“Jean, all the sounds that child makes, I can’t tell if I’m hearing him, the radio or the TV. You best find somebody to give him a bunch of money for that.” That was my southern grandmother’s counsel to my mother on my first questionably creative vocalizations as I tried to mimic the sounds and character voices of my favorite cartoons. Thus began my lifelong journey into sitting in front of microphones.
Perhaps it was somehow genetic that I would spend a good deal of my work life in broadcasting. My mother was a fixture in what has come to be called “The Golden Age of Radio.” She got her start on Atlanta’s pioneering radio stations WGST and WSB. In those days, performances on radio were LIVE. Music, drama, news, interviews and commentary had to be performed in-the-moment and sent straight into the ether with no chance for editing. My mother’s singing partner on air – Atlanta native Bert Parks – brought her to the attention of NBC executives in New York, and she joined the nightly network forays into American homes nationwide.
Through my childhood and teen years, our home in Atlanta became a Southern rally point for her former broadcasting cronies. I could return home from school to find our living room crowded with musicians, actors, broadcasting and voice talent, industry executives and general creative riff-raff. Radio was still a dominant power in that day, and these folks instilled in me an awe of the “Voice in the Night.”
After I completed my education, I tried to break into radio on my own. In those days, there were no journalism studies that had a broadcasting emphasis, so the common path was to somehow garner the basic vocal skills, grasp enough tech expertise to pass an FCC license test...and then go find a job. Said job was usually way out in the cornfields somewhere and consisted of giving the weather and farm report to the cows, chickens and occasional farm hand.
I finally managed to find a broadcasting school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that was attached to a functioning station. It was a year-long course, and at the end, I managed to cadge a job at the station for the dark of night. About a year of that -- and in the dead of winter -- and I was ready to head back south.
Almost a year of job apps passed with no takers, but the warmer South that I had run to the previous winter happened to have one of the worst ice storms in its history the year of my return. The whole city of Atlanta was just frozen to a stand-still.
One of the major radio stations in the market was an all-news, all-talk, 24-hour station about five miles from our house. As I listened, I realized that the only folks there to maintain their high-intensity format were a few overnight folks, and by the second day, they were burning out. So, with the unshakable confidence of youth, I slogged the 4.5 miles (mostly sliding on my derriere) to the door of the station. A relentless pounding on the door brought a burned-out wraith of a news announcer to the door, who greeted me with a pleasant, “Whaddyawant-we’reclosed- goaway!” I told him I was an out-of-work announcer and I thought they might need some help during this emergency. He yanked me in by my collar and sat me in front of a mic and said, “Read this.” I blundered through a standard teletype UPI printout of the day, and two minutes into it, another collar yank planted me in front of a live mic. He gave me a card with the station I.D. and introduction blurbs, the latest newscast, and he shut the door. Thirty-seconds later, the red light came on and I charged in.
I stayed there for two-and-a-half days, emptying the snack machines and snagging naps on couches and chairs. When the thaw allowed the real pros back in, I was thanked, patted on the head, and turned out...but not before I had secured the promise of a reference from one of the staff. I think that, without their “any-port-in-a-storm” desperation for a warm body and a semi-coherent voice, I never would have broken in to that industry.
But, the guy was as good as his word, and with his reference and recommendation, I managed to get my start out with the cows, chickens and slowly-filling mudhole that became Lake Lanier on an AM daytimer. That led to several decades of jobs with stations in Milwaukee, Atlanta, Virginia and Washington, DC...and other places I’d rather not talk about.
When radio went relentlessly corporate in the late 80’s, I moved on to other enterprises, but I never lost the love of that “magic medium.”
Through the years, I have managed to keep my hand in by doing voice overs, audiobooks, narrations and the like. But that feeling of in-the-minute flowing communication that is radio was something I didn’t think I would ever get to experience again.
So…when the opportunity to build a streaming community radio station was presented to me, I enthusiastically joined Craig Looney in building Inside The Gates Radio here in Big Canoe. The station just celebrated its fifth anniversary, and we now have live programs seven evenings a week. My contribution to these live forays comes on Saturday evening and runs under the moniker, SongSense. I hope you will join me -- and all the ITG DJs -- “on the air” with lovingly-curated music, and the news and information of Big Canoe.