People who have been in radio a long while will know the term “plate voltage” and “plate current.”  Transmitters of the past (and some present day FM transmitters) utilized vacuum tubes.  At one time, the FCC required us to log those numbers every few hours.  By multiplying those two numbers and an efficiency factor, the operating power of the station could be calculated using the “indirect method.”  

You had to know that even to pass your FCC Third Phone test with a “Broadcast” endorsement back in the 1970s.   By the 1980s the test was eliminated, and the “Restricted” license was required.  During the 1990s, one had to pay a $30 fee for your “license. ” This gave you the authority to be “on the log,” to make minor adjustments to the transmitter, to turn it off an on and in the case of AM directional stations, to change the power and patterns according to the license.  You could not be a “DJ” at a station without this license, unless someone on staff was licensed and in charge while you were on air.  

At one time, this type of knowledge was also taught at Specs Howard School.  With updated equipment, and equipment that would automatically record such things once manually kept, the FCC also relaxed the Rules somewhat.  Some stations continued the practice, however, as the role of the full time Chief Engineer became less prominent, or at least one or two persons became responsible for several signals.  

The FCC’s Restricted licensed was discontinued many years ago, along with the requirements of the Chief Engineer to have a General or “First Phone” license (which actually went away by the 1990s).
Returning to techie stuff, in tube technology, the “plate” referred to the element in the tube that acted as the output of the tube, and any changes had a direct impact on the power output.

Another switch on transmitters was the “Filament” switch.  Higher powered transmitters typically required a little warm-up, and the filament was as its name implies:  the part right down the middle of the tube that illuminated orangey or yellow depending on the design of the tube.  By allowing warm-up time, the life of the tube is extended, by not exposing a cold tube to the shock of thousands of volts.

Tube technology remains popular today in the music world.  Many guitar players prefer the sound of a tube amp, and the equipment is still manufactured.  Most have a “Stand-By” switch that does the same thing as the “Filament” switch in broadcast transmitters.

The differences were broadcast transmitters were designed to operate well within the manufacturer’s specifications, as the tubes could cost as much as thousands of dollars each, depending on power level.

Guitar amplifier manufacturers, however, tend to design equipment BEYOND the range of the tube, as this helps them to achieve a particular tonal quality.

Many songs you’d recognize with famous guitar riffs with a particular sound probably came from a amplifier operated on the “edge.”  The drawback is of course, shorter tube life.

There would never be an advantage to doing this with radio transmitters.  The few watts of extra power would not equal an increased coverage area, and in fact, could push the station beyond its legal limit.


This topic has been on my mind for a couple weeks and I can’t shake it. The nature of the way I am and what I write about is decidedly upbeat.  Even when things look bleak, “There’s No Need to Fear, Underdog is here” to cast a word of encouragement and hope. That would be me.

To quote Humphery Bogart, a legendary actor of the past, “It ain’t never so bad that it can’t be worse.”  He said that in “The African Queen…”  at least the radio version.

Here in Michigan, there are lots of stories of people losing jobs, leaving the state, businesses failing and people with crushed spirits having to re-invent their lives. I have relatives who are gravely ill, and I also seem to see the end of a pet’s life once every year or two (or so it seems).  But all is not lost, I promise!  

There are a couple of different thoughts (and types of)  endings. 

People say at the end of someone’s’ life you celebrate the time they were on earth.  Well, maybe so.  But they’re still gone.  They’re still DEAD!

But... we’re still ALIVE and far from at the end of doing what we have to do:  Have fun!  And what better way is there to have fun than to work on projects that are related to what we love to do for fun?

With my work, completing a project usually signifies Mission Accomplished.  My work is done, now it’s time to REALLY play.  In other words, one thing ends, another quickly begins, with ANOTHER PROJECT!

That is the way life is:  A cycle of phases.  Changes.  A problem begins but it also ends one way or another.  A new career begins, and the old one is already in the past, if it ever existed in the first place.

There is usually joy upon the birth of a child and sadness at the end of the “big” journey.  That seems way too deep of a topic that I normally like to deal with here.  Yet many people I have known and gathered some wisdom from have already completed that really “big” project.  

If it weren’t for those people making the most of their “project,” I would be dumber than I am now, and so would all the people they knew.

The whole key is to enjoy the REEALLY big “project,” while it’s underway.  For the most part, everything I do, I do because I WANT to.  I realize there are certain things I HAVE TO DO to keep doing what I WANT to do, but there is “Room For Manipulation.”

So I began this “radio” and electronics “thing” for the same reason everyone does:  It seemed fun, but none of us know how good we can be or how far it will take us.   I like to take things apart and see how they are designed inside, so I am a little different than people who just like to enjoy or experience the end result.... so my journey was REALLY an interesting one (maybe strange is a better word).

"So what do you have to do to make your voice magically travel through thin air… from one place to another?   And furthermore, how does one make the CONTENT of that 'magic' turn into something entertaining?"  

Those are questions I had at a very young age.  My parents couldn’t explain it to me, so I had to figure it out for myself....I'm still working on that one!

But that is what “The Life of Bob,” amounts to, in a capsule! I have had the best “teachers” help in the figuring-out process.  I’m still figuring, and I still have the best teachers… different now than in the past, but still the best!

The chain of events that allowed radio to become reality also had a beginning.  The ending has not really arrived.  One of the offshoots obviously is that just about everyone has a cell phone and you can talk to them wirelessly, no matter where they are.  

Radio seems almost old fashioned, but it’s not at its end either.  That is as long as there are enough people around interested in CREATING quality content, and enough of us at the supporting end as well.

This returns us to the original topic.  The hardest part of making a change for the better is ending one phase and starting a new one.  There are some changes that happen because of circumstances.  They’re out of your control, but how you handle them can impact the rest of your life.

Other desired changes happen ONLY because you make them happen.  Even though you need the money, you finally quit that fast food gig to focus on what you really want to do…. or you DO have to KEEP the fast food gig, but survive on very little sleep to pursue your dream.  Some people never QUITE make it, but it’s only because they gave up too soon, or they couldn’t find their “niche” (and the one they really wanted might have been a little out of their talent range.  It’s pretty competitive out there, in case you hadn’t noticed!). 

Radio and communications and entertainment careers in general can also be elusive.  

The hardest part is finding the starting point.  After you graduate from Specs Howard, however, there are people on staff dedicated to helping you find that foot-in-the-door, and once you’re in, we still like to keep track of your career progress.

Yes, there is an END to getting coffee for the people having the REAL fun, and doing all the manual labor of setting up a promotional event, but sometimes it takes a while.  But always allow “Room for Manipulation.”  Even if you do nothing but manual labor at your Producer or Promotions job, take those extra wedding DJ gigs on the side!  If there is a weekend job that you have to drive four hours to get to, TAKE IT!  Even if it means you LOSE MONEY in the process.  Nobody cares about that, who is in a hiring position.  The fact that you went out of your way to help them fill a shift, and did it with spirit and enthusiasm is going to only help YOU.

Don’t worry.  When your time arrives to shine, you will, just by staying positive, patient and dedicated.  That elusive job may just “appear” if you work at your craft long enough.

I’m off to join the Friends Of Radio in New Jersey for their 32nd convention.  The “Beginning” is Wednesday and the wrap-up of the main festivities occurs Saturday.  It’s always an interesting time to see friends who knew me back in MY "Beginning." 





Baseball season is over (and a disappointing ending at that, for Tiger fans), but the radio game rages on, and what a game it is!

This is almost like an update to my commentary of a month or so back, noting the eighth anniversary a talk show that Detroit has embraced. 

How much does Detroit love the show?  Enough for important people at the management end to take notice. 

In a move that caught afternoon drive superstars Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle by surprise, the “Free FM” talk format was gone almost in the blink of an eye.

Doyle & Deminski, affectionately referred to as “D & D”, have been moved to the morning slot at 97.1.  

WKRK (soon to be known as WXYT-FM probably by the time you read this) has become a dedicated all-sports super-station station with the exception of their program.

The positioning slogan is Detroit’s Sports Powerhouse, currently simulcast on both FM and the 50,000 watt (or somewhere in that range) AM counterpart at 1270 AM.

It is rare that a format change as extreme as this actually ends up giving listeners what the really want:  The cream of the crop of the “old” format.

To the credit of CBS, even the D & D support team remains intact.  

There is always fallout to format changes.  We note, with sadness for example, the departure of Jay Towers, Bill McAllister and Shila, as well as Johnny D, who preceded the “Motor City Middays” program.

As noted by D & D during their very first morning show, talk show hosts – as least the good ones – form a bond with their listeners that actually continue when the show goes away.

Towers kept in touch with listeners through the shows’ MySpace page ( and quips “maybe we’ll move the show to Scranton” (Shila’s home town).

Johnny and Shila (on separate programs) were only allowed a few months  to form that listener bond, but they were already starting to develop a following. 

Sure, “the Gospel According to Johnny” seemed a little corny at first, but after a while, the guy won me over!  He made me laugh.

On Motor City Middays, the picture painted on radio of Shila “the new girl” by Towers and McAllister soon won us over as well, big time…Aside from their appearances at various remote events including Motor City Casinos’ Radio Bar (shhhhhh….don’t tell anyone, I wired that place myself!).    We wish them all the absolute best.

Yes, there are still “Gregg and Michelle” fans too, who replaced “Scott and Casey” (who were the only talk show hosts to appear on the cover of a Buddy’s Pizza menu as part of a promotion).

But if any of these people felt like your good friends, D & D felt like two of your favorite uncles who were much cooler than your own parents!

This is the way radio was WAY BACK. For example, the stingy character, Jack Benny, seemed like someone you KNEW – with all his weaknesses – but underneath all those flaws was someone very lovable, harmless and “goofy” in another light, yet one of the sharpest comedians of all time.   A master of timing and dry wit, he built a sit-com around everyday activities, creating a persona of himself, surrounded by a cast that supported the program over a very long period.

Benny started on NBC, but spent the later decades of his career on CBS, on both radio and television.

Some fifty years after the last Jack Benny radio show was aired, CBS has discovered that “hot talk” simply doesn’t work very well in some markets.  

But as I noted in my last commentary about D & D, PERSONAL, down-to-earth radio WORKS, if you LET it, regardless of whether the call letters are WJR, WKRK ort WAAM and also no matter WHAT you call the format:

News-Talk, Hot-Talk, or the nearly extinct Full Service.

Some of the most fondly remembered and longest running programs
originated in CBS studios.  Toss in a talent like Jack Benny…or even (for dramatics) Orson Welles, or (dare I suggest?) Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle.   

Let them work their magic by building the program and listenership and eight years of success is only the beginning. 

A generation from now, an eccentric group of radio fans (like me) will be trading AIRCHECKS (recordings of the program) of D & D featuring the episode of Rudy climbing into the dumpster behind the building, and describing the aroma, and listeners calling in guessing if Rudy will puke!

Oops. The listener guessed wrong. 

“You LOOSE. You GET NOTHING.  Good DAY sir!”  

But it’s not all fun and games.  Recalling Jeff’s emotion-choked description of events leading to his fathers’ death, or on a lighter side, Doyle’s list of criteria that finally allowed a family pet into his house were among the many moments the guys allowed us to peek into their personal lives.  Again, if it touches the listeners, they will be there in growing numbers every single day, because they actually care about the hosts.  They will be sad, happy or wildly amused by the trials and tribulations of life we share.  It’s like a soap opera, only real. You could call it reality radio, but I prefer calling it simply Good Radio and I’ll take as much of it as I can find.   

It should be noted that Jeff and Bill are still without a contract following the wrap-up of the current one at the end of the year.  The coming months will be the time listener support can truly be a factor. And listeners will be subjected to, as Jeff says, “the same crap we’ve always done.”

Hey it worked so far!

Detroit is fiercely loyal to their local morning guys, and the best this town has to offer are now D & D’s competition.  Yet with D & D to kick off the day, the station has potential to see morning show success it has never experienced with syndicated programming, including Howard Stern.  

Sure, the contract isn’t locked down yet, but for now, D & D still deserves ANOTHER congratulations just for being survivors.  

And it wasn’t ONLY the listeners who made it happen.

It was the on-mic talent. 

Because in this market only the best of the best survive, just like during Jack Benny’s days.

Good luck and thanks again, CBS.

-Bob Burnham


This is the first of a multi-part update and overview of what I do at the school that affects students and helps improve their hands-on learning experience.

This past summer (2007) marked a significant achievement in that we completed the multi-year project of upgrading all our “practice” studios to digital.

If you were a student in past years, you probably learned and maybe got your first job using one of those rotary pot boards.  Those gems were common in radio in smaller and middle markets until fairly recently.

Today’s students learn on Audioarts “D-16” digital consoles in 21 studios plus another of which is also featured in one of our on-campus radio stations.  Each console is equivalent to what is found in both major and smaller market radio stations.  

Once upon a time, we also had reel to reel tape decks in every studio.  Those are long gone as well, having been replaced a few years ago by Dell computers running Adobe Audition (one of the popular editing programs used in the broadcast industry today).

Keeping the facility (and everyone who uses it) up to date with technology is an important part of what I do at the school.

It changes constantly almost minute by minute, which is what keeps it interesting and challenging.  

In the coming weeks, the News Room will be under-going a significant equipment upgrade as well, with a replacement of the ever-faithful-but-time-to-go audio console and some other technical enhancements.

The News Room at Specs Howard School is capable of feeding (and monitoring) any or all four of our on-site radio stations utilizing wire services and the internet from which to create news and talk-oriented content.  This technical enhancement to the news area will include a new Radio Systems console capable of supporting up to six microphones, should we choose to integrate more talk-oriented programming into our curriculum.  

This is only a small part of what the future holds at Specs Howard.

If you’re thinking of a career change, this is the place to experience and learn to use first-hand the tools that the pros use.

This is your new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.