A fond farewell to those rotary consoles!
July 28, 2007

So the rotary old-school audio consoles at Specs Howard School are a thing of the past. My oh my oh my!  An era has finally and completely come to a resounding close!

We bid a fond farewell to the last of ‘em this past summer at Specs Howard School.  How many students first learned their craft on one of these gems?   Considering some of this equipment goes back to the 1980s, quite a few!

In the 1990s (before I arrived at Specs myself), one of the stations I maintained was WTWR-FM in Monroe.  Many students call that station home – both today and in the past. 

At the time, WTWR (better known as “Tower 98”) was independently owned when I first began serving their techie needs.  Their studios were crammed into two storefronts in downtown Monroe. One side had the sales offices, the other contained the studios.

The On-Air studio featured a Broadcast Electronics rotary console. It was almost identical to the type we had in abundance at Specs Howard.  There were a couple of cart machines and consumer-type CD players, a cassette deck and a reel to reel tape recorder – all common items at Specs as well, when I first jumped on board.

In my Tower 98 days, many times I would be called upon to do repairs on that audio console, always when the console was “live” on-air, usually on a Saturday or Sunday when we were (hopefully) least disruptive to the day to day operations, but sometimes an emergency repair had to be made. At the time, the General Manager at WTWR was Specs graduate, Herb Cody, who actually cared a lot about the station. Herb was there throughout the time I was there. He knew everything about the station and would do everything possible to assist engineering, helping to get parts ordered, and would make a supportive trip to the transmitter site at a moments notice.   

During my console repair escapades, I would ask the air talent to find the longest song they had during which I would attempt to complete the repair.  The repairs usually involved replacing an important mechanical switch, which was always in an awkward location and always required a hot soldering iron  (so much for the convenient plug-in cards inside, which rarely had problems other than a blown fuse).

Later, I was part of a group that among other things, attempted to purchase WTWR.  We had already reached the conclusion that the studios and offices needed to be completely scrapped. 

Our friends at Cumulus, however, had more money than us and they got the station instead (and still do to this day).  Regarding the old studios, however, they had reached the same conclusion we had:  Start completely fresh in a new location.

As the story goes, I turned out to be one of the engineers who helped to build their new studios (or at least finish them). 
As luck would have it, I later was on the Cumulus payroll when WTWR became one of the stations I was responsible for maintaining.

I remember seeing the original rotary console gathering dust in a storage room that I  (and others) had repaired many times. 

I had no particular fondness for it.  It its day, it was a fine workhorse.  For that matter, so was the rotary RCA console at the very first station I worked for that actually paid me:  The long-departed
WBRB-AM in Mt. Clemens, Michigan.  You could see glowing tubes through the ventillation holes on the back.  The year was 1977.  The late Gilda Radner owned the place at the time and her uncle signed my paycheck.  I would guess that audio console dinosaur was from the late 1950s. I was the midday jock. The afternoon drive guy showed me the proper place to “whack” the console when it would occasionally cut out.  As the youngest full time on-air guy on staff, I still was already seriously addicted to radio. It didn't matter to me that some of their equipment was manufactured before I was born.

All I knew was it sounded so cool when would I manually back-time my show using music from carts and 45 rpm records, and hit the live ABC news feed precisely on time.  Throw the key switch precisely at :59:55 and you ruled the radio station when that dramatic ABC sounder came across.

The network “pot” was a smaller knob near the top with a key switch, but the rest of the console was not too much different from the more “modern” solid state versions such as those manufactured by Broadcast Electronics, LPB, McMartin, Sparta and others of the era.

So how do I feel when pulling one of those 1980s-era consoles out of a studio being upgraded at Specs? (The actual removal only takes 10-15 minutes... cleaning the crud underneath takes more time).  

Do I feel 
nostalgic?  Not at all.  “Classic” technology that is maintained for a certain sound or function (like tube type guitar amplifiers, certain studio processors, etc.) is highly prized.  But 1970s technology (such as early transistor equipment with a lot of mechanical switches) has about as much use as a DOS computer of the early 1980s.

Try playing a pristine CD through some of that old gear.  Maybe you’ll hear it past the system hiss, crackle and noise caused by oxidized components.  And MAYBE the microphone will actually work when you throw the switch.

But you still have to give the equipment some respect and a fair burial, even if it’s in the dumpster or in somebody’s basement who THINKS it can be the center of their home studio.  They WOULD have been fine additions to anyones’ studio 20 years ago.

As for now, go buy a Mackie mixer from Guitar Center.  

B.E. Consoles, R.I.P.


It really is a good thing (usually) if YOU make it happen. 

David Bowie wrote a song about it a long time ago.

Pan-handlers have a line:

"Got some spare change?"

There was even an R & B band back in the 70’s-80s called “Change.”  They had a song “Change of Heart”, title track from the LP of the same name (as we used to say).  I though they were a good band.

Change is everywhere.  Not the band anymore, but in our lives.

People are always changing their schedule.  Changing jobs.  Changing schools. Changing plans, planes and other modes of transportation. They are changing radio stations.

(We will discuss “What’s On My Car Radio” another time).

They are changing their interest, cable TV and cell phone service. They are changing guy and girlfriends, wives, husbands, etc. because they think what is different from what they have or had is better.

Sometimes it is better.  Sometimes not.

Sometimes you have control over that change and you (yes you) cause it to happen.

Other times it’s out of your control and you don’t want it to happen, but you can’t change it for a more desirable   It can bring sadness, happiness, wealth or bankruptcy. 

With entertainment, you usually have control over what station you change your radio or cable box to.  If you have satellite radio, you have more choices.  If you are listening to local radio, obviously, you’re more limited. 

My first car was even more limited. It only had an AM radio and no cassette or CD player, but at the time, that was enough because I started my career working for AM radio stations.   

As my life progressed and changed, at one point I even had a car radio with AM Stereo.  It sounded great, but only on certain stations, and by then, AM radio was becoming more talk oriented.  People had changed their habits.  FM was music, AM was more and more talk oriented, and sports was always a mainstay.

One of the changes in my career came about because of these changes in the industry. 

I was a “full service” AM disc jockey, which meant I was basically the MC of many different programming elements that had to be weaved together.  There was no such thing as long blocks of music on AM – at least not at the successful stations that could afford to pay you!

So here comes a hot talk show host who was hired to replace what I did.  I would have enjoyed giving talk a shot, but I was their Production guy… at least for the next couple months until they decided they could not afford me at all.

So here comes one of many changes in my life – one I DID NOT like.  I again became another AM radio jock in Jackson Michigan, until the satellite-fed program replaced me there.

But I KNEW I could FIX stuff and KNEW I had other things I could offer to radio stations that would be of value.  The trick in my life was changing my whole approach to getting managements’ attention.  Phone calls, resumes and letter mailing campaigns were good at using time, but they were not good at bringing about change in my life for the better.  So I did things briefly that would be beneath some people:  I made sandwiches for Arbys.  I did mobile DJ stuff at weddings.  I revved up my old-time radio mail order business.  During the peak of the disco era, yes, I was a DISCO DISC JOCKEY!  I wasn’t particularly proud of it, but it paid money.  I tried to make a few bucks playing in bands and I was a Radio Shack employee as well.

Eventually enough of this stuff started to click for me and change for THE BETTER came about very slowly.  The stuff I didn’t like doing I either stopped doing or naturally faded from popularity.

It has been a long long journey and most of it, along with all the changes, have been for the better.

It’s not a perfect world, nor is my life one of perfection, but I know if I wait long enough, something will change.  Or I’ll change something myself.

The part of change that is the hardest is the revolving cast of people who have helped to make it an interesting life.

I am sad when people I’ve known make a change (or die) and they are no longer in the “cast.” I’m elated when (for whatever obscure reason) people of the past return.

There are unfortunately, some people I’m happy they have been dropped from the “cast.”  They are usually negative people; people who have used or abused their relationship with me, and whether THEY like it or not, I choose no longer to be associated with.

Others from the past I think of fondly.  Whatever activity we shared in the past may no longer exist, but it is interesting to re-live the past before all those changes put us in different worlds, and how those activities led to what I do today.

When you start getting to the half-way point in your life, you think about this kind of non-sense.  It’s not a mid-life crisis, it’s merely the result of having lived through so many changes.

-Bob B











This is only a test.  This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.  The broadcasters of your area in cooperation with the FCC and other authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency.  This is only a test.

(2 tone sounder)


Fall 2006 - This is a picture of me with one of my interns, Matt Inskeep.

Accomplishment comes in almost all fields or projects that are worth pursuing.  It works hand in hand with attitude.  The strongest feelings of accomplishment usually come from investing a great deal of time – as in work – to reach whatever goal is being chased.
At Specs Howard, our accomplishments come in many forms.  One such form (and perhaps the most important one) is helping others to reach their career goals.  Not every student is a success story right off the bat.  It can take work, not just on the students’ part but also on the instructors!   Some students, however, that may NOT seem as promising in the beginning surprise us.

Something one of us on staff may have said, OR something they learned for themselves, OR the feeling of accomplishment they felt upon completing a project that was difficult, got them excited about the field we’ve made our lifetime passion.
Accomplishment that comes from self-achieving is one of the best types.
The pay-off for a teacher in any field is a student who succeeds THEN comes back years later to thank an instructor.  We see this happen on a regular basis at Specs Howard.  It’s not just marketing hype!
As a broadcast engineer, major and minor accomplishments include completing a studio upgrade project and having everything work perfectly the first time we throw the switch – can be a mentally rewarding. At Specs Howard, with more studios under one roof than most engineers may face in decades of work, I find ways to make each renovation just a tiny bit better than the last one.  

Technology advances on almost a daily basis, and gradually integrating some of it into our facility is exciting to me.  Feelings of accomplishment creep in when I realize I made Studio #20 just a little better than Studio #21.  Maybe only I will notice the difference, but that doesn’t matter.  Other times the difference is significant enough that I can report on it in Radio Guide or share it with a student or instructor who may be interested in that new “feature,” however minor it may be.
In an on-the-air environment, hearing something on your car radio that sounds the way it sounds only because you MADE it sound that way yields strong feelings of accomplishment.  I’ve experienced that many times, and most recently, with the help of Specs Howard graduates, put the Motor City Casino’s “Radio Bar” on the air live on many major stations in the Detroit area. Other times, hearing a spot YOU wrote, voiced and/or produced aired for the first time generates feelings of accomplishment.
On a different topic, broadcast sales (basically the selling of commercial air-time) are no different, and it is an important field some students may over-look.   In many cases it is THE PATH that many General Managers took before they acquired enough broadcast savvy to be qualified for such a position.
Working in broadcast sales (or any sales) is like playing baseball: You will strike out far more times than you hit a home run.  The car dealership you’re trying to sell a huge spot package to may turn you down nine times out of ten.  But eventually, you hit upon a combination of saying the right things that grabs their attention on the right day and hit a grand slam when they sign up for an even bigger package than you hoped for.  Accomplishment is what it’s all about, in that case!
Not everyone can be a baseball player, or can work in broadcast sales.  They may not have QUITE the knack or interest in being behind camera or being in FRONT of the microphone, OR building radio studios.  But discovering just exactly what ones niche is can be an accomplishment in itself!  

One of things we help students do at Specs Howard is to discover for themselves what their niche is, when they choose to pursue either radio or television or video careers.  Students at the school are able to sample a little of both before they make such a determination.  Some go in both directions and actually become employed in a combination of fields before they settle on one they prefer.  Others may work in one field for a few years after they graduate then decide a related field is more to their liking, or a better match for their skill set, or simply get the right break at the right time.  A student who remembered what their skills and attitude were when they first enrolled at Specs Howard who winds up with a full-time management position in an area of their interest certainly is filled with feelings of career accomplishment.
But it rarely comes overnight and it’s rarely easy.  Also, we can’t work magic on students who won’t help themselves and put in the work and dedication it can take.  But we CAN teach students the skills and that all-important encouragement they need to work that magic on THEMSELVES.


Me with 1980s-1990s WCAR General Manager, Jack Bailey at a station event.

One of the paths to pursue that reflects an Engineer's success is proving to ALL of the staff that you REALLY are all the same (even if you're not!). You collect a paycheck from the same source but you also work in radio, and for the most part, everyone who works in radio does so because they WANT TO. 

Also, when you come in to the station to work your "magic" (and that is what some people on staff consider it), you're better off leading people to think you're a "regular guy" (or girl) the next time a crisis situation arrives and you have to be less-than-friendly, for whatever reason. You'll have many who are both supportive, sympathetic, and maybe even a Program Director who volunteers to go to the transmitter with you, or do some errand for you that will be part of the solution. 

Mental Health (i.e. your sanity!) plays a big role in your longevity at the job, your effectiveness to resolve problems and not make serious (or even fatal) mistakes and finally, and to go even farther than you have already gone in the eyes of management. 

General Managers are a different breed. The notion that it's lonely at the top may be true in some situations, but most GMs are regular people as well.  It's worth the effort to forge an amicable relationship, even if they seem unapproachable. 


I have always had to prove my value to every GM I have ever worked for.  It could be a single "working a miracle" event, or many little ones, or simply just being in a good mood amongst the staff and by association, winning him over via the whole staff.

Some GMs have to be EDUCATED about things they need to know.  The engineer may have to teach the ones newer on the job simply to be a better GM too if all they REALLY know is how to sell spots. But once you "win" them over it can become a turning point. 

When I was Chief Engineer for one of the major groups, I built a talk studio from scratch with a non-existent budget. It was for a new morning show. Everyone seemed to love the new studio, and the GM even circulated a memo among the staff and carbon copied corporate management commending me by name.  

Some time later, a successful surprise FCC inspection a week before my last day (the second in my career as Chief Engineer) scored even more brownie points.  Despite this, there was low morale at this station for various reasons beyond my control. If I had stayed, however, I could have won the GM over even more, but I had other plans, and sought a situation that was more rewarding.


A GM is constantly being squeezed on both sides by the owner or regional GM who demand a better bottom line, more sales, etc., while the engineer is telling him things that MUST be budgeted for if they are to stay in operation or not be subject to violations, present hazards to the staff, or make it difficult or impossible to remain competitive in the market. 

If the GM won't work with the engineer in this respect, even after the engineer has saved the day more than once, it's time for the engineer to look for work elsewhere. 

The GM will not be there long with that attitude, but the engineer should not have to tolerate such a situation in the meantime.

GMs with big egos are much bigger challenges, but they are not impossible to conquer -- either they like you or not. If they are neutral, you are still in a good position if you play your cards right.

Any GOOD GM will actively trust and allow the engineer to help him in determining budgetary priorities -- that means realizing and respecting the engineer’s knowledge and experience PLUS treating the engineer with respect so that the engineer actually cares about the station. It is a two way street, but this scenario may not be possible until the engineer has proven himself -- or his prior reputation are evidence enough of his integrity. 


Some engineers may make it a personal mission to knock the socks off of everyone with a new studio, new on-air sound, or cosmetic things that really don’t cost the company anything extra but are the products of the better engineers.

As it has been mentioned in the past, the feeling of accomplishment once the work is done (and hearing it on the air the next morning) is among the rewards for what might be a particularly tedious task.

The physical appearance of a newly wired rack can also be made to look like a work of art. Only a couple of my colleagues that I have ever worked with share this passion.  When you take a photo of such a rack and show it to a non-technical person and compare it to a rats' nest wiring job, it impresses them, particularly when you can do it in the same amount of time as a sloppy "throw it together just so it works" job.

It also demonstrates a certain amount of pride you take in your work. Appearance matters in all respects.  They may not understand the purpose of each wire, but when you take a photo "suitable for framing" it sends a positive message to that GM or the PD or whomever you're trying to win over.

Each major accomplishment, such as a completely re-wired rack, should be documented and submitted in a brief bullet-point report either monthly or even better, twice a month.  It is not so much a "brag" letter, but a communication tool that gives an effective progress report as well as proving the cost of your salary is a good investment.

If there is a regional engineer, it's also a good idea to CC: him on all such reports. This also serves to align the engineer with the GM in such a way that points out common goals ARE being reached and that you are both on exactly the same team. Again, it verifies the value of the engineer to the station, but especially proves you not just a good engineer, but a detail-oriented engineer who actually cares about the station.


Eventually, a good GM may also reward you with comp tickets to concerts, sporting events, dinners and other freebies he may only share normally with the sales staff.

And yes, he WILL go to the station owner during the holidays and convince the owner to throw an extra hundred bucks or two or three or more in with your holiday paycheck.  I have been very lucky in that regard, but nothing came without work and effort on my part.

Doing favors for station clients on personal time, such as duplicating program or spot tapes, helping station clients set up their own studios,
 etc., always leaks back to the GM. 

If CLIENTS are raving about HIS chief engineer, you can bet when the opportunity comes to reward HIS engineer he will be generous, indeed, even if only in small ways.


The best GMs have a knack for hiring the best people, but don't necessarily have what it takes to hire the best engineers. One GM had a unique approach: Before I got officially hired, he also asked me to interview with the station’s Contract Engineer (who would later become a good friend and we would share many projects in later years). 

Following that second interview (which was more like a swapping horror stories session), I was hired within the next few days.

Additionally, the GM told me, "If I find an engineer more qualified than you, would you agree to let the better engineer have the job, even after the fact?”

I thought that was a nervy question, but I respected his quest to ONLY have the best people work at his station. As it turns out, apparently I WAS quite suitable as I would work for that station for the next 10 years of my life.

Under his direction, we would eventually celebrate the FIRST successful "surprise" FCC inspection of my career and made some long term friends in the process.


There are really only two options if a new GM comes on board who thinks you (or engineers in general) are nothing but a pain and a liability the station has to deal with.

One can either use their best efforts again, to PROVE how good they are or simply quit, or at least get your resume in order, in preparation for that eventual exit.

You already know what you can do, and have the confidence to handle whatever gets thrown your way.  You already know how crucial some of your knowledge and ability is to the station operation.  You are obviously their insurance policy.

At the same time, while getting your ducks in order, you don't want to flash any kind of an ego in front of anyone at the station, especially the GM.  

You just never knew when things could change, or that GM could be your colleague at another facility at another point in your life.

In reality, you want to be a regular person.  You respect your current GM's management position, but you're both human. You can probably find common interests, whether it's just enjoying a good steak or more work-related topics such as getting great air sound, or coordinating with programming, a flawless execution of programming elements.  This sort of gets back to proving yourself. 

If you prove to your GM that they have the best engineer in town for what they want to accomplish, you will be rewarded with the highest salary that the station can support.  Whether that salary is sufficient for YOUR needs is a secondary consideration.  But that consideration is yours only. 

On the management end, a certain maximum dollar figure has been allocated for engineering salaries. That figure generally will never grow if incoming revenue is not growing proportionally. Obviously, it just doesn't make good business sense.  Thus, if your Sales Manager doesn't have a good team, or in smaller markets, if the GM is not also a red-hot salesman himself, your salary as an engineer won't grow either no matter how good your relationship is.

But that relationship IS important because it will also help you to solidify your personal reputation.  Obviously, that GM has many friends in the industry himself. The outcome could be setting you up for a job for the next 10-20 years; then actually being amongst the first the GM confides to when he decides its time to resign himself (I've actually been in that position!). 

When that happens, just repeat the process with a new GM.  If the GM is actually the program director you have already forged a good friendship with, then in your life at least, it's business as usual.

As I tell others, I have been lucky most of the time, although I have worked for stations where things weren't so good.  Ignoring the "badness", however, and just bringing an upbeat attitude to the situation - no matter how bad it may be -- will always go farther than being an "Oscar the Grouch!" 

Being the "Cookie Monster" will always go farther. Who doesn't like cookies and something cold, when faced with the prospect of doing Monitor Points on a directional AM on a humid 90 degree day?

When the staff and GM appreciate what you do, they will buy you all the cookies you want, or at least work a trade-out with a client for you to get a whole case of "something good."