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Threads: WAER in Syracuse

Letters written by me, updated June 2010
to include the period September 1969-August 1970

More About Threads



Background:  In the final couple of months of my master's degree program at Syracuse University, I worked at "FM-88."

During the regular two semesters, WAER was operated by undergraduates.  During the summer, they weren't around, so we graduate students got to play with the station.  For a "fantastic" program we produced that summer, click here.

WAER alumni include Dick Clark, musician Lou Reed, and sportscasters Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Mike Tirico, Sean McDonough, Bill Roth, Ian Eagle, Brian Higgins, Dick Stockton — as well as yours truly, of course.

During my brief stint there, I found some differences from my previous radio experience at Oberlin College's WOBC.

 

Saturday, September 27, 1969

The studio operations course also deals with film and audio, and there are special facilities for each.

For film, we get on a bus which takes us a couple of miles out to the Vincent Apartments.  Underground tunnels connect the basements of all the units.  An end of one of these basements has been walled off, the windows painted black, and the inside cleaned up a little, and then they put a sign on the door:  "Film Annex."  This is the TVR department's film studio.

For audio, we go to the production studio of the student radio station WAER-FM, which station is housed in an E-shaped, narrow-halled, poorly-lighted one-story structure which was built as a temporary structure in 1946 from Army prefabricated barracks units!  At least this one is on campus, right behind the library.  (There are many of these buildings around campus, with names not like Smith Hall but rather like Temporary Building 16.  They add greatly to the architectural charm of the University.)

I took this picture of the facility's tombstone in 1985.

Most of the other photos in this article are from waer.org (the station's website).

During WAER's early days, Dr. Lawrence Myers (upper right) supervised a live radio broadcast from Studio C.

 


Three years after I left Syracuse, the station would move into modern studios in the newly constructed Newhouse II building.

But just before the move, Suzanne King '74 photographed the old facility, Prefab 16, with the library in the background (top photo).

On a return visit to Syracuse, I shot the same doorway in color on July 26, 1973 (bottom photo).



The photos above, of a WAER control room and studio, were taken about 1968.  The picture of a disc jockey below is from 1973 (although from the general lack of clutter, I suspect it shows a brand-new studio in Newhouse II).

 
Sunday, June 7, 1970

I'll be Chief Announcer at WAER-FM, the campus station, which means that I'll have a two-hour pop show every week and maybe a four-hour news shift (consisting of a five-minute newscast every hour).  The Chief Announcer and the Music Director at WAER are together the equivalent of the Pop Music Director at WOBC.  The C.A. tells people how to be disc jockeys, while the M.D. tells them what records to play.

We have a format which we have to follow.  For example, it might tell us to start at 8:04:30 with a Hot-100 record, then a Folk, then an Underground, then another Hot-100, then the weather forecast, then an Album Oldie, then an Underground, then one of our own choosing, then a promotional spot, then a Folk, and then a Hot-100, leading up to an ID on a cart to be played at 8:29:53, followed by the newscast.

This plan is a little bit controversial — it's wouldn't be liked at WOBC at all, I'm sure — but it does give the DJ some freedom (he can play any folk cut he wants) while ensuring that the "sound" of the station stays the same from one DJ to the next.


UPDATE:  In 2010, I rediscovered details of this format in my files from 40 years before.  Instead of labels like Folk and Underground, we used letter codes.

Here are two "wheels" (imagine a minute hand traversing the face of a clock), representing the 4:00 and 8:00 hours.

According to the first wheel, starting from the station identification at 4:00 straight up, the disc jockey was instructed to play one from column C, then one from column F, then A, and so on.  Each half hour included an E (hyped new music) and ended with a JO (jock's option).

Our records were stored in a music library at ground level.

The room was originally another large studio.  (Studio A?  Studio B?)  Notice the dark rectangle in the upper left of this photo:  a now-superfluous window looming from the level of the raised control room.

I was a diligent summer replacement disc jockey.  I filled several notebook pages with a list of 152 songs, reproduced below.  From this list, presumably I chose what  wanted to play on the air for my show each week.

familiar progressive::

some C cuts

4:06

-

Requiem for the Masses

Association

3:12

-

I Shall Be Released

The Band

4:34

-

The Weight

The Band

2:00

-

Norwegian Wood

Beatles

3:24

-

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

Beatles

2:20

-

Blackbird

Beatles

4:46

-

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Beatles

3:10

-

Obladi Oblada

Beatles

3:17

-

Can't Find My Way Home

Blind Faith

5:58

-

More Than You'll Ever Know

Blood Sweat & Tears

2:48

-

No Time Like the Right Time

Blues Project

4:05

-

With a Little Help from My Friends

Joe Cocker

3:48

-

The Return of Sweet Lorraine

Country Joe & The Fish

2:53

-

  Teach Your Children

Crosby Stills Nash & Young

4:57

-

Where There's a Will There's a Way

Delaney & Bonnie

4:55

-

I Don't Want to Discuss It

Delaney & Bonnie

3:10

-

The Unknown Soldier

The Doors

-

-

Crosstown Traffic

Jimi Hendrix

3:30

-

Manic Depression

Jimi Hendrix

-

-

All Along the Watchtower

Jimi Hendrix

2:55

-

Lather

Jefferson Airplane

2:54

-

Crown of Creation

Jefferson Airplane

3:39

-

I Stand Alone

Al Kooper

5:38

-

59th Street Bridge Song

Kooper/Bloomfield

4:00

-

The Weight

Kooper/Bloomfield

2:26

-

Communication Breakdown

Led Zeppelin

2:23

-

Younger Girl

Lovin' Spoonful

-

-

Maybe I'm Amazed

Paul McCartney

-

-

Junk

Paul McCartney

4:31

-

Ruby Tuesday

Melanie

2:50

-

One

Nilsson

3:30

-

Give Peace a Chance

Plastic Ono Band

4:45

-

2000 Light Years from Home

Rolling Stones

5:51

-

Born to Be Wild

Steppenwolf

3:47

-

Corina Corina

Steppenwolf

6:43

-

Albert's Shuffle

Super Session

11:07

-

Season of the Witch

Super Session

3:15

-

Mama Told Me Not to Come

Three Dog Night

3:08

-

Out in the Country

Three Dog Night

-

familiar folk::

some A cuts

5:12

-

Thirsty Boots

Eric Andersen

2:40

-

April Come She Will

Hamilton Camp

-

-

If I Were a Carpenter

Johnny Cash

2:37

-

Hard Lovin' Loser

Judy Collins

4:20

-

Who Knows Where the Time Goes

Judy Collins

3:10

-

Michael from Mountains

Judy Collins

2:53

-

In My Life

  Judy Collins

4:04

-

Poor Immigrant

Judy Collins

3:28

-

Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye

Judy Collins

3:37

-

Leaving on a Jet Plane

John Denver

4:46

-

Season of the Witch

Donovan

2:52

-

Lalena

Donovan

-

-

I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

Bob Dylan

-

-

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here...

Bob Dylan

-

-

Mr. Tambourine Man

Bob Dylan

-

-

All I Really Want to Do

Bob Dylan

3:12

-

The Times They Are a-Changin'

Bob Dylan

3:35

-

Girl from the North Country

Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash

-

-

Just Like a Woman

Bob Dylan

2:22

-

Back on the Street Again

Steve Gillette

3:32

-

Darcy Farrow

Steve Gillette

2:30

-

This Land Is Your Land

Woody Guthrie

3:00

-

Gentle on My Mind

John Hartford

4:45

-

Just Like a Woman

Richie Havens

2:53

-

Candy Man

Mississippi John Hurt

3:55

-

Early Morning Rain

Ian and Sylvia

2:56

-

Jug Band Music

Jim Kweskin Jug Band

3:15

-

Forest Lawn

Maffit/Davies

3:37

-

Carolina on My Mind

Melanie

2:14

-

That's the Way It's Gonna Be

Mitchell Trio

3:32

-

Ladies of the Canyon

Joni Mitchell

2:37

-

And When I Die

Laura Nyro

2:21

-

Bottle of Wine

Tom Paxton

2:32

-

The Willing Conscript

Tom Paxton

2:32

-

Too Much of Nothing

Peter Paul & Mary

3:00

-

Solid Gone

Tom Rush

3:50

-

No Regrets

Tom Rush

2:26

-

Little Wheel Spin and Spin

Buffy Sainte-Marie

2:27

-

Until It's Time for You to Go

Buffy Sainte-Marie

2:15

-

Universal Soldier

Buffy Sainte-Marie

4:37

-

  Guantanamera

Pete Seeger

3:47

-

Suzanne

Spanky & Our Gang

2:33

-

Chelsea Morning

Dave Van Ronk

4:13

-

Cocaine Blues

Dave Van Ronk

2:29

-

Candy Man

Dave Van Ronk

We played a few "top 40" hits, but only between 4:00 and 10:20 pm.

-

top 40::

some F cuts

3:09

-

It's My Life

Animals

2:10

-

We Can Work It Out

Beatles

2:19

-

Can't Buy Me Love

Beatles

3:04

-

Here Comes the Sun

Beatles

-

-

You've Made Me So Very Happy

Blood Sweat & Tears

2:55

-

Fire

Arthur Brown

3:00

-

For What It's Worth

Buffalo Springfield

4:55

-

On the Road Again

Canned Heat

2:51

-

Going Up Country

Canned Heat

2:37

-

She Came In through the Bathroom Window

Joe Cocker

4:56

-

White Room

Cream

3:52

-

Woodstock

Crosby Stills Nash & Young

2:36

-

Marrakesh Express

Crosby Stills & Nash

7:22

-

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

Crosby Stills & Nash

2:38

-

There Is a Mountain

Donovan

3:42

-

Mellow Yellow

Donovan

3:18

-

Hurdy Gurdy Man

Donovan

3:15

-

Touch Me

The Doors

4:30

-

Rainy Day Women #12 and 35

Bob Dylan

5:59

-

Like a Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan

-

-

Lay Lady Lay

Bob Dylan

3:30

-

Light My Fire

Jose Feliciano

2:16

-

Look through Any Window

Hollies

2:52

-

Stop Stop Stop

Hollies

2:34

-

Nashville Cats

Lovin' Spoonful

2:00

-

Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind

Lovin' Spoonful

2:39

-

Summer in the City

Lovin' Spoonful

2:13

-

Rain on the Roof

Lovin' Spoonful

2:32

-

Go Where You Wanna Go

Mamas & Papas

2:32

-

California Dreamin'

Mamas & Papas

2:51

-

The Mighty Quinn

Manfred Mann

3:49

-

Lay Down/Candles in the Rain

Melanie

2:09

-

Morning Girl

Neon Philharmonic

3:27

-

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Peter Paul and Mary

4:04

-

Whiter Shade of Pale

Procol Harum

2:57

-

People Got to Be Free

Rascals

2:54

-

Tracks of My Tears

Johnny Rivers

3:38

-

Summer Rain

Johnny Rivers

1:43

-

She's a Lady

John Sebastian

4:25

-

Bridge over Troubled Water

Simon & Garfunkel

2:55

-

Cecilia

Simon & Garfunkel

-

-

Fakin' It

Simon & Garfunkel

3:00

-

One

Three Dog Night

2:40

-

Eli's Coming

Three Dog Night

3:14

-

Celebrate

Three Dog Night

2:57

-

Love Is All Around

Troggs

3:00

-

  Pinball Wizard

The Who

4:39

-

Get Together

Youngbloods

After 7:00 pm, two new categories of less familiar music entered the rotation.  But I wrote down only a few B and D cuts, because my shift ended at 6:00.

unfamiliar folk::

some B cuts

4:29

-

Boots of Spanish Leather

Joan Baez

2:58

-

No Man Can Find the War

Tim Buckley

2:03

-

Brighten Your Night with My Day

Susan Carter

2:23

-

Bottle of Wine

Judy Collins

0:14

-

The Ballad of Spiro Agnew

John Denver

0:07

-

  The Ballad of Richard Nixon

John Denver

3:30

-

Reflections in a Crystal Wind

Mimi & Richard Fariña

2:57

-

Chrysanthemum

Mimi & Richard Fariña

2:00

-

We Need a Lot More of Jesus

Greenbriar Boys

3:10

-

Sandy

Richie Havens

2:00

-

Crazy Words - Crazy Tune

Jim Kweskin

2:23

-

Coney Island Washboard

Jim Kweskin

1:49

-

Boodle Am Shake

Jim Kewskin

2:36

-

I Shall Be Released

Peter Paul & Mary

2:33

-

All Through the Night

Peter Paul & Mary

unfamiliar progressive::

some D cuts

7:49

-

I Want You

Beatles

2:32

-

Got to Get You into My Life

Beatles

3:53

-

The Endless Sleep

Blues Project

4:33

-

  Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?

Chicago Transit Authority

2:35

-

Darlin' Companion

Lovin' Spoonful

3:36

-

Mississippi

John Phillips

Footnotes:

• I actually had witnessed a couple of these performances in person.  As Oberlin College undergraduates, Jan Olson and I saw Pete Seeger perform "Guantanamera," and, as noted here, we heard Judy Collins sing "In My Life."

• It was also at Oberlin, on station WOBC, that I first played a song "from The Who's upcoming rock opera Tommy."  Some listeners felt the reference to "that deaf, dumb and blind kid" was insensitive, but hey, the record was a hit.

• WAER's album version of Chicago's first hit began with a long introduction by Robert Lamm on the piano.  That gave me the opportunity to talk over the record for about 40 seconds before the rest of the band kicked in.  I used a stopwatch to gauge when it was time to stop talking.  DJ's with more experience use their familiarity with the music.

• I don't recall "The Ballad of Richard Nixon," but apparently it's a shorter version of John Cage's composition 4'33" — in other words, simply silence.

• Our slightly subversive playlist had nothing in common with the middle-of-the-road music that grownups preferred on Syracuse's top-rated commercial stations, WSYR and WHEN.  That's why I was surprised one day to hear one of those AM stations play "Teach Your Children."


"THE SUMMERTIME SOUND OF SYRACUSE"

WAER/fm88, brought to you by the graduate students in radio-television, is on the air Monday through Friday, catering to your listening desires.  At fm88, we bring you the musical worlds of folk, rock, blues and progressive to entertain you, and feature programs to inform you.  Join us and listen to "The Summertime Sound of Syracuse" here at WAER.

AIR HOURS:

6:45 - 8:45 a.m.
4:00 p.m. - 2:00 a.m.

NEWS:

All the news and weather on the half hour.  Five minute news features, daily at 6:00 pm.

FEATURES:

"Syracuse-At-Large" presented Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 p.m. to tell you what's happening in Syracuse - special events & film reviews.

"Art Buchwald" - 10:00 p.m. daily.

"The Drum" - 12:00 midnight - five minute syndiated program telling you "what's going on in the nation's black community."

SPECIALTY SHOWS:

6:45 - 8:45 a.m.
"Morning Madness with Bix and Murray" - the show to start off your day.

10:00 - 12:00 p.m.
MONDAY:  "Blues Power" with Howie Lowe
TUESDAY:  "The F. Fred Legend Show" (sounds of old rock'n roll favorites)
WEDNESDAY:  "Who Needs It!" with Ken Highberger (music & talk with guests)
THURSDAY:  "Gemini" with Karen [Jacobsen] & Jan [Papajani] (astrological tips and folk music)
FRIDAY:  "Love" with Patti [Sloan]

 
Saturday, June 27, 1970

I do a music show on Thursdays from 4:00 to 6:00, plus five-minute newscasts on 4:30, 5:30, and 6:30 on both Monday and Tuesday.  So far, it's fun, but I'll have to clean up my diction a little.  I've discovered I tend to mumble a bit when I speak conversationally, so I guess I'll have to abandon the friendly approach and pretend I'm an announcer.  (This station has 3500 watts and reaches a potential audience of half a million people, so we have somewhat higher standards than WOBC.  Even though our actual audience is more like half a hundred.)

The station is amazing.  Until a few months ago, combo-ing was impossible because there was only one control room (aside from a room similar to a well-equipped WOBC R&E), and that one control room didn't even have a microphone in it.  So the engineer had to play the records while the announcer sat in the next room.  Also, the ancient turntables would play only 33's and 78's, no 45's.

Well, within the past year a new combo studio was constructed, complete with mike and QRK turntables.  When someone is combo-ing, he works in this new studio.  But the engineer in the old control room still has a job to do, because the combo studio can't take air directly but must come through a pot on the control-room console.  So an engineer must be on duty in there at all times taking meter readings.  Thrilling job.

A few other quirks:  The studios are called C, D, and E.  No one seems to know what happened to studios A and B, but that's not a major worry.  And in order to set up the control room for normal broadcasting, it is necessary to stick eight separate patch cords into the patch panel.  The engineers at this station are an elite group, and they don't want to have things so simple that anyone can operate the place.  That's why practically none of the switches are labeled.

Studio E In 1973.

Oh, yes, the clocks.  There are three of them in the main studio area; one is placed so that the engineer can see it, one is for the announcer, and the third is for the combo-er and newscaster.  None of them ever agree.

 

Audio Link

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A station promo (I voiced the part about "a five-minute program") and a station ID from the summer of 1970.

 

Saturday, August 1, 1970

WAER got a citation from the FCC last week, and it wasn't a citation for excellence.  Seems somebody was listening to us between 10 and 12 p.m. on July 13, and we failed to give ID's at 10:30 and at 11:00.  So now we have to write the FCC within ten days and tell them what we've done to make sure it doesn't happen again.  What we've done is to talk to all the announcers and remind them of the necessity of identifying the station at the proper times, and to change the news format.

Why change the news format?  Well, although no ID was logged for 10:30 and the anonymous FCC monitor thought there was no ID, there may have in fact been one, because the format used to be [end of record] [news theme] [first story] [ID] [second story] [third story] [etc.], and that internal ID may be buried so deeply as not to be noticed.  (That format was the undergraduates' idea, not ours.)  What we've done is to insert an ID between [last record] and [news theme], where one would normally expect an ID.  Also, the engineer on duty now keeps a closer watch over the disc jockey's logging.

 

Saturday, August 29, 1970

Finally, an anecdote of my days at WAER.  We had a morning program from 6:45 to 8:45 a.m., done by two guys every day of the week (their sanity was somewhat suspect).  As you probably remember, the Beatles have a song in which a rooster crows and the the group sings, "Good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morrrrnnnning."  Well, one of the WAER twosome (who incidentally was Jewish and insisted on referring to the Beatles as the Schwartz Brothers) did a little tape editing and came up with a cart that, when played, sounded like the start of the aforementioned record.  The rooster crowed, and then the Beatles sang, "Good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good . . ." et cetera, et cetera.  It was all a diabolical plot calculated to drive listeners batty at 6:45 a.m.  It worked, too.  I still haven't quite recovered.

 

TBT

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