Picture a nervous 17 year old in 1957 stepping up to the microphone of a local commercial radio station to initiate his first broadcast. That was me and before I share the rest of the story, a little background.
I was in love with radio since my birth in 1942. Childhood pretend broadcasts led to a high school radio troupe. An after school job of inserting commercials and network newscasts into disc jockey programs when the shows were originating from local stores, opened at a "real" radio station when I was a senior. A little fast talking and I got the job. In show business style, my opportunity to get on the air came quickly. An announcer called in sick. The station needed someone to read local news until a replacement could arrive. I volunteered and the manager, in desperation, agreed.
I triggered the mike at the appropriate time and began reading. Not wearing headphones, I couldn’t hear myself on the air. The audience heard me however and a little more. It seems every time I paused in a story, a very loud slurp was heard. I had forgotten to turn the feed from the remote site off and the disc jockey was inserting slurps as a prank. I was mortified but the experience taught me about the long tradition of broadcast pranking. It’s seen as a good vehicle for keeping people humble and for coworkers to find out who can handle the pressure of on-air business.
Many pranks followed (some on me and others by me) during my years in radio. As much as they were a nuisance, memories of them are one of the things I savor now. You don’t have to be an Einstein to succeed in broadcasting but being even tempered and quick sure helps. It takes split second timing to prevent or cover mistakes. Add the ability to ad lib your way through any situation you soon become a hero to your peers.
I am particularly fortunate that my entry in the business was in the late 1950‘s. Radio was in transition from the golden years to the music/talk formats we know today. Old line performers from major programs of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s were still around doing voice-overs and commercials. I had the great fortune of working with many who shared stories and tales of legendary pranks. Many are identifiable in old recordings by the way if you know to listen for them.
I am delighted Jon at OTRCat has preserved and makes available so many of these broadcasts. In addition to preserving the history of a medium, they are darn good entertainment. I love TV, movies, the Internet and other media but radio, like its older brother print, enables us to be a part of the medium by forcing us to generate our own pictures from words. The radio addition of sound and emotion absolutely enhances the process.
- Ken Voigt born 1942