Around the corner of the radio station was the Circular Congregational Church. It's still there of course -- different pastor though. At that time, the pastor was Doctor Christian Barnhart. Sometime during the week, he would sit in his office, microphone in hand, and record, non-stop, a fifteen minute sermon. Then after its completion, he would walk the tape from his office to the station to the waiting hands of the receptionist. She would eventually place it with the Sunday Log (which were hourly sheets of paper that had a listing of everything that was to be aired for each hour).
My first day was on a Sunday. So that it might move more smoothly, the boss was there to help me, if and when I needed it. I was in the control room in charge of every sound that was transmitted to the listening audience. The boss, Bob Mitchell, was in and about the production room (an area right next door, separated by a large double glass window). I could see him and he could see me.
The time slowly approached when I had to announce the good Doctor Barnhart and his fifteen minute masterpiece. The music that I was using to fill the time before the program faded. I turned on the mic and read the announcement for the program. "At this time, WTMA presents Doctor Christian Barnhart of the Circular Congressional Church." Then I started the tape. I actually said "Congressional" instead of "Congregational". The mistake I made wasn't even heard by my own ears. It didn't register yet.
The boss slowly walked in, "What's the name of that Church again?" I looked at the card and looked at Mitchell and replied, "The....Circular...Congregational Church?" With a small smile on his face, he said, "That's what I thought you said."
Now either a small miracle
occurred by which the good doctor missed his "Wrong Introduction" or his
compassion was overflowing that morning because I never heard a word of
complaint from him. Needless to say, I never made THAT mistake again. But
it wasn't just a single mispronunciation that I remembered for the
past forty years, but the simple fact that no one's perfect and at that
point in his life, I had a longggggg way to go. But the Circular
Congressional, uh, Congregational Church pastor had still another
situation to deal with.
One Monday morning Doctor Barnhart came by to pick up his recording of the previous Sunday's show and Johnny was there to meet him. "Here's your tape Doctor Barnhart, and you don't have to worry about your recorder not erasing it. So that it'll be ready for recording your next sermon, I erased it for you." Doctor Barnhart couldn't speak. It wasn't because he was thankful. You see, he had been saving all of his recordings for many years now. But Johnny didn't know this. This was the first time that I had seen a pastor come "that" close to losing it. Eventually he composed himself and took the "erased" tape back, mumbling something under his breath.
The only good thing that came out of this situation was that Johnny erased the tape, not me. You see, I too didn't know that the good doctor saved all of his recordings. Johnny learned something that day and so did I. Every time you do something for someone else, think about it first, try to come up with the worst case scenario, and then don't do it. It's a lot easier nowadays asking for forgiveness than getting permission.
Back in 1963 one of the many places in Charleston that you might find any car at any time was at one of the many drive-in restaurants. One of which was known as the "Patio Drive-In Restaurant." Its claim to fame was that periodically, a WTMA DJ would broadcast from there in a Plexiglas booth, high above the parking area. There sat the DJ, talking on the air and selling whatever the "Patio" people wanted to sell that night. A DJ named Doug Randall was scheduled to be there on one particular Saturday evening.
The setup was as follows: All that the DJ needed to bring was a radio to listen to, plus a microphone and mixer. The DJ would have an hourly list of the music that would be played at the radio station and between songs give out other information on the air. I had been working weekends for about three months and had just started working fulltime when most of the schools were about to start up again. That last summer week would be really hectic for most drive-in restaurant workers because every kid with "wheels" would be there. Doug had many years of experience in this and was about to "do Bob a favor". "How would you like to do the Patio this weekend?" Doug asked. He explained to me what I needed to know and said I'd even make $25. Now in 1963, you could almost make a down payment on a home with $25. I was talked into it.
I got the equipment from TMA's engineer Harold and was shown how to use it. I was ready. I had to be on the air by 6 pm. I got there a little early - 4 pm - hooked everything up, plugged it in, tested it, and called the station. "I'm all connected up and ready to go." Everything was A-OK. The booth was about 6 feet by 6 feet and maybe 7 feet high. In it was a folding cardboard table and a standard folding metal chair. The booth seemed to be well built, in spite of the bad weather that it had to endure for so many years. The flooring was a large piece of rusty steel decking.
I walked up and down the steel stairs many times to talk with the manager and the waitresses about what their specials were that night. The hours rolled by. I was ready, I was really jazzed up. Sitting on the folding chair, high up in the air in the booth that was all lit-up. The radio was just loud enough so that I could hear what was going on, but far enough away from his own microphone as to not give me any "feedback". (That's the high pitched squeal you sometimes hear.)
Time just drifted by. I introduced songs, did a few commercials and read a few requests. I started feeling really relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. A great song was playing -- "Just One Look" by Doris Troy. I was soaking it all in and started to lean back in the chair, unaware of the wet areas that the feet were resting on. Back I tilted. Back. Back. A little more. THEN - I violently came up against the laws of physics and my feet went flying up in the air. Hitting the table. Tossing it and all the equipment up in the air. Until the chair landed flat on the steel floor deck. Now, as I looked straight up to the ceiling, I could see where all the water on the floor had been coming from. Then all of a sudden I felt something in my back. A sudden rush of -- PAIN. And before I could think about it, I heard myself say, "SON-OF-A-BITCH"!
I suddenly realized that I had to get up and put everything back together. I got up. Replaced the chair. Put the table back up. Picked up the mixer and radio and just heard a hum or some static. "I'll redial it to the right station in a few seconds. Where's the microphone? Oh, here it is." I picked it up and put it next to the radio and heard the familiar sound of -- FEEDBACK. The squeal tells me that the radio is still set to WTMA and that the microphone is working and I'M ON THE AIR. But did anyone hear my scream?
Quickly, my brain went into overdrive and I came up with the following: "OK we're gonna send out that last song to a couple of guys that I haven't seen for quite a while. I was looking down at the cars and all of a sudden, there they were, and I just yelled out their names. So guys, if you're still listening, I'm sending this next song to SONNY and MITCH, here's Leslie Gore and 'It's My Party'." The DJ at the station gets the cue, runs with it, and starts the song. Eventually the song ends and once again to cover myself, I dedicated it again to SONNY and MITCH.
For the next few moments I expected to see red lights flashing (police cars used red lights back then), then see a dozen police cars come flying in, ordering people to back out and leave, watching spotlights cover the booth area, and dozens of police officers with guns drawn and all directed at the booth I was in. (You see, back in 1963 if you were to say what I had said ON THE AIR, that would probably be a Capital Offense.) I was waiting for someone with a bullhorn to say, "Alright...you up there...come out with your hands...over...your mouth!" But no police cars arrived. Nothing happened. Nobody said anything to me about it. So the worst part was not what happened, but what I thought MIGHT happen, plus thinking about it for the next hour.
The next day at the station, Doug Randall says, "You did a good job last night." And while walking away Doug continues, "I used to know a couple guys named Sonny and Mitch too."
That's been my secret for forty years now and I hope you've enjoyed reading about it.
-- Bob Kight (Jim Diamond)
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