Not many of us get the chance to make our living sitting in front of an audio control board, speaking into a microphone and playing music over the radio to thousands of people.
I got that chance for the first time in Lubbock after surviving an air check at KLLL AM/FM.
I was bitten by the stardom bug when I was 20 and wanted so badly to be in the business that I took a midnight-to-dawn shift on Sunday morning playing old-time country music that I just absolutely hated.
In 1971, the hits were by George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Whistlin’ Bill Anderson, Little Jimmie Dickens and Conway Twitty, just to name a few.
Back in the day, all the music was on vinyl that were called records. Off to my right sat two huge turntables about the size of extra large pizzas. The idea was to cue up the records at the very beginning of the song so when you hit the proper button, the song would immediately begin playing, preventing what was called “dead air” in radio lingo.
Some records were 45 rpm and others were larger and ran at 33 rpm. One of the challenges was to remember to change the speeds from one to the other. If not, the lowest bass singer could end up sounding like one of the chipmunks, and that never pleased the listener — or the guy who hired you.
Part of my time was answering phone calls from fans. Songs back then lasted no longer than 2½ minutes, if you were lucky.
The phone calls ran the gamut from hilarious to borderline embarrassing.
When I got in the business, no one told me I would become an unpaid counselor.
One of the most memorable was a young lady who called and began to ask questions such as: “Are you married?” “What color is your hair?” “What color are your eyes?” etc. The clincher from her was “How tall are you?” to which I proudly answered “5 foot 3 inches.”
She just laughed and said, “No one’s that short,” to which I responded, “I beg your pardon.”
Well, I guess the deep voice of a radio announcer can leave a false impression.
Song requests were also attention-grabbing. One cowboy asked me if I could play a song for him. I said certainly and asked him what he wanted to hear.
His reply was, “I can’t think of the name of it and I don’t who it’s by.” Well, Houston, we have a problem, I thought to myself.
I then asked him if he could sing a few measures for me and they weren’t helpful in the least.
The most unbelievable was a request for Johnny Cash’s version of “Egg Sucking Dog.” I did find it and played the song for the caller but never figured out the meaning.
When the early ’70s finally arrived, I began to breathe a sigh of relief when John Denver, the Eagles, Olivia Newton John, The Gatlin Brothers and other crossover artists began to hit the charts. I had a forward-thinking program director who blended the country with the modern artists that produced country-sounding songs and made a success of it.
It was a fun job but not the most secure. You could show up for your shift having to introduce yourself to new owners and hoping they didn’t give you the boot.
I was one of those lucky ones who never got fired just because the ownership changed. In fact, I never got fired from a radio job.
I did make several moves to being “On the Air” at different times of day and in the last three years in the business became a news director.
It’s amazing how the radio business has changed in the midst of the digital age. If I worked at a station today, there would be a learning curve I would not survive.
Bob Massey is a Herald correspondent.