“970 WKHM” Jackson, Michigan
By Bob Burnham
The 1980s pretty much saw the end of the first phase of my broadcast career.
As I gradually sift through the remnants of those years, a flood of memories always comes back if the tapes are still playable.
This article is not necessarily about the tape itself, but the memories it brought back.
I worked afternoon drive at WKHM-AM in Jackson, Michigan. It was a “full service” station with CBS network news, and the sister station to the rocker on FM, WJXQ or Q-106 (which later moved its license to Lansing).
As much as I can remember, back then, former WDRQ Detroit jock, Jim Ryan was the P.D. for both stations and the AM soon shifted to a satellite-fed news-talk format, but it was “full service” when I was there and I was replaced by a satellite-fed program. Full service back then meant live talent, a little music, a lot of personality, and short features. But people like me were not cheap to have on staff at a struggling AM. Automation technology except for huge mechanical monsters -- that were a nightmare when they malfunctioned – had not arrived or were not desired at this station at that time.
In recent years, I did not think any tapes remained of my WKHM shows, but surprise! This demo produced in mid-1982 consisted entirely of aircheck excerpts from that station alone.
I even did my own sponsored sports segment on this tape (which was part of the aircheck). There were no interactive listener bits on this tape and I don’t remember doing any at this station.
Painting a picture of the studio, I just remember these huge seven foot wire cart carousels in the corner of the studio where all the music and spot libraries were located. The studio and equipment was fairly nice. It was a slide-pot board (NOT rotary).
The AM talent had to take transmitter readings for both the AM and FM, even tho there were always live jocks on the FM. That always seemed to me to be unfair because the AM log was always much busier than the FM, at least for the daytime hours. But the FM was the money-maker and the AM was struggling. So let us higher-priced guys do extra work for the “kids” on the FM rocker.
The AM carried some long form style network programs like CBS Radio Mystery Theater, but for the most part, it was local live talent and music "all night long."
The two stations were independently owned at that time by the Patten Broadcasting Company, and the building was located toward the back end of a residential area. The AM site is still there so far as I know. You had to drive through the city of Jackson to reach the station. The AM transmitter and towers were on the same site as both the AM and FM studios at that time.
The demo tape itself was nothing special hearing it today, except I noticed I had a “pace” or a patter that was identical to what I used in at WAAM in Ann Arbor. The music format (Adult Contemporary) was similar as well.
It is hard to explain what that style was like, how we developed it and after a while, what made it so much fun. People I worked with and in some cases, trained in the Ann Arbor days were names like Jeff DeFran and Ken Kal were part of some of that “fun” and obviously like me, turned some form of radio into lifelong careers.
I didn’t really spend enough time on the air in Jackson (at least up to that point) to develop any friendships at the station. Mike Vaughn was on the FM (formerly of WDRQ), but I didn’t really get to know anyone else. I plugged “Lynn Essex with music all night long” on WKHM, but sorry Lynn, I don’t remember much about you. I was still living in Ann Arbor at the time and listened to your show on the way home and that was about it.
For the most part, with that format, you could be yourself and work in your own bits. That was as long as you wrapped it around everything that was in the log, didn’t forget to take required transmitter reads (required every 3 hours back then), worked in all the live and network news and sports, didn’t miss any sponsor tags, and made sure to plug other features on the station or whomever was on after you. That plus play lots of music and knew it well enough to nail every post (manually back then usually without count-down clocks), and usually talked over both the ending and the intro of each song.
That was what (as I called my show on this tape) the “Bob Marshall Atrocity” was all about. I was also “The World Famous Bob Marshall” which was a joke in itself, because these were regional radio stations which meant they covered the county and not much beyond and up to that point, had not yet tinkered with syndicating myself or others. Yet those stations had a substantial and very loyal local audience many years before the internet.
I had a style that was a compromise between fast-paced like “hit-radio” CKLW-style and WJR style of THAT era. I was not an overly-hyped fake-sounding jock. What was on the tape sounds pretty natural, but upbeat. Like I said it’s hard to explain, but all of us on the station sounded that way – and similar but “different.” It’s a style you can’t really teach. You can only learn it by listening to others and developing your own version, but it is mostly extinct today.
It WAS INDEED personality radio and whatever was on my mind that day whether they were in the news or just observations driving to work – they would go on the radio that day. If you were a “sponge” to everything going on (and I do mean everything), you didn’t have to do as much show prep. Sometimes, I’d just get lazy and just “wing it” but sometimes it’s those shows that are the ones that represent your best work, because it’s you being YOU. Yet there are days when NOTHING would be going on, or your mood was a little down. Show prep in that case, IS a lifesaver and sometimes listener calls responding to that would also turn the show around.
In my case, I had a bit of an alternate radio persona going on, but regular listeners soon figured out I was a regular guy underneath that patter and wouldn’t hesitate to call me up. I never did a remote for WKHM, but I did many for WAAM, both as the Air Talent and as the Engineer on-site. And in Jackson, I took many transmitter readings for those guys on the “FM side.”
Before the Jackson days, my most memorable remote was the 4th of July fireworks at the Ann Arbor Airport, from “Rollin’ Radio,” a fully equipped studio built in the back on a GMC motor home. The back end where the talent sat was all glass with a full sized audio console, the technology of the time, cart machines, etc. The chair was bolted to the floor. I remember that very well because it was a little uncomfortable, but we would spend a week in Rollin’ Radio for events like the Ann Arbor Art Fair.
But having fireworks explode in the sky overhead and people come by and say things like, ‘Wow, that’s Bob Marshall in there!” like it was some kind of big deal. I’d have to step outside and meet some of them as kind of a local mini-celebrity. At least one other person from the station was on hand.
It really wasn’t a big deal to me at the time, but it actually was. It was my life at that moment, like it was in Jackson and elsewhere. The fact I can recall so many details, especially hearing old tapes (after so many years have passed) in itself is significant. Who doesn’t like “fame” even if it didn’t include fortune much beyond an extra $50 Talent Fee when we were on-site (That fee was cut in half by the time I ended up getting laid off).
Today, I have much more work to do and much more to accomplish. I won’t be doing the “Bob Marshall Show” tonight or next week, but you never know.
The tape included sort of a “saying goodbye” which P.D.’s always frown upon and usually take the talent off the air before they can, but I was lucky.
“Thank you Jackson for being good to me. Perhaps again our paths will cross. Stick around for Lynn Essex with music all night long right after the news…”
If management was listening, they didn’t complain. I had learned long ago to always behave as a professional. It wasn’t “just a job.”