Steve Sawyer, 1390 WCAT Orange, MA | March 28, 1983
In Radio years, 1983 really wasn’t that long ago. But that was your webmaster’s 3rd year on the radio, and I was less than six months into my first full-time radio job. All at the same place, mind you. I’m truly amazed at how much my voice changed from then when I was all of 19 years old to later, when I got to Memphis, Tennessee and the ole pipes were about two octaves lower.
WCAT, in little Orange, Massachusetts, a little town some 75 miles west of Boston, was in an Un-Rated area. We didn’t ‘live and die’ by the book, but rather on the sales ability of Owner Dick Partridge, who created his hodgepodge Middle-Of-The-Road format on what his advertisers told him they were listening to. One of our advertisers was Fleetwood Nursing Home. The station was on in the lobby and in patient’s rooms. Guess what kind of music we played on a regular basis? Big Band. And then there was the local Country & Western dance club & bar who advertised regularly. So we got to throw in the Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson records. Some of the local bars bought time and a couple of places where younger people went.. so we got to also throw in the current stuff like Rick Springfield and the like. It wasn’t exactly Oldies, Country or even traditional MOR as programmers knew it. The station’s slogan was “The HITS of Your Life”, a take on the trademarked, Standards format “Music of your Life”.
In addition to the music format, WCAT was the home for Mahar Regional and Athol-Royalston Regional School district HS Football play-by-play. We were also an affilliate of what was then known as “Campbell Sports Network” for Boston Red Sox baseball, based out of what was then 1510 WITS Boston – the former and current WMEX and later WMRE, among others. Being a daytimer, the station only aired day games… a few times when there were late afternoon games in the Spring and Autumn, the station would go off the air in the 7th inning, leaving listeners having to tune to another station (usually WTIC Hartford) to finish hearing the game! This was just the nature of small market radio back in the early 1980s and going back through the years of radio history.
The station’s signal on 1390 was just 1,000 watts. Were it 1kw on the lower end of the dial the signal would have travelled further, but at this frequency, the station was listenable for about 10 miles in all directions, and that was it. Get near an un-insulated power transformer and you’d hear just a 60hz hum underneath WCATs signal! Add to what was annoyance for us air staff folks was the fact that the station had NO audio processor! Its hard to believe, but Dick Partridge would regularly march into the station and quip, “Keep the needle out of the RED!!!”. We took transmitter readings via the indirect method since one or two of the voltage meters didn’t work and we had to calculate plate voltage for the transmitter logs (who does that anymore?!!)
But despite the obvious (by today’s standards) shortcomings, we had fun. We played all the music from turntables. We had three custom made with a remote switch – literally, the engineer wired up a light switch to the turntables which, while it worked so we didn’t have to stretch our arms like an octopus, made an audible CLICK on the air when you turned the damn thing on!! So we had to slip-cue everything. All our commercials were played from Carts. We had three single play Gates Cart machines, which the play heads regularly got gummed up. Special programs, such as Church services and public service programming usually was submitted in Reel to Reel form, and we had an old Ampex Reel player in the studio for those.
As for this aircheck, I’m sure you’ll agree, I was HORRIBLE as a jock. But being 20 years old doing what I loved doing (like the geek that I was) was worth it, even if the music stunk back then. But showing how tastes change as one gets older, I’m 52 now and some of that music isn’t all that bad to me now. Looking back, it was a fun time in my life that I’d do over in a minute.