What It Was Like To Be On The AirYOU HAD TO BE THERE
I get a lot of requests which I suppose is normal for a person who played at being a disc jockey while playing the hits.
Readers of this space ask for my reflections on the wonder of what it was like to be square in the middle of that magical time when radio was really in service to its listeners, respected them and actually liked them. It was very transparent. You can hear when someone's smiling while talking to you on the phone. Same deal for someone on the radio.
Once, not very long ago, Radio was the most fun in the whole wide world. It had no world wide web sites, no way to Tweet about itself and rather than streaming online was making waves freely in the air outside.
"Look Ma! No wires! I'm just modulating the atmosphere!"
For many of us it was, at first, the entire world, and then later, our personal doorway, opened just for us, to the inside power knowledge of The Real Deal outside. Radio was power.
Radio just a few yesterdays hence was way ahead of merely being listenable, it was compelling in the sense that a magnet is to steel. Compelling all across the dial, not by force, coercion or constraint but by being so alive and entertaining as to necessitate listening.
One didn't want to miss a thing; this was one of a kind and all ours, these songs, fashions and events. It was the first time the largest slice of the demographic had even been recognized by the rest of society and it intoxicated us with the satisfaction that can only come from an audience wanting more. These things we couldn't miss were all so much bigger than life and fit into each one's imagination like it was cut to their lifestyle by an excellent tailor.
The dream became surreal and hyper enjoyable if you were the one on the radio, playing the records, the disc jockey!
Disc Jockys, that amalgem of the savage and the sacred, were the ones holding open that new doorway, our personal portal. They inspired wonder. Who were these guys? The very association with show business was for them like a Harvard diploma, elevating the headphone wearer to either the head of the table or very near the power players there seated by power of their sheepskins or relatives.
The era was one of the Top-40 radioman as much as it was of the chart topping songs and artists of the day in the same way hand-held wax cartons were a part of drinking milk then. The DJ's adulation was unfair in comparison and performance with hard driving, well rehearsed troubadours but it was popular vote. It was pure pop, non-stop and all part of the show.
We worked six days a week and there was no recorded DJ shows. You had to be there. Yes we were professionals and yes we deserved our paychecks. and yet, if you were to look a little deeper into each DJ, certainly the ones I have known, broadcasting was not so much our vocation as it was our obsession, a hobby-gone-wild more than a career. When the music grooved, when our scripts were clearly written, when the mic switch cracked open and the studio muted, we were at play.
It was play because we wanted to do it. Play ceases to be play and becomes work only when we MUST do it.
It was play to execute our play better then the other station in contention. it also stops being much of a game when there are no competitors, no adversaries.
Once, not very long ago, entertainers and broadcasters owned all the radio stations all across the land. Then, laws written to protect people from any one owner posessing too many broadcast facilities, radio and TV - too much influence in any one market - were re-written, blotted out, the protection afforded your ears terminated, ethics quashed and careers dashed. Radio stations all across the land were made offers they could not refuse. They sold their heritage business to corporations that gobbled up radio stations like guitar players on pot gobble munchies, or brass sections down boilermakers.
For too many radio folks, the corporate environment, through cost-cutting, removed too many of the people we need to play WITH, but worse, eliminated our opponents, and thus the game itself.
I wonder how many stories there are from Broadcast Owners who, having heard what happened, now regret having sold out. We never hear from them.