Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Good morning, Campers!

Thus were the words spoken that started the day at WSJU-Jamaica, the campus radio station of St. John's University (not surprisingly, in Jamaica, NY). I took a moment to revel in the days of yore when I was a DJ for that same station because Gina over at A Typical Female posted an entry that spoke of a TechTV segment teaching you how to build your own FM transmitter. Be your own DJ (and become what you play!).

Back in those golden years (yes, I know its another Bowie reference) WSJU was a carrier-current radio station. That meant our transmitter (roughly the size of a shoe box) was wired to the electrical circuit, and our signal was thus transmitted over the building electrical wires. That meant anywhere on campus (or rather, along the same main circuit) you could tune your radio to 685 AM (yes, I know, most radios can no longer tune to that frequency -- this was the early '80s) and our radio broadcasts were clear as a bell. Go a few dozen feet from the buildings, say while driving on campus, and you'd get a pretty good signal. Leave campus, or go to one of the lawns.... well, you were out of luck.

Still, we made it a radio station, from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and we broadcasted all of basketball games for the St. John's Redmen (now, sadly renamed Red Storm ... damn that political correctness!) to anyone who was listening in the Rathskeller. The core group of broadcasters and station personnel were true broadcast professionals in the making. They were there to refine and hone their skills, and many of them went out in to the world of broadcasting -- both on air and off -- and have made a a name for themselves.

Me? I was the comic relief. I didn't do comedy on air (well, not much) but I was the least likely of people to be on air, compared to the rest. I was a CompSci major who went up to complain about the quality of music they were playing one day. When I was asked if I thought I could do better, I was given an audition. Maybe the station manager Phil was drunk, who knows, but he gave me a chance. I made myself available to work the shifts no one wanted, all because I wanted to be on air. No one, certainly not I, ever expected me to be on radio, but I had fun, met some terrific people (including my later-to-be much-better-half) and the rest is, as they say, history.

Reading about "making your own transmitter" made me think of the days we hot-wired the transmitter to a wire on the roof of the building. That wire ran down to a chain link fence... and for awhile, we were a real radio station... transmitting about 20 miles... and even stepping on Imus in The Morning over at 660AM -then, WNBC radio (to say our signal bled is an understatement). I have no clue what our wattage was... but there was a desk fan placed under it, running whenever the trasnmitter was on, to prevent the cicuit board from overheating! The transmitter lasted a few years... then one day, while oddly enough, I was on air, a series of phone calls came into the station.

"Hi... what's your frequency?" "685AM" I answered.
"Thanks," followed by a hang-up.

10 minutes later, same voice:.
"Hi... what are your call letters?"
"Um, WSJU... who is this?"
"Thanks!" Click!

10 more minutes later:
"Hi... what's your output of your transmitter?"
"um... let me check.. I'll put you on hold"

I immediately turned off our transmitter. Within seconds, the telephone 'hold' light went dim. No more calls from the mystery man ever came in. I am guessing someone was sending us (or me, specifically) a polite message, telling us to get off the air. Now. Was it the FCC? WNBC? Who knows. The next year I left SJU, so my radio days were done. But they were great memories... maybe Jude would be so kind to post some of his memories (there's another not-so-subtle hint).

Anyways, Gina wanted to know what play list I'd use for my own radio station. I was a classic, album oriented rock kind of guy. Once I did an entire show of songs that spanned a side of an LP (that was the medium before CDs, children). Songs like Rush's 2112, Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and the like. Yeah, I was clearly not destined for commercial radio!

In general, I was a classic rocker, and I purposely avoided Top40. In those days, The Police's Synchronicity was a big hit, and of course
Every Breath You Take was played everywhere, everyday, every hour. I never played it on principle: Top40 got boring (to me, at least) because they played 40 songs over and over for a few weeks until the public tired of them and they fell off the charts. I'd rather play a vast selection of different songs, so as not to produce boredom (nope, I had no future in the record business, either). But I'd pull cuts from discs that had little or no air play anywhere else (I remember playing The Police's King of Pain long before it hit the charts).

I'd do it again today, if I had my own transmitter... I've been out of the loop for new, rock and roll for so long, however, I wouldn't know where to start. Counting Crows Sure... I'd start there first!

Oh well.. I don't have the $300. burning a hole in my pocket, so I suppose this gets filed under 'what might have been'. Still, it would be nice....

My traditional sign-off was Shine On You Crazy Diamond, part IX with its wonderful instrumental, fading off. I think it's time I dust off that CD and hear it once again...

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