FM (No Static at All)

In The Transition I mentioned that the radio station that just hired a 14-year-old was an AM day-timer. So why the confusing title for this post (thanks to Steely Dan)?

Ever heard of Cable FM? This was a unique way for this small-town AM day-timer to generate revenue after the FCC said it had to sign off the air.

Think about how radio stations (before the Internet) could be viable businesses. Only through advertising. When could those stations attract the most advertisers? Usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But when your station has to sign off at 4:45 PM every day during December, how can you squeeze all those commercials into every hour without losing listeners?

Well, this small AM station was innovative enough to offer cable FM, which expanded its reach beyond over-the-air. Not only did this allow the station to broadcast wildly popular high school football and basketball during the evening, it also allowed me to practice my radio skills after the AM signed off, while my family and friends could listen. That gave me additional incentive to do well.

I had a blast. But I wasn’t going to improve without professional help.

That’s why I’ll always be grateful to Curt, Rick and our boss, Jim, for always taking time to help me. Since they did it all (as you must do at a small station), I had the advantage of learning many different skills. I learned a lot just by observing them and listening to them. But they also worked with me, explained all kinds of situations and even assisted with my slight dialect. (If you grew up in this part of Central PA, you would exhibit a touch of Pennsylvania Dutch. My dad’s grandparents didn’t speak English.) I still notice it in family and friends from home, but I practiced and practiced until I sounded like the voice of America rather than the voice of a PA coal-mining town.

I now paid special attention to radio and TV commercials, how the voice talent emphasized certain words and phrases. I listened to on-air talent from any station, their content, their deliveries.

Meanwhile, I would need to attain my FCC 3rd Class Radiotelephone Operator license by passing a test at the courthouse in Philadelphia. In those days, this “ticket” was required to monitor that the broadcast transmitter was operating within regulation. One would maintain a log every hour or two by documenting transmitter readings with signature, time and date.

Next time, we’ll get to one of my favorite parts of working weekends on the air.