Less Than 30 Minutes

Once upon a time a young broadcaster is hired as a member of the team to take an automated FM station (licensed to Harrisburg) live for the first time. He now needs a place to live that’s close by.

Someone else on that new on-air staff informs the young man that an air personality from another Harrisburg station is seeking a new roommate. (His former roomie left the area for a radio gig in another state.)

That air personality is 29-year-old Chris Andree from WKBO. I’m that immature 20-year-old, yet had already pulled shifts on four different stations.

We meet for the first time in the parking lot of Rock 99 in Wormleysburg. As we talk for less than 30 minutes in Andree’s car, we decide to sign a lease together on a townhouse right down the hill on Third Street.

First of all, that’s a commute to make anyone envious. Secondly and much more importantly, that’s how friendly Andree is.

That quality comes across on the air in the Harrisburg market for more than 40 years. It also creates an unmatched continuity and fun feeling during his 15 year stint as the Harrisburg Senators PA announcer.

We share a townhouse for two years before I take a position at Q106 and rent a house south of York. But the broadcasting community is close-knit. Andree and I see each other occasionally at area events and just to get together.

Fast-forward a few years. I’m hired as program director to take 97.3 FM live for the first time. I’ll handle afternoon drive. The midday shift will be covered by a current employee.

Who can we hire for morning drive and to help me with music? Andree agrees to bring his passion for music and enthusiasm behind the mic to Broadcast Center!

My contract ends after three years. New management doesn’t renew it. However, Andree continues to thrive through several position, format, management and even ownership changes into 2017.

He also continues to make his mark on the Harrisburg market through regional commercial production and ABC-27 News bumpers. And, of course, the magic he creates during Senators games. Since the millennium no voice has been heard more in this area.

During games we text each other suggesting clever walk-up music for opposing batters. We meet after games and continue to share in each others’ lives. The same Andree smile. The same signature, “Yeah.”

We attend out-of-town baseball games together: Reading, Philly, DC. I see my only NBA game ever … with Andree. Andree meets me downtown at the Harrisburg Brewfest last June.

That same month I schedule our mutual friend Dan Steele as guest speaker to the Senators Fan Club. Andree shows up. Dan hired Andree away from his hometown radio station in Bellefonte 42 years earlier. We all enjoy dinner and laugh over radio and baseball memories after the meeting adjourns.

I receive a call from Dan two weeks later on July 4th. Not a happy holiday call, but a shocking Andree-has-big-health-related-challenges-ahead-of-him call.

I get to play one-hit-wonder music trivia with Andree around his birthday. He beats Todd Matthews and me a number of times by quickly naming an artist after Randy Whitaker calls out a title.

The same Andree smile. The same passion for music. They’re still there.

Three months later there’s suddenly worse health news.

Two weeks later I’m notified that Andree’s fight has ended.

No more smile.

When I was very young and very immature, I still knew within 30 minutes that I not only was compatible with Andree, but that I’d found a lifelong friend.

Dan brilliantly conducts the Harrisburg Senators tribute to Andree at FNB Field. Surrounded by his family, his friends, the broadcasting community, the Senators front office, his favorite music over the PA and great photos on the big screen, I can see that Andree affected more than just me within the first 30 minutes of meeting him.

That was reiterated at his memorial service in Bellefonte yesterday. Andree is still radiating positively … just as he did to his listeners over several decades behind the mic. In fact you can still enjoy hearing his unmistakable voice on recorded messages prior to any Senators home game. I have to smile every time I hear them.

Baltimore’s Hidden Diamonds

Terry Hartzell and I both worked for the same Harrisburg-based broadcasting company longer ago than I’m willing to admit. (I’ll put it this way: when I first started on the air at Starview 92, I was too young to drink at station events.)

Fast-forward to the 90s when we worked together again, this time at a regional audio-video recording studio in Landisville. Not only did we make a great team writing scripts and producing fun projects,  but we also shared rides. Our mutual admiration of baseball sustained us through many daily commutes and traffic jams.

Fast-forward again to more recent times. We still work together on rare recording projects, Terry at the board and me behind the mic.

Beyond that, we continue to enjoy lifelong friendships with many of the personalities with whom we’ve worked over the years. We also still have baseball and its rich history to sustain us. And, boy, did we need it yesterday!

Terry invited me to join him on a Saturday trip to Baltimore. A former ballpark that burned to the ground on July 4, 1944, has risen from the ashes as a craft brewery.

How could I turn down combining two of my favorite things: baseball and beer? Plus, we would meet with a Baltimore-based author, David B. Stinson, who researched and wrote about these former ballpark treasures. A former client from our recording studio days, Jack Gilden, (who lives ten minutes from our destination), would join us.

Jack’s daughter came, too. What a patient trooper she was throughout the afternoon/evening! I mean, she witnessed four grown men (at least physically) getting giddy over sites of kids’ games from more than 100 years ago.

What could go wrong … except for a tanker truck spilling liquid oxygen all over I-83 just after 6 AM? Terry and I persevered through inching along for four miles. It only took us two hours, but we remained focused and determined.

We finally arrived at East 30th and Barclay in Baltimore around 2:15 PM. Just entering Peabody Heights Brewery, the site of hallowed baseball ground, made the major delay all worthwhile. Of course, the “Old Oriole Park” lager draft helped, too!

The brewery’s owner began a tour soon after our arrival. Did he talk about his beer and how the brewery got started? Nope. He enthusiastically shared the rich baseball history of Old Oriole Park, which graced the very site many, many years ago.

After the baseball discussion, which included Babe Ruth’s playing days on the site, the owner tossed the ball to his son for the behind-the-scenes brewery part of the tour.

That’s when David detoured us to a spot on the cement floor near the beer vats. That’s where 2nd base had been. He also informed us that where the owner had been talking to our tour group was left field.

Following one additional round from the taps, we eagerly poured outside for David to continue giving us perspective on the lay of the land. David showed us where the left field wall had been, where the mound had been, and where home plate had been (right on the curb on Barclay).

While imagining the Babe swinging for the fences from that curb, I had to take a few imaginary cuts of my own from the other batter’s box.

After we soaked in that atmosphere, we all bounded toward 29th Street. Here was the home of another Oriole Park (American League Park) and … the future New York Yankees. Confused yet?

We then strode down the hill a few more blocks toward the former site of Union Park. I took my batting practice cuts in the parking lot where home plate once graced the ground beneath. I also trotted toward 3rd base to take a few grounders.

As Jack stated, this is where Wee Willie Keeler’s 44-game hitting streak ended. John McGraw played here as did Wilbert Robinson.

I’d add photos, but David had already taken the best shots and showed us on his phone during our trifecta former ballpark tour. He’s also a heck of an author and was a guest speaker for the Harrisburg Senators Fan Club. I highly recommend David’s book.

During our walk back up the hill, David departed. The rest of our lineup decided on the Charles Village Pub, Towson, for dinner before heading home.

The original Charles Village Pub, one of Terry’s  favorite places for ribs, would have to wait for our next visit. After all, it’s near the former site of Memorial Stadium.

Vinyl Circles

Before we began listening to music as “ones and zeroes”, albums were actually … albums. Flat, grooved platters made of vinyl with a little hole in the middle. The cardboard protector, into which you would slide your album, usually started new inside a cellophane wrapper.

When I began in the business, new albums would arrive from record companies almost daily. Stamped “Promotional Copy Only – Not For Sale”, these nuggets of new music were specifically sent for on-air promotion.

Sometimes the record companies would send multiple copies of the same album or single. You see, vinyl isn’t nearly as nondestructive as “ones and zeroes”. And the record companies wanted to be sure you had all you needed to play their music on the air over and over again.

When I would work on Sunday mornings, our station played religious and public service blocks of programming to help fulfill our quota of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public service. Once I had these large reel-to-reel tapes cued and playing, I had time for other things: making coffee, cleaning up the studios, writing and producing commercials or promotional announcements for the next day, and–most importantly–previewing some of the new music that arrived that week.

This is how I discovered Van Halen. I put their album on one of the large Gates turntables in the production room and started listening to “Running with the Devil”. Wow! Then “Eruption” segued into their cover of “You Really Got Me”.

I was so excited that I plopped the big, heavy tone arm at the start of each track. There wasn’t a loser among them. And the rest is history.

I enjoyed debuting songs and artists when the cardboard containers arrived. Even if an album was a dud, I could usually find a piece of a track that I could use behind a commercial or a high energy promo.

I still have a vinyl collection, but sadly, I don’t get to listen to it much. I have some of what had been popular when I was in the business as well as more esoteric titles.

These days, I’m much like everyone else. I usually play “ones and zeroes” while I type these posts.

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.

The Transition

With my left arm in that ridiculous compression sling, I decided to put down my bat and pick up a mic. Once healed, I could still play rec baseball, so I began to concentrate on trying to team my passion for baseball with — oh, I don’t know — broadcasting, perhaps?

My voice was maturing into a rich, relaxing delivery. Not terribly deep, but more easy-listening. It would stand out from the crowd.

I started a radio station in my family’s basement. My dad repaired record players and other electronics for fun, so I had a pair of turntables, cassette recorders and a mic.

Once I had enough nerve to tell my friends, they reacted as though they wanted to try it, too. They brought their own music and we played radio through a real Radio Shack AM transmitter.

We didn’t care that the signal traveled less than 60-feet. We had fun creating radio.

Between that, recording my own play-by-play baseball onto cassettes and listening to radio stations more intently than ever, I talked to my folks about contacting the local radio station with a letter and one of my tapes. I offered to clean and make coffee for the opportunity to learn.

The owner (also the GM, sales manager and locally well-known morning host) called me to arrange an after-school meeting. I received a tour (studios and offices in a modest colonial house), a quick audition in the production room, and an offer to learn on-the-job!

The family-owned AM day-timer (broadcasting dawn to dusk according to FCC regulations) was six miles from home. My parents reminded me that I would be sacrificing other activities. However, if I was willing to make the commitment and this is what I really wanted, they assured me that they would provide “taxi service” until I could drive.

The stars seemed to be aligning. I could now get paid to learn broadcasting at a unique radio station that could pay even more dividends for my career.