Now and Then: On-air memories full of fun

My earliest “radio daze” recollections go back to the 1940s when, as a wee laddie, I was enraptured by the many voices that emanated from the “magic box” in the living room.

In time, I thought it would be cool to be a radio announcer and would play pretend radio in the secret confines of my bedroom. Later, in my early teen years, I began to pester CFAR station manager “Buck” Whitney for a part-time job. No dice – but he patiently heard my painfully presented teen voice auditions, offering encouragement along the way. 

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Finally, in August 1959 I got a phone call from then station manager Ev Smallwood who offered me a job as staff announcer. Wow! Now I was the one saying, “590 on your dial, CFAR, the voice of the north, Flin Flon.”

Duty calls! The morning shift announcer would arrive around 6:15 am or later, or occasionally not at all, to sign the station on at 6:50 am with 10 minutes of vibrant march music. This was a service to the mine workers without alarm clocks whose shift started at 8 am. Sign off was at midnight. Computers with the preloaded music and commercials were far into the future so each shift announcer was responsible for pulling his music selection from the record library. One could play 78s, 45s or 33s. Look that up on Google if you don’t get it.

The shift announcer operated the control board, read the news, sports, weather and commercials. He initialled the daily log and cued up and played records, program discs and taped programs. One would occasionally forget to change the speed on the turntable and thus have a 33 one-third long play record take off at 78 rpm. No worries. Just crank ‘er down and carry on. He also had to make a run to the Teletype that chattered out the world news copy. Plus he would have to answer phone calls when the office was closed. While all this was going on and unlike today’s tightly formatted radio voices, the announcers were allowed to ad lib – that is create patter without much restriction – which resulted in some highly creative and even embarrassing situations. Like the proverbial cat on a tin roof scenario, it was quite the chore to keep it all together. But was fun!

The Sunday Hit Parade, Thelma Hume’s Kiddies Program, Bomber hockey, Meet the Legion, and Teepee Tidings were popular but my favourite show to work was the afternoon Mailbag Show. The Mailbag featured country music selections and messages sent to listeners in the northern regions, pre-internet and voice mail. I enjoyed it when visitors to Flin Flon from northern villages and reserves would sporadically wander in and go live on the air with their messages to family and friends. Some would bring a guitar and sing a song or two. More fun! 

Readers may recall the CFAR Fearless Fosdick’s Fishing Forecast. The name came from a cartoon character created by Al Capp who, by the way, designed Flintabattey Flonatin. If you ever wondered – I can tell no lies – this unscientific and wholly imagined summertime fishing forecast feature was pulled out of the air by whoever remembered to do it.

Radio back in those days enjoyed a wonderful sense of informality wherein fellow staff members would attempt to “break up” the on-air announcer. Tricks such as setting fire to his newscast while he was reading it, or writing up phony news stories which were innocently and embarrassingly read on air. Or whispering perhaps inappropriate things in his ear while he was on air. My favourite trick on rookie announcers? The CFAR weather thermometer was located on a post at the station entrance. Knowing that the on-air announcer would check the reading just ahead of his hourly newscast, I would secretly place my thumb on the bulb thus increasing the temperature by several degrees. The announcer would excitedly proclaim that, “A heat wave has struck Flin Flon over the past hour,” and then dutifully have to report the next hour that the heat wave had passed. Such fun!

I’m grateful for those days great “radio daze.” Thanks, CFAR, for the memories – and the fun!

I’m still on the air as host of two hours of music and fun. Tune in to
www.cjtr.ca Thursdays, 1 to 3 pm CST.

© Copyright Flin Flon Reminder

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