Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Humble Radio Beginnings

Since my childhood I have always loved radio. Growing up in Philly in the 60's I heard some of the best music with some of the best disc jockeys of that era. They influenced me to dabble in college radio but I never dreamed that I would ever be as good. In 1972, I graduated from Overbrook Regional High School in Pine Hill, NJ and left home within 2 months. I packed my belongings and at 17 years old, I took a 17 hour Greyhound Bus ride to Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN. That bus trip changed my life completely.

Tennessee was a totally different world. I spent the first 14 years of my life in Philly, a city known for fast paced, hard living. That world was all concrete, asphalt, brick and mortar. Moving to Tennessee was like stepping back in time. The pace was slow and easy, people were friendly and the mountains were beautiful. Tusculum College recruited heavily in the Northeast so I was surprised to meet so many students with similar backgrounds. There was a campus radio station WTCR, a one watt, carrier current, student run station in the basement of the Student Union building. The signal was only strong enought to cover the campus. I had only been on campus for a month before asking "Norton", the student manager for a radio shift. Without any prior knowledge or radio experience he was willing to put me on the air. He showed me how to cue records and work the antique audio mixing board and then he turned me loose. Every evening I would bring my collection of rock albums and play my favorites for all my friends to hear. This was the humble beginning of a great radio career.

Fast forward to 1979 -1980. I was unemployed and attending church in Kingsport, TN. One particular Sunday I shared with a friend about my lack of work and he asked about my experience. When I mentioned my college radio experience, he ramarked that his friend might be interested in me. Turns out his friend was John Frye, the manager of Holston Valley Broadcasting Corporation. At that time this company owned WKPT AM, FM and TV. After the interview they trained me, and gave me a weekend shift on both of their radio stations. WKPT FM was one of the old "Beautiful Music" formatted stations (sleepy elevator music) but WKPT-AM (14KPT) was their Top 40 station. It was quite a learning experience because I had to operate both radio stations on my shift. The FM basically consisted of a room sized computer than played music sequentially off 10 inch reels from a set of six Revox tape recorders. Every hour I would play a 5 minute song on the AM station, run down the hall to the production room, record my news and weather on "carts" (which looked like 8 track tapes), then run down to the FM station and load them into this massive computer system, affectionately known as "Otto" (short for automation) then run back to the AM studio before my song ended. On the AM station, I developed the personality known as "Jay Christian", a name that represented my faith in Christ. During the week I was working for a company that made solar panels but on the weekends I honed my skills on the popular music of the day. All of the music was on carts which meant we didn't have to cue records anymore. We played a mix of music from the 60's, 70's and the top 40 hits. I felt like I belonged on the air, I was comfortable, I had a natural feel for the music (being a musician) and I had a lot of top 40 DJ inside of me just waiting to come out...

4 comments:

pinkythewowaddict said...

I didn't know how your DJ carrer got started. That is a great story!! I would like to hear more, I know you have had several DJing jobs. It would be nice to hear a history. :)

moon said...

Thanks for stopping by Jessy! One day I hope to put the whole story together in a book (not sure who would read it though)!

ALisa said...

Did you actually say "DJ"? I guess that is what you were in the beginning!

moon said...

I said I had a lot of Top 40 DJ in me. Actually at WKPT my title was AM-FM Announcer Technician.