Chapter Eleven

Then there was the night I thought I had finally mastered the fine art of presenting recorded music from the control panel. I felt positively cocky: ready to emulate other, more experienced announce-operators at the station who had become masters of the ‘fade.’

The fade? It isn’t heard too often these days, possibly because today’s listener wants to hear the entire track from beginning to end without interruption – including those first few seconds of instrumental music before the singing takes over.

To prepare for a fade, the announce-operator puts one of the turntables on Audition. (You’ll remember the Audition position lets you hear the turntable’s output in the control room without it being on the air.) He then plays the recording from its start, using the second hand on the control room clock to determine the exact moment the artist begins to sing. Armed with that information, the announcer can do a fade. And what the listener is supposed to hear is a few seconds of instrumental music that ‘fades’ under the announcer’s voice as he says:

“And here’s Dinah Shore to sing ‘Blues In The Night’.”

And Dinah is right there, after his last word, to sing: “My Momma done told me” etc.

Slick! I just had to try it.

And I did, the very next time I had that Dinah Shore record on my play list. I timed the opening – twelve seconds. And, when the previous recording ending, I let Dinah’s instrumental opening begin, waited out a few seconds, turned on my microphone and crooned:

“And now, shere’s Dinah Whore.”

This time I sat in stunned disbelief for a full minute before I could turn my microphone off. The telephone at my elbow seemed to swell to twice its size, ready to ring off the wall.

Shere’s Dinah whore. I was ruined!

But nothing happened. Either nobody was listening to CKUA at that hour, or they expected such gaffes to be made on “that university station.” It was CKUA’s worst problem in nineteen-fifty, but there were others. I was to discover an especially ugly one by being where I didn’t belong.

One of the few perks of working nights at CKUA was the absence of supervision. The front offices were deserted, and – when another announcer spelled me off at the control board – I was free to explore those offices left unlocked. The Manager always locked his office door, but the Program Director wasn’t as careful. Worse, he left things lying around on his desk in full view – interesting things.

CKUA’s programming policy at the time seemed to be: if the other stations don’t want it, we do. The other stations didn’t want language programs, in part because there was no sure way to control the content. Pre-recording would appear to be the answer, with an English transcript provided. One of these English transcripts had been left on the Program Director’s desk for his approval. I hadn’t read more than a few lines of it before it became obvious that the writer was a raging anti-Semite on an educational campaign.

There was nothing on the transcript – a handwritten ‘OK’ or ‘Approved’ – to indicate it had passed muster with the PD. He was a caring, intelligent man, not the kind to allow such garbage on the air if he could help it. But what if the speaker abandoned the vetted script once the recording was underway? Unless the recording engineer understood the language in question, who would be there to stop him?

The question bothered me but how could I pursue the matter with the PD without admitting I had been well out of bounds, snooping in his office? At least the incident cured me of that: I stayed out of his office from then on.

Do you remember – from what I told you of my job in that confectionery store – the newly returned veterans of the European fighting who took such delight in reminding me that I was close to military age? The Japanese were still undefeated and everyone saw an epic bloodbath looming. I was reminded of their sadism when CKUA assigned me to “Command Performance”, a weekly request program popular enough to stretch over several hours and employ two announcers. Joe McCallum and I spelled each other off, one of us sifting through the copious mail and the other reading the requests on the air.

Joe was even younger than I, a veritable Boy Announcer, but he was more experienced and sounded it. To at least some of our listeners, I was the brash young exhibitionist, not Joe.

There was a large veteran’s hospital in Edmonton. Most of its patients were being treated for injuries and illnesses they had brought home from World Wars One and Two; but the Korean conflict had just begun – some 38,000 Canadian volunteers took part – and a number of them were soon adding to the hospital’s workload.

Joe and I found that many of the requests we received on our program were either dedicated to one of the patients at the vet’s hospital or made by one. There was talk of us responding to this interest by broadcasting one of our programs from the hospital. Instead, I was sent to one of its wards one afternoon with a recorder and a microphone. The plan was to interview the bed-ridden vets and get them to voice their requests in person. Then, on some subsequent “Command Performance,” we would play the tape recording I had made and spin the requested discs on cue.

Simple. Except that before I could wheel my equipment out into the ward, I made a discovery that left me shaken and unsure. It came during a conversation with a nurse who worked with some of the hospital’s worst cases, a gruff, plainspoken type.

“I guess you know they hate your guts,” she told me. “They take turns cussing you out.”

I recoiled. “Me?”

“Not the other guy,” she assured me. “Not Joe. Him they like.”

Before I could splutter some sort of protest, she turned away from me, musing aloud. “But, you know, Pete. Or is it ‘Pat’? I’m not sure you aren’t performing some sort of service.”

I seized on this. “You mean playing music for them.”

She waved a hand. “Not that! I mean you give them a sort of target. An outlet, y’know? The fact is, they’re awfully bitter about what’s happened to them. Some of them, anyway. And you take their minds off all that. Do you know what I mean?”

“Not really.”

“Anyway, keep it up. You’re sort of, what? Therapy. Yeah, that’s what you are. Therapy.”

As it turned out, about half the veterans I approached with my microphone refused to talk to me. The rest provided the afternoon’s entertainment at my expense – the ward was soon rocking with laughter at the jibes thrown my way. As the modern expression goes, I “sucked it up,” and left the hospital with a fresh angle on radio’s role. Therapy. An outlet for the listener’s frustration and anger. Why not? It made as much sense as anything else in my new occupation.

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2 Responses to “Chapter Eleven”

  1. Don Says:

    Enjoying every chapter!

    • debunko Says:

      Thank you, Don . . .
      I put my heart and soul into the blog and it’s such a kick to get a comment.
      I’m going to be 85 in July and it’s shocking to contemplate how many of the people mentioned in the blog have since died.
      That’s why I treasure Jack Hagerman who was my boss at CKUA. Not only is Jack still around, he does a weekly program for CKUA as “John Worthington, The Old Disc Jockey” and plays music from my youth that I would otherwise never hear: Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Ray Noble, Billie Holiday, Woody Herman, etc.
      Better still: Jack has restored the recordings to their original sound. It’s truly startling!
      I listen to his show every week on the ‘stream’ provided on the station’s website: Sundays at 1 p.m. Edmonton time.
      Thanks again for your comment,
      Pat McDougall

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