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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Crazy Radio Days

Photo by Jock Gill (c.1970)

Most of my Radio Days, the hundreds of yawning hours I produced and hosted at WGBH Radio and for NPR, were relatively unremarkable and almost certainly immemorable. Live radio, however, could be an adventurous and risky business – especially going solo, without a rescue net. One never knows, of course, whom, if indeed anyone at all, is listening at any given moment, particularly on a Sunday morning around eight o’clock when regular people are watching the weather forecast on TV, eating breakfast with their family, or sensibly sleeping-in.
It was on just such a sleepy Sunday in the late 1960’s at WGBH-FM, when calamity struck. It was the inaugural week of our brand-new FM Studio 4 (a combo operation without engineer) that I had the privilege of baptizing.

I had programmed two hours of Bach’s works that morning, principally Brandenburg Concertos, comparing back-to-back, standard performances of Bach’s works with jazz renditions of the same pieces – played alternately by the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Jacques Loussier Trio. I had titled the segment, “Bach-To-Bach,” and for the first half-hour or so, all went uneventfully. While sitting back nonchalantly, editing my rip-and-read teletype copy for the noon newscast, the unthinkable occurred:

THUMP. SCCRRRAATCH. Then, total silence. I whirled around to stare at the on-air turntable, not believing what had happened, and simply sat for a moment, stunned.

Dead Air. Better say something!

“Uh, ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, the sky has fallen – fallen-in on our brand new studio – fallen in the form of a piece of ceiling acoustical tile that has just landed on our turntable, knocking the tone arm clear off the record!” (Long pause) “Clearly, the Gods are displeased – angered with my irreverence for jazzing-up Bach on a Sunday morning. Well, we better make amends – so here is the same Brandenburg Concerto, played properly now by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Neville Marriner.”

Two minutes later, the studio phone rang. “Nat, it’s Michael Rice. That was brilliant – just brilliant! Well done! I’m still laughing!” A quick moment of relief. The ‘GBH FM Station Manager was pleased, even amused. I was not going to lose my gig, and the Gods were appeased!

There would, naturally, be More Crazy Radio Days . . . forthcoming.

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