Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ten Forgotten Small Market Radio Terms...

Diversion time again this week. Every once in a while I feel like writing something that's fun instead of venting or promoting one of my opinions. There are many of us who find ourselves in the voice over business having paid our dues at that little 1,000 watt am radio station in rural America. So, this week's blog is for all my fellow VO folks who have been there and done that. If you haven't, here's a peek at ten things we had to know in small market radio.

Jerry Reed as Announcer Graphic1. Rip N' Read - It is a term used to describe the process of retrieving the latest state and national news and sports from the UPI or AP teletype machine. The noisy typewriter of sorts banged out miles and miles of paper 24 hours a day. Usually, the announcer or DJ on duty had to read the news on the hour as well as being the DJ. He or she didn't have any time to write or edit news, so just ripped that long stream of paper off the machine and dragged it back to the on-air studio. Between records, the paper was ripped into pieces containing relevant news and weather and read live, usually without pre-reading, hence the term “Rip N Read.”

2. Slip Q – 45rpm and 33 rpm records were the source of most most music DJs played in small market radio. The equipment used to play these discs were usually huge heavy turntables made by companies called Collins, Gates, Russco and Rekokut. They were not known for starting instantly. So, to start a record without “wowing” (slowing gaining speed) we had to position the stylus on the disk where the music starts and hold the disc lightly with one hand letting it slip on on the felt pad that covered the spinning platter. When we were finished talking we would release the disc and it would start instantly and no one would know that it wasn't a perfect start.

3. Hit the Post - Today the DJs on the radio rarely talk over the beginning of music selections. But in the 50s, 60s and 70s a DJ was required to read liners, do the weather, and chatter up to the beginning of the vocal. He or she had to do this perfectly so that when the line ended the singing would begin. If he wasn't good at it he would “step on the vocal” or talk over it. If it worked perfectly it was called “hitting the post.”

4. Back Timing – Usually, the radio station was affiliated with a network, most likely ABC or Mutual as CBS and NBC went to the larger stations. The news or other programming from the network started at a set time. Some DJs were a bit lazy and usually selected an instrumental to play prior so that it could be easily faded down (lower the volume) at the appropriate time to allow the network program to start. But, if you were good, you figured out how much time you had left and selected a record of the appropriate length making sure you started it so that it would end exactly when the next program was to begin. This process is called “back timing.”

5. Cans – These are today known as headphones. But, prior to the hi-fi stereo days, headphones were pretty basic and crude objects resembling one or two cups held together by a metal band that would keep them on your head. You only used them for reference when your microphone was on and the studio speakers were muted so you wouldn't have screeching feedback. So, before you turned on the microphone you needed to make sure you put on your “cans.”

6. Carts – These were usually gray or blue in color, sometimes black. These were the predecessor to the ill fated 8-Track tapes and made primarily by two companies – Fidelipac and Audiopak. These cartridges contained an endless loop of ¼” magnetic tape that could be erased and re-recorded many times. Radio stations would record commercials that needed to be repeated often onto these and then played by the DJ on a special player when scheduled. There were longer length versions for up to a half hour in length but these were rare. Most of these cartridges contained enough tape for a 30 or 60 second commercial. Later, stations used these to play music rather that actual records that might get scratched. These were usually referred to as “carts.”

7. Ad-Lib – Today most radio performers are required to read scripts and commercials verbatim without any changes. But, in small market radio often the merchant would ask that the on air personality work from a fact sheet of information or from personal knowledge. The commercial might be considered “improv” using today's terminology. But in the day of small market radio the announcer might be asked to “ad lib” a commercial.

8. Daytimers – I know it's pretty obvious. Many small market AM radio stations often were restricted to operating between sunrise and sunset. The process dates back to the early days of radio and because AM radio waves travel farther at night, many small market stations had to wait to go on the air until after sunrise and had to turn their transmitters off at sunset. They didn't get much time in winter. These stations were known as “daytimers.”

9. 3rd Phone – Most every announcer and DJ had to have one. This is technically called a “Radio Telephone Third Class Operator Permit” and was issued by the Federal Communications Commission only after you passed a broadcast and electronic theory test. My first one was issued on April 17, 1964. and is still active, although no longer required.
Third Class Radio Telephone Operator permit This permit, with the added “broadcast endorsement,” gave you the authority to operate the radio station's transmitter. With it came the responsibility of making sure the station was transmitting with the correct amount of power and the requirement that you logged transmitter meter readings, usually once ever hour and if you didn't you might have your “3rd phone” rescinded.

10. Purple fingers – This goes back to item #1. Not only were you required to “rip 'n read” the news. If the ribbon containing the ink for the teletypewriter ran out, it was your responsibility to change it, and yes between records. It required a special skill to remove the old one and replace it with a new one that was saturated with purple ink. You had to do this without getting the ink all over your hands. If you were new at the task, you likely ended up the rest of the day sporting “purple fingers.”

Those are my ten forgotten small market radio terms of days gone by. I'm sure there are some I missed. If you can think of others, please leave a comment.  


  1. Hey Jerry...don't forget, for stations that had separate news guys. They would record "actualities" (tape recorded interviews, often with a police spokesman) using the "beeper phone" (telephone hooked up to a tape recording device, it would "beep" every ten seconds or so to let the person on the other end know they were being recorded. Or just to sound all cool and newsy).

  2. Dropcue. :) I know, a bad, bad, BAD word. :)


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