08:39:37 am on
Monday 15 Jul 2024

Fingers, Thumbs and Mind
Dave Watts

I had only been with the station for a few months. My 'board' training was complete, but then the dreaded "bat phone" rang in the studio, for the first time on my shift. My hands melted into a clammy clump, while fears -- "what did I do wrong" -- pounded endlessly through my brain. That was after only one ring!

A board operator in the mid 1960s earned his or her pennies. In our case, three 1950s vintage rack-mounted Ampex 350s, one cart machine and a pair of Fairleigh turntables, which were activated by a button that looked like a light switch, constituted the key control equipment.

Running a tight board was like pushing a car up a hill with a rope. If you checked the log too late, during the currently playing song, you ran the risk of a clumsy or badly handled "stop set," at best, or heart failure coupled with the "bat phone," at worst.

So, the record would end and a typical stop set called for two thirties, two 60-second commercials and a recorded promo. Here we go - same drill "first 30 on machine one; second 30 on machine two, first 60 on machine three ... then rewind machine one and string the second 60 ... when the second 30 is finished on machine two, rewind and string the promo ... and ... don't forget to run the jingle from the cart machine ... and don't' let the [volume] needle touch zero."

The drill was always subject to the whim of the "pipes" (announcer, dj), on the other side of the glass. Just seconds before the stop set, I'd hear,"Dave, flip the order of the 30s and let's go with the "Supremes" instead of the "Temptations," out of the island [stop set]." Fingers, thumbs and brain synchronized into action.

At the time, I wasn't sure I wanted to stay in radio. Learning the ancient, twist-pot Northern Electric board was one thing. Understanding how to climb into an announcer's head was quite another. Anticipation is a learned skill. Execution was often luck!

A "board op," in the 1960s, learned how to look and plan ahead, then focus on the task at hand. Then, again, some things are unexpected.

So, by the second ring, I reached down and gingerly picked up the phone.

"AM Master," I said meekly. It could only be a station executive. "Oh, hi Dave, it's Gord Atkinson [the program director]. Can you stay after your board shift tonight? Need you to work overnight and take a crack at the all night show. The announcer has a tooth-ache and can't open his mouth!"

Relief and panic in the same instant. I'd never been on the air before!Luck comes to those who are prepared. Was I ready!

Dave Watts is a former radio music director and sometimes DJ. He lives in the Ottawa area.

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