parents had died, but the rest of my family was intact. As always we celebrated Christmas at my parent's home on West Highland Avenue in Elkin. My mother and father were there, of course. Also in attendance were my father's parents, my sister and her husband, my wife Robin, and me. Everything was happy, lighthearted, and fun. I felt completely at peace with myself, and my life's circumstances. And that's one of the last times I remember ever feeling that way. Because the events of the next decade did enormous harm to my family, and to me.

 

As fate would have it, this joyous Christmas celebration in 1987 was the last my father would ever see. He died less than three months later....at age 52. Nobody ever loved Christmas, or me, more than my dad.

 

Three years later the retinitis pigmentossa that had been diagnosed the year my father died had diminished my vision sufficiently that I couldn't drive. Ever. At age 32 I learned that I would never again be able to travel without relying upon someone else. Since then my vision has decreased with each passing year. My latest battle is to retain the ability to read. Eventually I'll lose that one too.

 

The 90s were no kinder to my family. The decade claimed the lives of both of my aunts, my only surviving uncle, my wife's father, and most recently both of my father's parents. This was the first Christmas without my grandfather, whom I've spoken of previously in this column.

 

So what's the point of all this? That I'm wallowing in self pity, and that I suffered through Christmas? Absolutely not. Far from it. I loved Christmas this year, as in all the years that came before. There is new life in the family to celebrate. This was the first Christmas for my two month old nephew Calvin, named for my wife's late father. And again this year seeing Christmas through the eyes of my nephew Scott, and my niece Emma (ages 7 and 4) made everything else worthwhile. As always these sweet, loving feelings dominated my thoughts. It's just that they never again will be the only feelings. I know that for all the rest of my life's Christmases I'll also think of what's been lost. So forever Christmas, and life, will be bitter as well as sweet. That I suppose is a lesson that can only be taught by time.

 

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

 

Loopholes and such

 

I love loopholes. I love them so much that I perhaps should've been a lawyer. Or an accountant.

In radio, as in other fields, there are certain things you just don't do. Like mentioning on the air that an Arbitron rating period is going on. In fact, stations that break this rule are "delisted". Their station's ratings are removed from the list of those rated, regardless of how well they did. The most you can legally do is say something like "Our frequency is 100.9fm, our call letters are WIFM, our name is 100.9, WIFM. Write it down". When you hear stations say things like that what they mean, but are forbidden to say, is write it down accurately in your Arbitron diary (if you're one of the people chosen to keep one) so that the station will get credit for the time you spend listening. We have run announcements like this in the past, as have many other stations. So here's what we are forbidden to say on the radio.....if you keep an Arbitron diary, write down 100.9 for frequency, and WIFM for call letters WHENEVER you listen to us. We appreciate you listening. But also NEED credit for the time you spend listening. It helps us sell advertising time, particularly to ad agencies. And it also helps insure that the programming, and people you enjoy will continue to be heard. Including me.

 

Music and the savage beast

 

I love music. That's not an absolute requirement in my job, but it sure helps. I listen to a wide variety of music, not just the type we play. My career has taken me to stations with a variety of formats, and exposed me to artists and songs that I probably wouldn't have come across otherwise. Like country, for instance. Although country music is hardly exotic around here, it wasn't played in my home growing up, so I simply wasn't exposed to it until marriage and work took me away from home. In 1978 I was promoted from the 9pm-2am slot on fm album rock station, to afternoon drive time on the sister am country station. Suddenly my headphones pounded Dolly Parton, The Kendalls, Emmylou Harris, Dave and Sugar (anybody remember them?), and Dottie West into my brain for four hours a day instead of Styx, Kansas, Steely Dan, Little Feat, and Boston. Once past the initial shock, I found that I liked it. Really liked it.

After that brief exposure to country, it was back to "playin' the hits" on a pop/rock station in another market. But the country experience stayed with me. When I wasn't on the air, I often punched up WSOC-FM (Charlotte...the station I worked for wasn't far from Charlotte). A friend of mine at the time really encouraged my interest in country. It was an interest I didn't talk about with most of the folks I worked with. They just wouldn't have understood!

Anyway, in the fall of 1988 I again found myself at a country station, this time doing the morning show on a 100,000 watt fm powerhouse. I loved the experience. And because of it my interest in country music flourished. By the late 80s/early 90s my music purchases were split roughly 50/50 between pop and country. And that's true to this day. It isn't that I prefer one over the other. I have a strong appetite for both. As an example, I'll tell you what's been spinning in my cd changer at the house recently.

For Christmas I received the new Shania Twain cd, "Come on Over". It is so much FUN. If you're a pop/rock fan who's been drawn to Garth Brooks because of the energy level of his performances, you might want to check this one out. Shania may not be a great songwriter. Oftenlyrics are kind of clumsy. And she certainly doesn't write the most memorable melodies I've ever heard. But IT DOESN'T MATTER. She sings with such pure joy and passion that you can't help but listen. Nothing grabs my attention like a musician who really loves what they're doing. Shania Twain does. And because she does, so do those who listen. This album is FUN!!!! It's sequenced very much like a disco album (I mean that as a compliment.) Just as many of the best dance-music albums of the late 70s were a continuous program rather than a collection of unrelated songs, so is this album. The songs were created and crafted to sit next to each other...even bump into each other. Usually there's no break at all between tunes. And there's a full hour of music on this disc....SIXTEEN SONGS! What a great value! If you're looking for a disc that'll make you feel good, or one you can put on and dance to all the way through, this is it! Listen for yourself and see if you don't agree.

For Christmas I also received a remastered copy of perhaps my favorite album of all time...."Court and Spark", by Joni Mitchell. This is one of the most admired, and imitated pop/rock/folk albums ever. I still hear new songs on the radio and think "they learned that from Joni Mitchell". If Shania Twain is a little clumsy lyrically, Joni Mitchell is just the opposite. Her lyrics stand on their own as poetry. When married to the haunting, richly textured song structures of "Court and Spark", they are simply magic From the hits "Free Man in Paris", and "Car on a hill", to album cuts like "Just like this train", and the unforgettable "People's Parties/Same Situation" which has echoed through my my mind since I first heard it at age 16, this is an album to both inspire and intimidate each new generation of songwriters. If you own this album, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, you should buy it. Even if you do own "Court and Spark" on cd, or especially lp, you should buy the newly remastered version on the DCC Compact Classsics label. It's about 30 bucks, and worth every cent. The original cd of "Court and Spark" was mastered and released in the early 80s. Like many of the early cd reissues, the sound quality wasn't what it should've been. In fact, my old lp sounded better. No more! The DCC version was lovingly transferred from the original stereo master tape using only the finest equipment....including a reel to reel tape machine with tube electronics. It sounds exquisite. A night and day improvement over the original cd release. Finally my favorite album is as rewarding sonically as musically. Now my 24 year old lp can take a much needed rest.

What are you listening to? I'd love to hear from you. My e-mail address is RadioGiant@aol.com. Or you can write to me here at WIFM/What's in it for me.

 

Radio Daze

by Mike Walker

 

Experience has it's advantages!

 

I'm a bit of a showoff. That someone in my line of work has this character flaw probably comes as no surprise. I like to put my own stamp on things. And having been in the business for 24 years, I'd like to think I've learned a trick or two. It's fun to pull one of them out now and then, as kind of a demonstration of my own self worth. Does that make sense? Let me give you a recent example.

 

I've previously written of some of my adventures in audio production. One of our account executives recently brought me another challenge that I found particularly rewarding to meet. When other members of the staff told me what was asked was "impossible", I smiled. That others perceive it this way would make accomplishing the task even more satisfying.

 

The account exec. turned in an order, attached to a tape of a commercial produced by another radio station. This was a fully produced spot with sound effects, etc. On it was a conversation between a man and a woman. My instructions were to replace the man's voice with my own, while preserving the woman's voice. The goal was for it to sound as if I'd produced the commercial with our friend from the other station, while leaving her former companion on the "cutting room floor".

 

I played the tape for Dustin. The voices were NOT separated in time. Often the man and woman on the original commercial spoke at the same time, their voices overlapping. Dustin said "there's no way to separate them. It can't be done". The more of that I heard, the more satisfaction I knew I could take in the eventual outcome. The job WAS done. Not only that, the finished product is in vivid stereo (the original tape was in mono), and has sound effects that are far more realistic than before. I not only accomplished the task, I improved the spot. Here's how.

 

First I copied the tape into our Trakstar digital workstation (a computer designed for audio production/editing/manipulation.) This device has a "scrub" function, which allows you to run audio forward or backward just by clicking on either the right or left mouse buttons. I took advantage of this by copying JUST the woman's voice from the Trakstar onto one track of our reel to reel multitrack tape recorder, line by line. Each time I copied one of her lines, I'd go to another tape track and put down my corresponding line. Little by little it sounded as if she and I actually had been in the room together. What about the voice overlap on the original tape? How did I remove all traces of the original male announcer's voice at the transition points? Ok...here's the "big" secret. I DIDN'T. It wasn't necessary. Since all that was left were tiny fragments of words, the only thing necessary for his words to (apparently) disappear behind mine was for me to say the exact same word at the exact same time. The mind of the listener will then focus on the complete word, so the fragment seems to disappear. I'd done it before, so I knew it would work. And it did! Listening to the combined tracks through my headphones at very high volumes, I no longer heard his voice...just mine and the female announcer's. (Of course if you subtracted my voice from the mix, the remaining word fragments could be very clearly heard.)

 

So two things had been accomplished. My voice had effectively replaced the original male announcer's voice, plus I had the male and female voices on separate tape tracks, so they could each be placed anywhere between the two speakers I wished in the stereo mix. Since the original was in mono, both voices came from dead center. In the commercial the man and woman are in two different cars at an intersection yelling at each other. So having both voices come from the same point in space is hardly realistic! I had in my mind a rough idea of where everything would go, but the final decision of course would wait for the mix....the final step in producing a commercial (or a music recording for that matter), when all of the tape tracks are combined into one stereo program. It's kind of like cooking, actually. This much of this, that much of that. This knob makes it sound "fuller", that one makes it "crisper".

 

The next step was to deal with the sound effects. As I said, the original commercial had sound effects....traffic noises, horns, etc. In separating the male and female voices from the original tape, I'd punched MANY holes in the sound effects. Every time the female announcer spoke you heard traffic noise, but when I spoke there was dead silence. This is another reason others thought this project was "impossible". But again, experience had taught me a couple of tricks about "covering my tracks", so to speak. I knew the way to mask the holes in the original sound effects was to add another layer of more vivid, stereo sound effects which were continuous. These were copied onto two more tracks of the reel to reel recorder. At times when there was a risk of hearing the holes chopped in the original, I'd increase the volume level of my new layer of sound. In a couple of places I inserted car horns and screeches to mask my edits. Again, success was achieved! The original sound effects had effectively been replaced by a new, realistic sounding layer of stereo effects. At this point all tape tracks were full, so it was time for the first "sub mix". The tracks of voices and stereo effects were mixed down to a single stereo file in the Trakstar, making adjustments to the tonal balance (bass/treble/midrange), along the way. Also at this point, the placement of both people in the mix (between the left and right speakers) was decided.

 

The combined stereo mix was then copied BACK onto two tracks of the reel to reel to allow the addition of a final element....a nice music background. Since the original commercial had no music, I was convinced this would add an extra layer of polish to the final spot. A music bed was selected, and copied onto the reel to reel, then the final mix pass was made, combining the pre mixed voice and sound effects tracks with the new music tracks into the final stereo commercial. The result? The client (and account exec) were happy, Dustin was amazed, and I was, er, able to show off. Something I've been known to do now and then! You may not be able to "teach an old dog new tricks". But don't discount the value of the old ones he may have learned along the way!