Memories of WBRU
in the 1960s
Brown University sports is on the air!! A long tradition of broadcasting Brown sports on WBRU carried over to the FM airwaves. [You could sell ads for money (not trade outs) during sports! See the rate card from 1967]
Home games were fairly easy with permanent telephone loops from the football stadium, Meehan rink and even the soccer field (which was right next to Meehan back then). Away games were a little tougher. Lines had to be arranged; there was always a note in the studio that 'Telco' was expected to call to check the line. Tone would be sent down the line from the remote site and the on air person in the FM studio would confirm that it came up on the board. This happened 24 - 48 hours before air time. We always hoped it was still good at air time. The remote crew checked it before air time by making the Ferguson Jones/Jenkins call (see the discussion elsewhere).
At the time period I remember, Pete Bedard (aka Pete Carey) was doing hockey play by play announcing and Stu Aaronson the commentary. Things always sounded pretty darn good too. One Winter break, Brown played at Colby in Waterville, ME. I decided to join the crew at the rink -- after all I was already most of the way there, right? Really, I was just tagging along; moral support for the team, so to speak. There were at least three of us in the stands supporting the Bruins that night.
Standing there next to Pete, I learned that as the pace of the action picked up, he would fall behind in his call of the play, by two or three passes. Then as things slowed down he would catch up. But he never left anything out! It was just like tape delay, only live! Incredible!
Stu did the color commentary during stoppages in play and between periods. I guess he must have been running out of breath and/or commercial breaks at one intermission, because he just handed me the mike and asked me to summarize the game so far. My only on air adventure into sports broadcasting and not my strong suit. I've learned more about the game since then.
The sports crews always had a great vantage point when they worked from a press box. I still remember hockey at Meehan as seen from above the ice, from that suspended box.
Of course other assignments were more challenging. I watched Don Berns one Saturday morning do soccer while standing on the sidelines. I never could understand how he could see well enough from there to call the game. But Don was always taller than I.
The tech staff always had to scurry around whenever there was an equipment problem - especially if it were FM. The call would go out to find them and they had to do their magic once again. Of course the on air studio would get taken over for production work, sometimes during the daylight hours instead of after sign off. [If I remember the bulk of the MUSIC 67 Demo tape was done on one of these occasions.] I won't say we always had a lot of problems, but for a spell there was a pre-recorded technical difficulty announcement in the cart rack.
The transmitter was across the street on the 6th floor of the Wilson Bio Lab back then. I remember going there with Larry Maier on several occasions. Not that I was that much help, but there was some benefit to the safety coverage. The transmitter could bite and the legend was that it did bite someone before 'BRU owned it. I think Larry had a half melted screwdriver in his tool box to remind him to be careful. First thing after powering down and opening the doors, was to get out the ground stick and discharge all the capacitors. There was 20,000 watts hidden in that cabinet some place.
The 6th floor of the lab housed all the environmental systems for the whole building: pumps, fans, chillers etc. Their vibration carried through the concrete floor right over to the transmitter cabinets, which were mounted on the best anti-vibration mounts we could afford - two by fours! In order to meet our requirements for noise in our broadcast signal, the stereo generator had been freed from its hard mounts in the rack and was carefully supported on bungee cords!
Larry told me on one occasion that we were required to keep certain spares parts on hand for the transmitter and pointed towards a shelf on the wall behind us. Then he allowed that the spare power amp tube really was one that was removed from service before, since a new one would be $200 that 'BRU didn't have to spend.
WBRU Newsmen at the ready. Back in those days we had that nifty van from Butler Chevrolet, in exchange for an ad every three minutes it seemed like. It was equipped a flashing amber light that could only add credibility to any activity we might embrace. So those of us, who had Press Cards from the Commissioner of Public Safety, were anxious to be first on the scene to bring the breaking news to the listeners. But how to do that?
Ah Ha! We found there was a press room at Providence Police Headquarters equipped with a monitor of their dispatcher's calls. Just the place to be to get the jump on things. Of course the desk and chairs were pretty much rummage sale quality and in the daytime held up some reporter from the Providence Journal or UPI. A couple of ash trays and a wastebasket completed the décor. What better place to spend a dateless Friday night?
Nobody seemed to mind if you hung out here, as long as you didn't bother the desk sergeant with silly questions. Like "Why isn't anything happening right now?" We did learn on one occasion, from the supervising officer (a Lt. Deignan?), that the most predictable activity was that about ten o'clock Friday night the Hot Sheet of stolen cars would begin its weekly growth cycle. To be followed by the shrink cycle the first of the week as a large number of those vehicles were recovered in New Bedford. I guess a lot of folks that came into town for the evening's entertainment hadn't arranged for rides home and had to make their own way back.
Saturday morning sign on: For a semester or two I took the sign on shift for Saturdays. I looked forward to making my way across the abandoned green, headed for the west wing of Faunce house. Knowing that I alone was starting out just before 6 AM with a soda and maybe a sticky roll from a vending machine tucked in my pocket to kick start 95.5 FM, in the center of your FM dial.
First things first. Unlock the building and make it to the third floor and assess what needed to be done first. Process the UPI copy from the over night onto the appropriate nail file pegs or muck out the studio relieving it from the burden of pizza boxes, ash trays overflowing and a variety of misplaced production, records, tapes and articles of clothing (not too often clothing)?
Brush the food crumbs off the turntable felts, re-rack the LP's from the play list, visit the record library for a few favorites and in between times start warming up the transmitter. Remember bringing it up in steps with the plan of being at full power just before formal sign on "WBRU now starts its broadcast day, etc."? Use some innocuous pre sign on music to modulate the signal. Check the readings - run the de-icer if conditions warranted. What was that? "15 minutes an hour but not continuous"? Log it On and Off on the Transmitter log.
There all set to go - sign on, first news of the day and into music - nice and easy with no distractions. You're working alone - On the third floor west wing of Faunce house.
Then the nearest bathroom was on the 2nd floor east wing, if the art gallery was open for a cut through. If not, all the way to the basement!
Plan ahead - need a long cut to play. (That's three flights of stairs each way!) Make sure the next cut after that is suitable for the morning, just in case. And don't make this run just before the news - or your delivery will be really breathless!
Getting on towards nine o'clock - haven't seen the relief yet?? Maybe call? I hope I don't get stiffed again. Oh great, there's the door to the news booth opening at the last minute - one more newscast and I'm out of here! Breakfast here I come.
The "proficiency" test: Fred Mattfield, 'BRU tech crew member and owner of one of lowest vocal registers in the Northeast, will always remind me of the "proficiency" test that one used to have to pass before getting on the air, beginning on AM 570.
It went like this: Since we often had equipment breakdowns, an aspiring DJ had to be able to keep a show going with only one turntable and one cart machine.
So to demonstrate your ability, in ten seconds you had to be able to go from a 45 rpm record to a cued up inside cut on a 33 rpm record on the same turntable, while Fred Mattfield intoned on the cart machine: 10, 9, 8, 7 ... 3, 2, 1 YOU LOSE!
Easy enough to know if you made it in time.