On Sale Now!
Author: John Ramsey
# of Pages: 128
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing
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Radio broadcasting has been an integral part of the history of Hartford since the early part of the 20th century. WDRC was the state’s first station (1923), and they helped pioneer FM radio technology in the early 1940s. Many Hartford residents learned about the end of World War II via radio, and the medium played a key role in keeping people informed during the floods of 1938 and 1955, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Surprisingly, Hartford, the capital of “the land of steady habits,” saw two stations break from the pack to help bring the British Invasion to the state in the early 1960s. And thousands of schoolchildren eagerly listened to WTIC’s legendary Bob Steele on wintery mornings as they excitedly awaited school closing announcements. Hartford Radio offers a glimpse into the history of the area’s broadcast stations and the people who ran them.
Regardless of whether you were a listener or an employee of WDRC you are welcome to submit stories about the station for possible inclusion on this page. Contact us at email@example.com.
WDRC, under the direction of Charlie Parker, Program Director, was constantly in the public and “in your face”. Part of this was with contests – I fondly recall working many long Friday nights while in college in the Production room with Charlie putting together one of many of his famous contests – and having a blast. Another part was remotes.
While I was at WDRC, Jerry Kristafer did the very first ever broadcast from City Place (the highest building in Hartford) – before there was a floor on the 39th floor. Actually, there was a floor, but not much else. It was cold, it was windy, and he and Wayne Mulligan were up there with a car battery and a Marti unit – and a DRC-FM banner they purposely hung from the side of the building facing Studio 1 in the Gold Building – where Gary Craig was at TIC-FM. I ran the board at DRC-FM for that remote.
Jerry and I also did a series of Saturday remotes from people’s houses – one of which was from the women’s dorm at Central CT. State University. Jerry and I – with lots of mic cord – banging on dorm doors at 6:30 in the morning waking people up. Lots of women running around in their sleepwear. Remotes didn't’t get much better than that!
Then there was Bill Stephens. On Halloween, he dressed in a tux, climbed into a coffin (no kidding!), which was carried out to Center Court at West Farms Mall and put into place for a Halloween wake. He had a pillow speaker to hear the station. A mic boom was rigged to put the mic right above his mouth. He had a button in one hand to cue me at the station (I ran the board) for the next element. He barely moved for, I think, 3 hours – then they closed the coffin and carried him out.
Another time, we cleaned out the prize closet. We had a bunch of stuff like Frisbees and yo-yo’s and such – nothing spectacular. But Bill had a Corvette. So one Sunday, I ran the board and jocked, while he drove around to various phone booths in the area, called in, and listeners had to drive around and locate him, as he was giving on air clues to where he was. It was a lot of fun.
And who can forget the Hartford Italian Fests in the South End. (Name withheld) did one – for a grand total of the first break out of the top of the hour. He decided to say hello to “all the guineas and wops out there” – stupid beyond belief. And I (running the board again) had to call Hartford PD to escort him out so he could come back to the station.
Many of these remotes were done from local carnivals or other events – which would usually close around 10PM while we were on the air until midnight. At one of these events, Jack Lawrence was left sitting in the WDRC remote broadcast trailer with darkness all around him. Around 10:30, a couple of lovely young ladies dropped by because they heard he was all by his lonesome in the dark. I was in Bloomfield running the board. We used to have a phone line set up as an intercom so the operator could talk to the jock and vice versa. Well, Jack started keying the intercom so I could be part of the conversation – which was starting to get a bit racy. We went to a commercial set. In those days, there were a lot of commercials that required the jock to jump in at the end with a live tag. We would usually jingle out to a song, which is how this break was set up. We had a 30 second movie spot at the end of the set – :25 tape, :05 live tag. Jack cues me for the break, then keys the intercom so I could hear the continuing conversation which was getting even racier. Problem was, with the intercom keyed from the remote site, I did not have the ability to talk to Jack. So the first :60 ends – the next :60 ends – and we’re into the :30 with live tag. About :10 into the spot, I opened the copy book to the tag, intending to jump in and read it if jack missed it. Literally, with 3 seconds to go before the tag was to hit, Jack said, “where are we in the set?” and shut off the intercom. That was enough time for me to hit the talk switch and say “2 seconds – GO!” Keep in mind I said the conversation was getting extremely racy. The tag was supposed to be, “Now showing at Cine Enfield”. It came out of Jack’s mouth, “Now showing at Sinfield Enema”. I was laughing so hard I almost missed punching the jingle. Jack hit the Intercom and said “what did I just say?”. Between guffaws I told him. What a hoot.
Then, there was the FM transmitter that Wayne Mulligan and I installed in 1982. Strange twist of fate, but the transmitter we removed at that time was retuned and went to one of our stations in Monterey, CA, KWAV – I pulled it out of KWAV in 2006 – this time it went to the dump (imagine my surprise to see it still in use at KWAV as an auxiliary!). Anyway, about a month after we put the new transmitter on the air, we went up to check on it. We put the auxiliary transmitter on the air, and I popped the back of the transmitter off, and turned to hand it to Wayne. No Wayne. Yeah, OK – I thought maybe he had gone out to use a tree or something, so I put the transmitter door up against the wall and turned back to the transmitter – to see a black snake, about 8” long, on the rubber mat on the transmitter floor near the plate transformer. I poked it with a broom handle – it was obviously very dead. So I used the broom handle to scoop it up and carry it outside. There was Wayne, sitting in the car, white knuckles on the steering wheel, and he said “get that damn thing out of here!”. Turns out, Wayne was deathly afraid of snakes. Who knew?
Then there was the time I needed to check something in one of the tuning houses in Bloomfield, so I came in around midnight, and signed WDRC off around midnight, right after the station ID. I walked out to the tuning house and did my thing. Walked back up to find several Bloomfield cops trying to get over the fence. They heard the station drop off the air – thought something might be up – and came over to see if we needed help.
Then there was the jock who called 911 one night in the winter. With the old back gate, there was a weird phenomena that would occur when the temp was around 25 degrees with low humidity. The rust spots on the gate latch plate would touch to the post and demodulate the AM. The gate had a “riot bar” on the inside to open the gate with a large scoop like piece of metal as a shield so someone couldn't’t reach around and open the gate – but that would act like a reflector/amplifier. You could actually hear the station fairly loud and clear at the back door from the gate. The jock thought there might be someone with a radio hiding outside the gate, waiting for someone to come out.
Oh, yeah. In the early 80’s – when the song “Pop Music” came out…… we kicked off the 7PM hour on the FM with a format shift, and let “Pop Music” skip for – it turned out – 45 minutes. We would have gone longer, but this was before 911 dialing, and we were not answering the phone. The volume of calls coming into the station because of the “skipping record” (actually set up with 3 tape cartridges – beginning of song, skipping center – and end of song) actually shut down the 242 and 243 exchanges in the Hartford/Bloomfield area. The stunt ended abruptly when the Bloomfield Chief of Police called the hot line and said if it didn’t stop in a real hurry, most of us would be leaving in handcuffs!
Bob Marx: Pleasantly surprised to find my picture with Russ Dana in the Big D FM studio circa 1976 with a cig sticking out of The Rocketman's mouth. Sad that he's no longer with us but happy memories of the fantastic crew we had and the better-than-we-deserved boss in the legend, Charlie "Big Roy" Parker.
I caught you guys on WDRC AM this afternoon talking about CT radio history and this web site. Very interesting stuff, though??I'm not in the radio business? I've been a listener of various radio stations over the years. You touched on FM radio today and that brought back some memories of the early 70â??s for me. In the late 60's's I listened to the two top 40 stations WDRC and WPOP but at night I stumbled upon â??The Album Portion of the Frank Holler Show? which I think was on WPOP. I was hearing this incredible music I had never heard before, album cuts of some great rock music. I started telling my friends in Jr. High about this and one guy told me you got to check out WHCN FM; he had an older brother. From there I was hooked, I had never heard such great music. Entire albums being played, no talking over the music, full versions of songs, songs played to the end and a great mix of music, not the same stuff over and over. I guess this was the early life of what we called underground radio, progressive rock or album oriented rock. Those were the days. From there it grew for me besides WHCN, there was WPLR, WCCC, the Springfield station as well as the college stations. I remember the guy on WPLR at night, Stoneman. Every night he would pick a band for a special and would play entire albums of the particular band or artist. ??Tonight's special is XXXX, ??m Stoneman, enjoyâ? I also I heard you guys currently work at WWUH at UHART. I attended UHART in the 70â??s and I remember touring the campus while still in high school. The student guide took us through the campus and part of the tour was going through the student union building where WWUH studios were located. We stood in the hallway outside the closed studio door while he explained that the campus had a FM radio station. As he spoke we started to detect a smoky sweet pungent odor sneaking through the door, he smiled and just said â??yeaâ? and we moved on. Different times back then I guess.
Charlie Parker asked me to MC a promotion for a Harry Chapin concert in Springfield, Mass with the winner getting a home pickup in an old English Taxi, then on to the airport to give Harry a lift to the concert, followed by a backstage meet and greet and front row seats. I rode along in the back seat sitting next to Harry who was quite gracious to our guests. After a police escort to the arena in the rain we entered by way of a private door that led to the green room. Harry's band had already arrived, dined and was dressed for the show. Since we arrived just a few momentss prior to the start Harry only had time to inhale a plate of food and do a quick warm up on his Ovation before he asked me to go out there and introduce him. Making my way through the darkness onto the stage I was handed a mic and found myself staring into the glare of a spotlight with not a clue what was about to happen. Just as I said "Harry Chapin" another spotlight illuminated the man himself sitting on a stool strumming the familiar opening notes of "Taxi". I tried to exit the stage but couldn't see which way to go, so I stayed put. Then, like a bolt of lightening striking the stage. the band suddenly appeared in full orchestral majesty allowing me to finally see my way off to the edge of the stage where I spent the remainder of the evening.
Dave Overson: Great site. It really brings back memories from my days at the Big D (1970-80). Can't believe it's been 30 years since I was there. It seems like yesterday. I miss the place, especially Charlie Parker. That kid Tom Ray looks familar. Oh, he was one of my students at CSB. See Wayne, I told you he would work out okay. Best wishes to all.