It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CXXIII

There’s something about every addiction.  Something that reminds the addict of the rush, the cool part, of their addiction.

To me, it’s the faint smell of ozone  you get around electrical equipment that was part of the atmosphere, literally and metaphorically, in every radio station.

I’ve noticed you get a lot less of it at AM1280 than in the stations I grew up with; radio’s become a solid-state, computerized industry, and computers just don’t give off ozone like the stacks and racks and rooms full of 1930’s-1950’s vintage relays and tube  preamps and wired electrical gear in the KEYJ studio I grew up in, or the 60’s-era remotes and ’70’s satellite demods and 1950’s diesel generators at KSTP-AM; you can get the faintest whiff of it in the engineering bay, upstairs from our studio bunker.

Just enough for the smell to trigger the memories.


It’d been a week since I had talked with “Mister Ed” at the Mermaid.  After almost four years of head-banging futility, it was dizzying how fast the process of getting onboard at KDWB had been.

What was not dizzying was my actual job.  I’d be a phone screener/producer/gofer for the station’s Sunday disc jockeys – which, in radio terms, meant the weekday people doing their obligatory weekend shift.  I’d be making something like $6/hour, for six or eight hours of work on Sunday afternoons.

It was a toehold in radio, after all those years.  The pinkie toe on my left foot, but a toe, nonetheless.

And today, January 13, was my first day.

I drove from the house in Saint Paul to Thresher Square, on Third Street by Chicago Avenue, more or less kittycorner (at least conceptually) from the Metrodome, parked in the side lot, and opened the front door with my brand-new key.  I took the elevator up to the third floor…

…and stepped back into the world of the addict.  The hustle and bustle – even on the weekend, in its own way.  The burble of speakers.  The throb of different audio signals – KDWB’s “Contemporary Hit Radio” (what used to be called “Top Forty”) groove mixing with the oldies at “K63”, KDWB-AM, as they wafted out the door of the engineering room.

And the ozone.  I could smell just a hint of it; from the amps in engineering, from K63’s twenty-year-old control board, from wherever.

I was back in the ozone.

I wandered past the unoccupied receptionist desk, down past a row of offices across from a glass wall looking out over the building’s atrium, past K-63’s small studio (manned by a wan, swarthy-looking fellow who pointed me two doors down to the FM studio).  The “on-air” light was on.  I stood in the hall as a wiry guy with an impossibly deep voice talked through a break.  He “hit his post” (radio jargon for “talked over the song’s instrumental intro, bitting off “One Oh One Point Three, Kay Dee Dubbleyou Bee” a fraction of a beat before the song’s vocal kicked in), and flicked the mike off.   I knocked twice and opened the door.

“Hey, I’m Mitch”, I said.

“Heeeey.  Spyder Harrison”, in a booming voice two octaves below mine. After the introductions, he sent me to the other end of the hall, to the break room, to get him four – count ’em, four – cups of coffee, each with three sugars.   He set them on the console table, on the far corner from the control board and the “log” paperwork – and seemed to forget about them.

I spent the day learning the Top Forty Gofer trade; I pulled each hour’s music and commercials, in order, and had them stacked on the console table ready for each hour, half an hour before the top of the hour.  When Spyder ran a contest, I answer the phone (Hint:  When he said “We’ll take caller 101”, it was really more like caller four); while Spyder recorded his conversation with the caller, I ran the board, playing songs and spots (and never, ever talking on the air; an absolute, inviolable rule), watching as he slashed the tape of the “interview” with the winner into a neatly-packaged twenty-second audio gem, with a razor blade, on reel-to-reel tape, with seconds to spare before his break.  He took the board, quickly fine-tuned the tape’s cueing, opened the mic as I got back in the producer seat, and started his patter…

“101.3 KDWB, we have a winn-ah!  Who’s this?”, he said, rolling the tape to the sound of Ashley or Brandi or Cari from Brooklyn Center or Maple Grove or Richfield’s disembodied voice replied off the tape, timed perfectly, sounding like it was a live phone call.

And we did it again next hour.

After a couple of hours, Kris Adams – a short, ebullient twentysomething woman with dark brunette hair in a Dorothy Hamill hairdo – came into the studio to take over.  The station’s former graveyard shift jock, she’d gone part-time (I learned that afternoon) to pursue voice-over work (quite successfully) and have a real life – including getting married (the month before).  We had a great chat as the shift wore on through the afternoon; contests, phone calls, stacking hours…

…and then my first day in radio – sort of – in three and a half years was over.

I walked out, and drove home, the smell of ozone still knocking around my brain.

7 thoughts on “It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, Part CXXIII

  1. The smell I remember most from radio stations is mildew. I expect *that* hasn’t changed.

  2. This could be one of the last posts for Mitch for a while. Keira Knightley is back on the market. Mitch will be busy booking his ticket for London…

  3. I think I would quantify that radio station smell as “fung”.

    Neat recollections Mitch.

  4. Brings me right back to WBCR, circa 1983 — ozone from the transmitter, mildew from the record stacks and clove cigarettes from the program director. Good times.

  5. I do the same at truck stops. Diesel exhaust is the closest thing to that flight-deck-JP-8-jet-fuel smell I can get now a days!

  6. A friend said she googled my name and kdwb, and lo and behold…Mitch Berg!
    You have very good re-call of the station and it’s surroundings…only thing I’d argue is my being short…I’m 5′ 10″…totally cracked me up to read that! Hope you are doing what you want to be doing Mitch…thanks for the trip back in time!

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