Wednesday, June 16, 2010
My Second Radio Station, CJOC Lethbridge, AB
This was two days after a massive snowstorm had dumped 10 feet of snow on the city and surrounding area.
The station had been on the air non stop for more than 72 hours, broadcasting emergency messages to the area.
By the time I arrived, all the snow was gone and it was like spring.
The station was located in a storefront on 3rd Avenue South.
The front of the building was all glass, with the copy, traffic and management offices along the front of the building
The main control room, talk booth and production control room were arranged right to left with a large studio on the extreme left.
You could look out onto the street from all of them.
The control rooms and talk booth were elevated 3 feet above floor level with space beneath for wiring and a large collection of vintage beer and liquor bottles, obviously dumped down a hole beneath one of the big old RCA washing machine type 16” turntables in main control.
The control rooms, on-air and production consisted of Gates SA-40 consoles.
The one on production was virgin, untouched and stock from the factory.
The main control one had been butchered by a series of amateur engineers, including one who removed the monitor control pot and replaced it with an on-off switch!
The board was canted at a 45 degree angle, giving the front panel a slope of perhaps 20 degrees.
A bud box had been added to the right side with a series of line selector switches.
Some of the wiring inside had been replaced with plastic lamp cord.
Of course, with the heat the thing generated, all the insulation had hardened and crumbled to the touch.
There was a lot of black tape inside that thing.
Somewhere along the line, someone had disconnected the console safety chains, which allowed you to tilt the thing up to service the tubes and pots and switches.
Much to my chagrin, I found this out one morning at 1am Sunday when we signed off.
It was time to change some tubes.
I tilted up the console, expecting it to catch on the safety chains.
No such luck!
The whole thing went over backwards, ripping off every unlabelled connection to the board.
Guess who sat there all night with headphones, wire strippers and a soldering iron trying to get it back ready for air at 6am?
I got most of it done in time for sign on but it never really was the same after that.
There were some leftover wires that didn’t seem to do anything.
The safety chains went back on as well.
The tubes didn’t get checked and replaced until next Sunday.
There was a glass copy board over the console that slid back and forth on drawer slides and some sort of fixed microphone mount which could only swing from side to side.
The glass was so you could see into the talk studio, if it wasn’t cluttered with paper and the copy book.
On either side of the board, two of the aforementioned RCA 16 inch transcription turntables with the infamous Grey “gouger” viscous damped arms and GE turnaround cartridges.
They were operated by flip switches on the turntable deck.
These things had the motor in the base of the pedestal and were built like tanks with a clutch assembly and the whole works.
Above the console in a ceiling mounted cabinet were two RCA RT7A cartridge machines and two Ampex 351 tape machines, one modified to act as a tape delay with the extra playback head and pulleys using an endless loop of tape.
This cabinet also contained the very low quality monitor and cue speakers.
To the right of the console in a standard rack were the transmitter controls and monitoring equipment.
Tapes, carts and records were stowed in various areas of the control room and there was a rudimentary play list attempt by programming but for the most part, it was still select your own show and mix in these numbers.
There was also a multi line telephone/speakerphone setup for putting calls on the air.
The microphone was an AKG chrome thing I’ve never seen before or since.
It looked and sounded as if it had been used to drive nails.
In fact, the first thing I told the manager when I arrived was that the station sounded like it had 25 per cent distortion on air.
I asked him about the engineering staff.
It was two old guys who used to baby-sit the transmitter and another slightly younger guy who wasn’t too bright.
The two older guys were fired after I fired up the distortion analyzer and showed the manager my findings.
It was actually more like 27 per cent distortion at 85 per cent modulation.
The turntables produced more rumble than sound and the cart machines sounded like telephones.
The caps had all dried out.
The younger former chief engineer was demoted to Farm Director and I became interim engineer until the new one was lured away from the other radio station in town.
More about the transmitter site later.
The talk booth consisted of a telephone and two nondescript mics with cough switches and a volume control for the monitor and another for the headphones.
All these could either be switched to master control or production.
The production control room faced the street.
It had the Gates SA-40 in front, flanked by two turntables.
They were 12 inch models of some sort with the smaller Grey Arms.
The mic was the same unknown AKG but in slightly better condition than the main control room mic.
At the rear of the room were two disc cutters with matching 30 watt McIntosh MC30 tube amps to drive the cutters.
Above those in a wall mounted rack were 2 Ampex 351’s and an RCA RT7A cartridge machine and record unit.
The monitor speaker hung over the front window and to the right was the large unused studio which was filled with junk, except for an original Starbird boom stand with an RCA 44bx on it.
My brother later scored the mic for helping re-wire the control rooms.
He (at 13) was the only one who would crawl under the control rooms to string the wires!
There was a phone in there that could be used to record calls.
The newsroom and studio were at the very back of the building.
The studio was a large sized one but only a small table was used by the newscaster.
It had a reading light and a mic, a 635 on a table stand and a row of switches to fire the tape machines, five Magnecord PT6’s out in the newsroom.
It also had a cough switch.
All levels had to be preset out in the newsroom on an awful homebrew console.
The news studio had a monitor speaker with volume control and headphones with volume control.
If you wanted to put a phone call on the air, main control had to do it.
You could record phone stuff at two racks in the newsroom, using the same console and Magnecord machines.
Portable news gathering machines consisted first of Uher reel to reels and later cassette machines.
Audio clips were recorded on separate reels and cued up in the newsroom.
You’d then mark your script machine one through five and use the lever switches to fire the machine motors as they were left in play mode with the motor off.
Needless to say, if you didn’t leave enough run up time or cued the tape too tightly, you’d get a neat wow-in on the air and a wow out if you cut power before the clip ended.
Emergency power consisted of a portable gas powered generator you put outside the back door and ran an extension cord down the hall to the control room.
The audio and control lines to the transmitter were open pair copper and underground telephone pairs.
The transmitter site was down the highway towards Taber.
In the transmitter building was a generator that could run the transmitter at 5000 watts only.
We had a Continental 10kw for the main and the standby was an old 5kw/1kw Marconi.
It was three or four huge cabinets with round porthole windows.
A family could have lived inside.
When that baby was fired up, the whole building hummed.
The inside of the Continental was a nightmare!
When a part had failed, they’d hang a replacement by pigtails with the part swaying in the blower breeze.
The transmission line to the towers, there were two, was above ground.
It had at one time sustained a lightening hit, burning a hole in the line.
It had been “repaired” by putting copper screen over it and covering it with electrical tape and tar!!!!
For processing, we were using CBS Audimax and Volumax, later replaced with some updated Gates/Harris stuff after the other equipment was fried by a huge hydro line spike.
Remote gear was some old home made mixers.
For local stuff, they fed dc down the line to activate a light on the mixer when you were on air.
The only RPU we had was an old modified taxi cab unit.
It was crap.
When I rolled the van on the way to a remote one day, that unit flew out the window and embedded itself in the frozen field.
Unfortunately, it still worked.
So the new engineer and I went to work on it with rubber hammers to collect the insurance to buy a real RPU.
I went on to do news at the station as well as at the TV affiliate where I had started as the booth announcer.
At one time, I was doing noon news on radio, working at TV and doing the 6pm and 11pm local news while doing a 2 hour deejay show on radio in the evening.
The radio station was owned by Selkirk Holdings.
The manager was a great guy, John McColl.
Bob Lang was Program Director and Jack Innes was the Sales Manager.
Morning Man was Jim Elliott, Gerry Givens did mid mornings, Ken Tremaine was mid-afternoon host while Jack Thys did afternoon drive and I originally did evenings.
Later Jim Jackson, who later would move to CKLW. the Big 8, joined the staff as evening DJ and Wayne Barry Heinrich showed up to do mid days.
He was such a shit disturber that John McColl once said he’d be great if we could keep him in a cage for 20 hours a day and just let him out to do his show.
The music director owned the local record store and always held back playing anything new until he had it in stock.
News Director was Bill Skelton and Brent Seeley was Sports Director.
Others in the newsroom included Ed Robinson, who did the talk show with Bill Matheson who was also the TV weatherman.
Radd Whitt also worked in news along with Ron Lowe.
One of the best gags we ever pulled was to play “Harper Valley PTA” over and over and over again for 4 solid hours!
When callers would phone in to complain, we’d have the song we’d announced on air playing in the background.
We kept announcing different records but kept playing “HPTA”!
We told the listeners on the phone that the radio must be too near their sink or any other thing we could make up at the time.
It was a huge promotion done for fall ratings and got everyone in the city and surrounding area talking.
After a couple of years of upgrades to the main control room, which included installing new turntables, 12 inch McCurdy idler drives with Microtrak 303 wood arms and a remote start trough in front of the console, as well as replacing control room and studio mics with Sony C37’s and the newsroom mikes with AKG 202’s, the decision was made to build a new master control.
We decided to convert the unused studio to the new master control room.
We purchased a new McCurdy Solid State Console, 10 mixers dual channel with the rotary pots, 2 new McCurdy idler drive turntables with Microtrak arms,
4 Gates/Harris Cart Machines, and two Ampex AG440’s
The cabinetry was custom designed and built by Bob MacDonald and myself.
We made the entire control room out of cardboard first and allowed the deejays to move stuff around till they found the ideal setup.
We then made the console cabinetry based on these decisions.
The console was along the front, facing the street.
Two McCurdy Studio Monitor Speakers were hung over the window in front of the console.
A trough was constructed to hold remote controls in front of the console.
We used lighted switches under each pot for the designated channels and the associated machinery.
A turntable was mounted on each side of the console.
Three Gates cart playback machines were mounted on a shelf above the turntables on pipes which contained the necessary wiring.
The two Ampex’s were in custom canted enclosures at each end of the horseshoe.
There was a rack at the right hand end to hold processing and monitoring gear as well as the station’s remote control.
We used a Flexo arm to mount an announcer and guest mic, again using the Sony C37s.
Remember those two old RCA 16” tables?
They were converted into circular cart racks on either side of the console just in front of the turntables.
They were constructed using the turntable, 400’ film cans free from the TV station, old 16” transcriptions and milled pieces of plywood, notched to fit the transcriptions and the whole thing was covered with the same wood grain
Formica as the console cabinetry.
Each ended up holding 400 carts and could easily be spun for access to the desired cart.
The cabinetry had access panels all along the sides which could be removed for maintenance work and permanent lighting was installed inside.
The old main control room was scheduled to be re done as a production room but I left before that was completed.
The newsroom was upgraded to carts and two mics before I left.
I left the station in 1971 to move to morning news at CKXL Calgary.
The old sign from the 1015 Third Avenue South Studio.
The transmitter site.
A very early picture from the '40s.
A CJOC survey featuring then morning man Jim Elliott.
A shot of Ken Conners (thanks to Ken) from his website showing the new control room finished in the late 60's, feeding both CJOC and CJPR, Blairmore, AB.