BY BOB BURNHAM...This was originally published in RADIO GUIDE in 2006.  The intent was not to ignore the work of DeForrest or Tesla, but to put a different twist to what Thomas Edison did before them.
Thomas Edison is not a name most people associate with radio or broadcasting in general.  We immediately think of the phonograph and electric light as the Edison inventions that made him famous and (rightfully so)  wealthy as well.   But this hardly tells the story of the thousands of patents, his relentless pursuit of success and how his very nature affects everyone alive today -- whether they work in broadcasting or not.

I've always had a curiousity about Edison's work and its products. A recent renewal of this interest led to further research. Although some historians may dispute this, it was soon realized that had Edison lived an extra 10 years, as far as radio was concerned, DeForrest,  Faraday and Marconi may actually have been completely in the shadows of Thomas Alva Edison.

Dearborn, Michigan is the home of "The Edison Institute," also known as "Greenfield Village." This is a large collection of historical buildings and artifacts assembled originally by Edison's good friend, Henry Ford, hence the Museum and "village" today are simply referred to as The Henry Ford. 

In the past, the Museum area had a fine collection of old radios and early transmitting apparatus.  Today,

the most interesting part, however, is the "village" area.

Here, Edison's original Menlo Park laboratory buildings stand fully restored and maintained. Henry Ford painstakingly moved the Edison buildings to the site in 1929. Also included is Edison's early generating plant, among many other buildings.

The restored buildings contain most of the original equipment also moved from the original New Jersey site.  Today, employees or "Presenters" at The Henry Ford provide a wealth of knowledge on Edison or other topics applicable to the buildings in which they are stationed.  Here, my interest in Edison was re-ignited, and led to reading Paul Israel's extensive 560 page biography on the man, "Edison:  A Life of Invention."  The front cover of Israel's book shows Edison clutching his patented "Edison Effect" tube.  Lee DeForrest, in fact, based his development of the vacuum tube on this device.

A few radios were actually later manufactured with Edison's name prior to his passing in 1931. Edison himself, however, felt the latest perfections to his PHONOGRAPH would become the leading home entertainment source.  He thought radio would never catch on, but reluctantly agreed to produce an Edison combination radio-phonograph in 1928.  It was not, however, a successful product.   Competition from other manufacturers forced production to be discontinued a year or so later, but apparently not before he gave one away!  In 1929, he held a national contest in which the prize was the scholarship to the University of ones own choosing, AND an Edison console radio (and toaster!).  If that radio still exists somewhere, you can be assured it is worth more than most of us who work in radio today -- could afford.  The study of the technology and tube types used in the late 1920's that may have been used by "Edison Industries" is another subject altogether, as the technology at that time was so very new.   The DeForrest patent for the electronic tube in fact, had just been issued on January 29, 1929, a month AFTER the Columbia Broadcasting System was already incorporated!

Regardless, it is evident that Edison knew long before his death that his early work was, in fact, leading to the development of an industry, then in its infancy.  He just didn't expect it to be radio! Much of his work, in fact, actually led to several industries IN ADDITION TO radio.  One of the many spin-offs of Edison's original company, General Electric, is of course, legendary for its development of commercial radio.

It is fairly common knowledge that the vacuum tube and other concepts all crucial to practical broadcasting were all developed based on Edison's earlier work.

There are however, some notable though less obvious comparisons to Edison's work and ethics as well as his approaches to inventions that are identical to a typical broadcast engineer of today.

In order to understand, design, build or troubleshoot a complex studio or a complex piece of equipment, one must first understand each individual component.  There must be a practical reason for each stage to exist and a functional or USER need for the device of combination of devices (as in a single piece of equipment) to exist as a whole.

Edison also thought about his individual inventions or devices as part of larger systems.  He invented the first practical electric light, but realized it was of no value if it was not practical for everyone to use.  He spent years developing methods to generate and distribute electricity.  His company, in fact, was the first to construct power generating plants in the U.S. and other parts of the world.   In southeastern Michigan, to this day, we are still writing checks every month payable to Detroit EDISON for our energy needs.

He developed a reputation in his youth as a master telegrapher (a form of broadcasting prior to radio).   Many of us in broadcast engineering today began our careers as On-Air "jocks" before becoming Chief Engineers.

Edison would soon develop devices that would allow multiple transmissions to be conveyed over fewer wires, a means of printing telegraphy, and various repeaters that allowed transmissions over very long distances.  

Think about how many satellite transponders exist in a single channel off a "bird." Or how many channels can be carried in a single fiber optic, or in an ISDN or T1 connection from a remote broadcast or to a transmitter site… on a single carrier or single pair of copper wires?  For that matter, think about how many channels are available on your television through a single piece of coaxial cable.

For telegraphy (the communication method of the era with which Edison, as mentioned, was already an expert) Edison patented methods of doing this type of thing (conceptually) over copper long before radio or television.  He was no slouch in business or self-promotion either.  He gained respect and a powerful reputation early in his career.  This meant major businesses of the era FINANCED his work. 

One of his more interesting efforts was a means to transmit wireless from a moving railroad car.

A reed vibrating at 500 Hertz  (or cycles per second as it was known then) was turned off and on with a telegraph key at the appropriate dot and dash interval.  The "antenna" was the metal roof of the railroad car.  Existing telegraph wires about 30 feet away served as a receiving "antenna."   While this could probably best be described as a form of capacitive / inductive coupling, it was probably one of the very first successful wireless transmissions prior to DeForrest's work.

A broadcast engineer by necessity must know a little about EVERYTHING in the plant as well as the broadcast business itself.  Of course, we can specialize in various areas, but among them had better be how to keep the station on the air.

Anyone who worked for Edison in later years had to pass an extensive test. It was comprised of many questions about the United States government and other seemingly unrelated issues to the job itself.  It is said that Edison's own son could not pass the test.  A website (which sadly no longer seems to exist) offered excerpts from the test. I couldn't answer even half the questions correctly, but if you wanted to work for Edison in the early 1900s, you had better be the absolute best in your field and know a little of everything about everything.

As to work ethics, Edison was known as a scrappy, competitive individual.  He would work around the clock when certain projects were in a critical developmental stage.   Who among us, has not pulled many "overnighters" building a studio, or working on a particular installation with absolutely no regard to time.  Sometimes we forget to eat!   The reward is seeing everything WORK just as designed, and seeing others benefit from that work. Hearing a morning show on the air the next day in a studio you just labored in for a dozen hours or more is a cool thing.

Thomas Edison was no different.

He was a workaholic, but he did have a soft side. He was deeply saddened by the death of his first wife. Having spent so little time at home, he actually felt guilty of his passion for his work.  Perhaps arising out of this guilt, his daughter, then only 12 years old, became his laboratory assistant. 

Even Edison's own health was a scientific experiment.  He would eat only foods that completely agreed with his digestive system.  Having lived to the ripe age of 84 in 1931, he must've been on the right track.

One favorite Edison quote…paraphrased and modernized:

"None of my inventions were accidents…  they were the result of hard work" could probably also serve as a motto for broadcast technical personnel -- just replace the word "inventions" with "projects."

Think of someone (or a group of someones) who designed, licensed, built then successfully operated a complex directional AM array…  when others thought it was not possible in that area.

An audience was served, people were delighted, the owner made profit… eventually.  But it took a lot of steps and investment of blood, sweat and an especially large quantity of money.

But mostly it was hard work.  VERY hard work. 

Have you ever seen a AM ground system installed, towers erected, and done the footwork necessary to prove to the FCC that your equipment was operating as designed and not interfering with co-channels?

Or when someone delights in a shiny new digital studio, but perhaps takes it for granted, only a broadcast engineer KNOWS what it took to make it work as it does:  hour upon hour if tedious wire stripping,  drilling, crimping, soldering, pulling wires, etc.

Our personal technical successes in radio are NEVER EVER by accident!

They are ALWAYS the result of our HARD WORK.

Yet while there are plenty of us who know the meaning of hard work and some people in our industry who even approach the "genius" status, none can ever hope to have the profound effect Thomas Edison had on communications and the world.


Reliving old demo tapes 
“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…”

That’s it!  
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.”
“From the showroom window”
Bob Burnham

Last year I had the chance to help out WGPR’s John Mason and his crew when they did their morning show live from Motor City Casino’s Radio Bar.  These are good people on a great station!   John is also the announcer for the Detroit Pistons basketball team.  The chant “DEEEEEEEE-troit… basketball” was started by John.

He spent 18 years as WJLB’s “Mason in the Morning” with a few other stops before arriving at Detroit’s WGPR-FM 107.5.

"The Radio Bar" was one of my independently produced techie projects outside of the Specs Howard School.

WGPR is one of the very few remaining independently-owned stations in Detroit.  I don’t know if it’s true, but my experience has been these type of stations are staffed by some of the most passionate people in radio who love what they do, and while their may not be in the top five ratings-wise, they have a fiercely loyal audience. 

The fact is I’ve been a fan of WGPR for a long time.  At one time, they also had a TV station – channel 62 – which was later sold to CBS and became Detroit’s CBS affiliate when channel 2 switched to Fox.

My favorite show on WGPR-TV was the afternoon dance show, “The Scene,” hosted by WGPR Radio’s (then) afternoon drive man, Nat Morris.  The stations decidedly had a limited budget, but the broadcast talent were the best!

They each had a catch phrase.   On the TV show, Morris would ask the dancers “Are you ready to throw down!?”   And they would reply “YES WE ARE!”    

Morris:  What can I say?  Enough has been said… let’s take it away to our opening spread.”

One of the first times I saw “The Super Scene” (“on the television screen”) was while enjoying frozen fish sticks at a friends house.

On radio, the Nat Morris’ commercials were legendary.  One of my favorites was for Manhattan Coney Island…. 

With KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” in the background, you would think Morris was actually enjoying a coney island when he cut that spot.  It made you hungry just listening:

“Manhattan has come to Detroit!  It’s the best coney island in town with 100% pure ground beef, chili, mustard, onions.  It’s soooooo goooooood I can almost taste it now <sounds of smacking lips! <quick pot up of music>…”

After Nat Morris, Foodey Rome started his show.  One night I rolled some tape airchecking Foodey’s WGPR show completely random and caught the biggest radio party I had ever heard.  That’s the way it was.

Station ID….”…from the best radio sounds in town…doesn’t have to be, but it is…  Double-Hue-GPR Detroit!”

Sponsored time check: <gong>  At the tone the correct eastern daylight time will be <Foodey: let’s make it 7:22 on WGPR>  <gong>  …the time has been brought to you by Old Pro Clothes.  If you want to save your dough, see the Old Pro, Robert Taylor, Old Pro Clothes.  THAT is the sale place!”

The rest of the show would be Foodey, dancing and singing along with the tunes.  His favorites would be followed by catch phrases like “Like that sound, like that sound, like that sound!” or “Aw, mercy!  I just can’t GET enough!”

They were obviously playing actual records at a live remote “from the showroom window of Quality Discount Furniture.”

They would commit what would be a broadcast sin at any other station.   Foodey would pick up the needle and start the record over live on the air, singing and dancing the whole time.  

Eddie Kendricks, one of the original Temptations (who passed away in 1992) had a solo album out at that time called “He’s a Friend.”  I would later visit Kendrick’s record shop (operated by his brother) in the city and buy my own copy.

The title track, “He’s a Friend” was featured repeatly by Foodey during one of his legendary broadcasts.

“The soul continues to roll, doubling up on the action…heh-haa!  This is steady Eddie, Eddie Kendricks…and he’s a Friend of Mine!”

Foodey would proceed to half recite, half sing all the lyrics to the record over the music.

Then finally when the record DID end and he decided he’d played it enough…

“When one ends, another very quickly begins, doubling up on the music, Yours Truly, Foodey, live and direct from the showroom window of Quality Discount Furniture.  It’s the home and king of easy credit that’s right EEEEEEEEEEEEEE-ZZZZZZZZZ…  credit. If you can’t get credit at Quality Discount Furniture, then you can’t get credit – heh-ha! – it’s a simple as that…..”

Next is a laid back commercial for the Chi-Lites appearing live at “Henry’s Lounge, 7645 Fenkell” (which is still in business today as Henry’s Palace).

It was apparently a live read or at least a live ad lib by Foodey with a mellow Chi-Lites tune in the background:

“…aww, it’s a show you don’t want to miss, with Eugene, Squirrel, Marshall, Doc…the Chi-Lites… 18 year olds are always welcome and there’s always plenty of free fully attended, lighted park-KING.”

It was delivered by Foodey’s incredible and expressive Voice of God, both literally and figuratively, that few African Americans on the air could touch to this day.  

The Chi-Lites were not a Motown act, but were from Chicago, but had major mellow hits like “Oh Girl,”  “Have You Seen Her” and later “Toby.”  

WGPR’s programming and especially Foody Rome in the early days were major influences to me along with all the great top 40 rock jocks on at the time on CKLW, and the original WDRQ. 

Often without thinking, I would actually borrow one of their catch-phrases on the air myself ("Foodeyisms"?)

At least once, I managed to slip that Eddie Kendrick’s tune on the air myself long after it had dropped off anyones charts.  I soon knew all the lyrics and could imitate Foodey’s memorable performance on the radio.

We were such big fans of Foodey that a skit was used on the air featuring “Brother Clarence” answering a series of nonsensical questions in a manner we thought Foodey himself might.  Some of us would even slip in the “Foodey scream”

Radio is SUPPOSED to be fun.  That’s why I got into it, and never really left.

Such antics, however, would hardly be tolerated on radio today, as there are few broadcasters and programmers remaining who have roots in the early days.  But at WGPR, the spirit is still there today.

Thanks, WGPR for entertaining us the way you have. 
And especially thanks to Foodey, Nat Morris and Mason.  

Which came first…? The D & D Show or The Fans?
Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle of the former 97.1 show, affectionately known simply as the“D & D” show are determined to show their listeners a night they won’t soon forget.

Although there hasn’t been anything to listen to for the past year, on New Years, they are throwing a listener party at Snookers of Utica.  From the plans unveiled so far, sounds like it will be the “mutha” of all New Years parties.  It also includes a couple of live segments to be broadcast after the stroke of midnight, and yes, the band Mind Candy, headed by show producer Rudy DeSantis will help celebrate as well.

Their new show on WCSX, 94.7, officially kicks off January 5th,  but they rather cleverly thought “What if we could be on the air the very second  we legally could?”

A non-compete clause in their old contract at the old station prevented them from doing a show on Detroit radio for a full year.    A podcast on the WCSX website, however, did give them a chance to say a few words to their fans without infringing on the old agreement.
Deminski has said of the new show, “We wouldn’t be here without the fans.”

But the fans wouldn’t be there in the first place if Jeff and Bill hadn’t worked their tails off to deliver a show listeners actually connected with.  It's no different than winning (or losing) sports teams.

During their eight years of survival on 97.1, their former station, numerous show hosts came and went.  No one lasted as long as D & D.   When the terrestrial version of Howard Stern’s show went away, CBS invented the “Free FM” format.  A variety of morning hosts were given a chance, but none survived.  Only D & D survived in afternoon drive.  The rest of the broadcast day was also gradually torn apart, as various hosts were fired, some supposedly simply to reduce costs.  There was no shortage of talent in the other time slots, but they were never given much of a chance to prove themselves. 

In the fall, a year ago,  D & D invited listeners to visit the station to celebrate their 8th anniversary.  There were so many, they were paraded only briefly through the studios.  Ultimately, D & D wound up abruptly shifted to mornings during the final moments of their old contract.  

For whatever reason, the show caught on with listeners and a “fan base” actually developed who became an important part of the show, along with the show’s producers.

Through a fan website and Yahoo group, fan support continued even during this past year the guys were off the air.

In December of 2007, D & D walked away from a new CBS contract because its duration was longer than they were prepared to work for the company.    

I have tried to explain in these blogs what makes a show like this successful.  In fact, it will work for other formats.  

Being yourself and being creative is a big plus.  D & D shared their lives with their listeners.  They are real people like you might find at the neighborhood pub, as were the people involved in producing the show.   Everyone who called in or in any way was heard also became a part of the show.  There were sad moments, and there were deliriously hilarious moments.  Any emotion that humans can feel was part of the show.

It could probably be said that the so-called “Hot Talk” format was a failure in Detroit, but not the D & D version of the format.  Again, how does one survive eight years in a market doing basically the same format without acknowledging some level of success?

Detroit radio has been mediocre to poor for many years in part due to budget cutbacks, and the fact that apparently the market can no longer afford the level of talent it had been accustomed to.   D & D came along from a smaller market, and simply did the best they could do on a day-in day-out basis.  For whatever combination of reasons, their “working class regular guy” approach caught on and the show actually became profitable before anyone had a chance to take them OFF the air!

So who came first?   D & D!  Their likable on-air persona attracted regular listeners who ultimately became “fans” especially when the show went off the air.

Whenever you put someone new on a station in a new slot, there is always fallout. Obviously, that applied at WCSX.

Veteran broadcasters Jim Johnson and Lynne Woodison were shown the exit door at Greater Media.  Their contract had wound down.  The timing was right, but not for them.  

It sucks to be in that position.  I’ve been there.

My “On-Air” career eventually came to “one of” its ends when talk show veteran, Stacy Taylor was hired to replace my show in the Ann Arbor area decades ago.   I wasn’t given a chance to do Stacy’s style of radio, but I unlike D & D, WAS given the chance to say “good-bye.”   Stacy was ultimately fired a couple years later (as was I, doing drive time in another market).  We were both replaced by syndicated shows fed by satellite.    It happens.  

Stacy is still on the air today in Los Angeles, having a background that included WLS in Chicago.  I am doing technical maintenance and building studios.  

And D & D make their triumphant return to the air doing THEIR type of radio that only they do best.

And The Fans will be there, too.  You can bet on it.  

Best wishes to all, and happy holidays.

- Bob Burnham

 Meet the guys in person and hang out New Years at Snookers in Utica or tune in after midnight…94.7 WCSX.              

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