Hot Rockin’ Flame Throwin’ Radio-LITERALLY!
by POPSIE 1956
I was reminded of this little incident a couple of weeks ago as I was posting another “Throwback Thursday” picture on Facebook;
This is me in 1980 at WMAN AM Radio in Mansfield, Ohio. I started there when I was 24, and worked the night show until early 1983 when I moved to a radio station just outside of Cleveland.
This was one of those stations where you did “anything and everything,” in many ways I wish the broadcasters of today had the opportunities I did, to not learn their craft as much as to screw up without potentially losing their job.
Like I almost did…numerous times, like this one.
Don’t remember the year, but it was a Friday night in the Fall. That meant live broadcasts of local high school football games.
My job that night was as the Board Operator for WMAN Sports Director John Foster, which meant (A) make sure the game got on the air so John wouldn’t kick my ass and (B) make sure the commercials got played so General Manager Chuck Carson wouldn’t kick my ass.
The following is true job dedication, no matter the risk..or injury.
In those days, there was little for a Board Op to do except their job; no computers, cell phones etc, and no TV in the radio station either, so the choices were (1) actually do the job and concentrate on making sure there were no screw ups (2) clear the teletype machine (3) hit the can.
Notice I didn’t say run outside for a quick smoke, that’s because back then, you could actually smoke INSIDE the building, INCLUDING in the Air Studio.
So this one night I grow bored and decide to do some busy work. One of the pieces of equipment we used was called a cart machine;
This machine played..duh…carts…
Carts were tapes that were closely associated with old 8 tracks;
Carts had different things recorded on them; music, commercials, jingles, news etc.
In order to have a “clean sound” from these machines, one would have to clean the record/playback heads, most times with a Q Tip and a bottle of alcohol (cleaning, not drinking).
So on this particular Friday night, while Foster is doing play by play on the game, I decide to clean the heads.
Did I mention I was smoking a cigarette at the same time?
As I’m cleaning away, I put down the OPEN bottle of alcohol…NEXT to the ashtray.
By accident, I knock over the open container of alcohol on the console directly in front of the Control Board..
A stray drop of alcohol hits the lit end of the cigarette…
Next thing I know, the console, the board, and the TOP of the board, is now in flames…
Meanwhile, Foster is somewhere in Richland County, continuing the play by play.
No time to think, and no time to look for a fire extinguisher..
I rip off my shirt and start beating out the flames, to no avail..
I then go for the pants, they were large even in those days so I had a bigger weapon.
I then do a shirt/pants combination to make it a dual attack.
Yes, I’m in a broadcast studio in my not so tidy whiteys, and little else.
Meanwhile, the game is STILL on the air, and Foster, unaware of the emergency in the studio, keeps calling for commercials to be played.
So with FLAMES shooting up close to the ceiling, I REACH over the flames, turn off his microphone, and play the commercials WITHOUT MISSING A BEAT!
In a much shorter time than I thought, the fire was out, my clothes were singed but still wearable.
I dress myself and have a looksee around the studio…well, with a little air freshener, I don’t think anyone can tell the difference.
Should I say something? Should I call someone?
The games ends, and come midnight I sign off the station. I look and look and look and clean up the best I can.
The Gods of Broadcasting smile down on me, I pull another one out of my ass…
That was Friday night…
Monday morning I get a call from the boss to come in as soon as possible, I’m not told why.
When I come in, I’m handed the radio station Program Log for Saturday; on the front was a blank space for the air staff to make note of any and all issues that people need be made aware of; a commercial was missing, a complaint phone call, etc.
On the front of that log is a note from my friend Roger Price, who signed on the station at 6 Saturday morning…
And I quote…
“Did we have a fire in the studio? For some reason..the PHONE CORD is melted…”
So I dance around with General Manager Chuck Carson and Program Director Bob James, and explain what happened, and why I didn’t say anything.
Bob is mellow, but Chuck reads me the Riot Act..in the end, most of my butt is still there, and my job is safe.
This wouldn’t be the only time I came so close to ending my broadcast career so early into it.
And WMAN seemed to be the magnet for my troubles.
But THOSE stories are for another time.