Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One likes to believe, In the freedom of music...

With thanks to Rush for the lyric.

Radio stations go off the air for lots of reasons: transmitter problems, computer problems, power failures (with lousy backup generators), even operator error (as I discovered this weekend, no not my error).

But I have to say the most interesting way I've ever known a station to be knocked off the air involves appliances.

Back when I first started in radio, I worked in Birmingham, Alabama. It's where I met my husband. I had recently been a traffic reporter and got hired across town to be an actual news anchor for a group of stations. One of my tasks was to do a quick live news cast each morning for our AC (Adult Contemporary) station down the hall. Then I'd record one and they could air it the rest of the morning.

Rob and Shannon were pretty big in the building. They got things their own way, because they brought in revenue. And something that Shannon got was appliances. She'd brought in a toaster, a microwave and a coffee maker just for their studio. Fortunately for them, they had the biggest studio in the building, second only to the talk studio. I was often the recipient of toasted pastries or microwave oatmeal in the morning, which was good, because I usually didn't have enough money to buy breakfast.

One morning, about 4:30 or so, the whole building got rocked by a power surge. We thought maybe someone had hit a power pole, so I dutifully started calling the power company, the cops, anyone who could tell me about a power surge up on Red Mountain where the studios were located. No one had any idea what I was talking about.

Then the building maintenance guy rings the news room.

"Are you guys on or off the air?"

"Hang on a sec....we're on," I say. "Why, who's off?"

"Well, you might have a few stations off, that surge came from inside the building, a bunch of breakers have tripped up there."

I checked with Ray, and most of our other stations were fine, just little blips in the programming, but everyone was still on the air.

Except Magic.

Shannon had tried running the toaster, coffee maker and microwave all at the same time. She had also added a small table lamp "for ambience" that morning, and apparently overloaded a circuit. She'd also made the mistake of plugging these items into the power bar with the computer that ran the music software.

Magic was dead, and had the smoking outlets to prove it.

Why there was no back-up system to prevent the equipment from blowing up is beyond me. How she managed to short out the board is also beyond me, since I'm not an engineer. But I do know our engineer said it wasn't his fault, and that Shannon never should have had all her food equipment in the studio.

And then the phone started ringing.

"Do y'all know you're off the air?"

"Yes, we're aware of the problem, thank you for calling."

"Well, then why don't you say something?"

"How can we tell you we are off the air, when we are off the air?"

And, that, by the way, happens every time a station goes off the air. Someone inevitably tells us, we should get on the mic and let everyone know. It never occurs to them that if we could actually transmit something, we would be playing music.

Eventually, a CD player was brought in and new mics, and a makeshift show happened a few hours later, but it took a while to get the board fixed.

I really missed having breakfast every morning, too.


Diana said...

Whoops! I bet that was one of those "was my face red" moments for poor Shannon. I do think her heart was in the right place: Comfort and food.

Pity about your breakfasts, though.

Mya said...

Did she live in the studio? It sounds very comfortable.

Can't believe people actually call in and say 'why don't you say you're off air?' - dur.... I worry about some people.

Mya x

Dumdad said...

Hilarious. I enjoyed the video too.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

Wow, it's been a long time since I saw WKRP. Great clip.

I'm not disbelieving you, jen, really I'm not. But people really call and ask you to announce you're off the air??


Jen said...

Mya and RC Yes, people really do call and ask us why we haven't said anything. Sometimes they just don't get how it works.

I think Shannon did try to make it like her living room. It would have been nice if she'd picked up her dishes more often

Glad you all enjoyed the WKRP, it was on e of my fave episodes, and mostly because they got the whole "off the air" thing so right.

Jo Beaufoix said...

Hee hee fantastic.

I agree with Jen and RC, can people really be that dense. :-D

Willowtree said...

Our local station went off the air permanently, but that was because the guy who had the licence was a real dickhead.

I understand about people calling in and making dumb suggestions, I'm having the same problem with my little quiz at the moment. I'm getting tons of emails abusing me for it not working properly, which it isn't, and demanding I fix it, which I can't, because I don't make them I just link to it.


my two cents said...

Funny story--see what happens with privilege?

Quick story: About two years ago a wind storm knocked the neighbor's 100 year old oak tree into our yard and the tree took with it the power lines. Around 7:00 a.m. I am outside surveying the situation when a very well meaning neighbor, whom I have never met, drove by and asked if the power was out. I replied yes, and she asked if I wanted to borrow her plug-in cooler to try and save our food! She immediately realized what she had said, slapped her forehead, and went to work. I have a good friend who brought me bags of ice to pack the freezer/fridge and we didn't lose any food.

Joy T. said...

'Ambiance" LOL Ambiance is important I suppose, as is a toaster and all those other luxuries. Too funny. And I never missed an episode of WKRP!

Sam said...

And don't think you don't see it stupidity here in Savannah, girly. I swear, I am waiting for one of these guys to say "I swear by all that's holy, I thought turkeys could fly".

Gurnal said...

For all of us radio junkies...WKRP was the best....even if Les Nessman set news gathering back several decades. I have to go see how many seasons of WKRP are on DVD.

Oh well...

Jen said...

Oh, dear, Gurnal, you will be so disappointed byt he selection. Don't waste your money. The distributors didn't bother to get the rights to the music that was used int he show (stuff like James Taylor, Toto few other current hits of the day), and they replaced it with generic commericially produced music. You end up missing so much. Such a disappointment.