At 14-years-old I started in radio in Lincoln, Nebraska as the host of a weekly 10 minute interview show called Unique Youth. I would celebrate kids in the community who were making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Rick Alloway was my mentor and defender. Unique Youth aired on KFOR 1240 — the number one station in the city — and on their FM sister station X103 (now known as KFRX 102.7 after the advent of digital stereo tuners) at 5:30am Fridays.

I was quickly able to move up to weekend air shifts and I steadily worked in radio at KFOR and X103 as well as KLMS 1480 (the call letters at the time were pronounced “Kay-Elle-Aim-Esh-ah!” on air in an old-time classic boss jock performance) and KBHL FM. Later I added television to my resume when I became the teen movie critic on Kidding Around — with hostess Leta Powell Drake — for broadcast powerhouse KOLN/KGIN-TV and those stations had a coverage map the shape and size of the entire state of Nebraska.

I was honored to work with radio greats like Scott Young, Tim Moreland, Jim Miller, Dick Terhune, Skip Willis, Emmet Jones, Greg Jackson, Francis J. Grabowski, Jr., J. Marshall Stewart, Dave Graupner and Christopher Morrow.

I’m sure I’m leaving out lots of other greats so remind me if I missed you. I am listed on the Nebraska Radio People website as well as the Where Are They Now? page so you can root around there to see what all those greats are doing now. I love radio. It is Theatre of the Mind. I was raised on radio.

As a youngster I would sleep with my portable GE radio next to my ear as I tried to tune in Larry Lujack’s late night show on WLS in Chicago when the air was clean and clear and 50,000 watts were able to reach me through the thin atmosphere to land softly and tenderly in my prepubescent ear.

Today kids are raised on MTV where their eyes replace their ears and images ruin their imagination. I would not trade my radio days — listening or performing — for anything. The double-shifts I worked at KFOR from 6pm to Midnight and then again 6am-Noon were backbreakers and spirit-testers, but that experience helped build character.

I learned how to think fast on my feet in real time and how to problem-solve mishaps that happened live on the air. I was delighted to find an outstanding radio site called ReelRadio where, for $12 a year, you can login and listen to incredible airchecks from radio’s recent glorious history.

An aircheck is what disk jockeys use to document their on-air performance. There were in-house aircheck reel-to-reel tape recorders that would start recording when the announcer’s microphone was activated for live communication.

Some jocks saved their airchecks. Most used them as a system of self-checks and then threw them away or they mailed them off to get jobs in other radio markets. An aircheck contains only snippets of music. If you haven’t heard an aircheck before you might be put off by the jerkiness of the editing but the purpose of an aircheck is to only condense the work of the announcer — nothing else matters.

There were radio fans at home who would record airchecks of their favorite personalities and you will find many of those fan-created airchecks on ReelRadio. You will instantly be transported back to a time in the 60’s and 70’s when radio was boss and when radio mattered most in the everyday lives of everyone in America.

Radio was driven by an intricate mix of music and personality back then and the airchecks you hear on ReelRadio demonstrate that tight relationship between culture and curing. On ReelRadio you will find preserved the work of The Real Don Steele, Charlie Tuna, Larry Lujack, Wolfman Jack, Don Imus and many others. My favorite boss jock on ReelRadio is the great Robert W. Morgan who had the number one show on KHJ in Los Angeles for five years straight from 1965-1970 and he had a 20 share in the ratings.

A 20 share means 20% of radios in Los Angeles were listening to him. At 28-years-old he was number one in Los Angeles. His style was warm and welcoming and cutting and curious and when you listen to this particular aircheck: Robert W. Morgan, KHJ Los Angeles, October 18 1968 You will be transported back to a moment when you can experience in “real time” the following:

  • Wichita Lineman makes its debut as a song and Robert W. Morgan hopes it becomes a hit and he tells us he will play it again in an hour to make sure it sticks.
  • You will hear news about Apollo 7.
  • You will get an update on Jackie Kennedy’s impending marriage to Aristotle Onassis.
  • There will be a rumor of disruption at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics where a “Black Power” salute was demonstrated.
  • Songstress Lulu will sing a commercial jingle for you about shampoo.
  • Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” will also make a debut as a single. An advertisement for the new Laugh-In album creates a smile.

You can see a video aircheck of — Robert W. Morgan, KRTH March 28, 1994 (57:17) — that fascinates as it teaches. Robert W. Morgan ran his own sound board and answered his own phone. You will also enjoy a final video tribute to Robert W. Morgan here — THE ROBERT W. MORGAN BOSS-OGRAPHY (35:58) — that took place on January 9, 1998. Robert W. Morgan died of lung cancer on May 22, 1998 and, as he says on camera in his own tribute video, “smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for 35 years might have something to do with it.”

Seeing Robert W. Morgan bald and frail from chemotherapy and ill-of-voice from trying to catch his breath is a terrible, but necessary, way to appreciate his gifts and to harshly remind us all how easily a life can be puffed away at its peak. He was
61.

ReelRadio is memories that made history and its role as a celebration of radio and as an archive of talent is invaluable. You may find a free taste of ReelRadio by listening to their 10th Anniversary Special. Your ears will remember through your heart.

32 Comments

  1. Hey clem!
    Yes, those were the days. It was you and the rest of the world. Every possibility for the future was set out before you like a banquet. You could touch and feel Chicago from Lincoln, Nebraska and the horizon was never-ending and you were always young and beautiful and full of promise.

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  2. it was kdka in pittsburgh for me as a young bunny in the near south and on the farm you would wake up at four and listen to life in the big city while you were safe and nowhere

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  3. It was a different time and place. The world was dormant and safer and you could afford to go inside your dreams and wander around a bit without fear of getting lost or being beaten down by expectation. There was no media saturation. No cable television. No satellite TV. No satellite radio. You knew by the frame of your life there was a steady pattern of predictability that is missing in today’s haphazard culture. Radio was one way to add ordinary to your life from exotic places. I miss that auburn “Boss Radio” age that started in 1965 and basically ended around 1972.

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  4. I’m glad you enjoy the ReelRadio site, clem! There’s lots of stuff there. I especially like the video clips they have. It brings a whole new reality to the radio life I knew and miss.

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  5. You might be right, Dave, that the Emerald Age of Radio may be ahead of us.
    I am concerned with the growing ramifications of the loss of the local morning radio show because there is a maiming of community healing that cannot happen in a syndicated situation. You lose the home hewn local angle that can create local interest and investment in a hometown radio market.
    With the big radio corporations owning 100 stations — let’s say that for easy math — do they want to pay 100 morning men $40,000 USD a year or one guy $1,000,000 USD a year and then syndicate him across all 100 stations? They can add local cut-ins for weather and news to fake community involvement. Saving $3,000,000 USD a year with a syndicated morning show is smart business but really bad radio.
    There are some cities where nearly all the radio stations across many genres are operated by one company. That narrowing of interest in broadcasting one Point-of-View – to fill one pocketbook — is dangerous for a free society and a Democracy in the specific.

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  6. Radio is the magical medium!
    When I was in high school, I used to DX WSB from Atlanta with a boom box in Bloomington, Indiana. I’d sit up late at night in the summer and try to tune in stations from as far away as I could. Sometimes, I’d be able to get WINS from New York tuned in on the car radio. It is always cool to pick up a famous radio station that is normally unavailable.
    WLS has always been a staple since high school also.
    I always liked to listen to the talk hosts such as Stacey Taylor and Bob Lassiter talk about their lives. Roe Conn has always been a favorite WLS talk host. Roe was in New York recently, so maybe something big is happening with him.
    I haven’t listened in a couple of years, but I always find it awe inspiring to listen to the EAM messages transmitted by the Air Force to jets carrying nuclear weapons around the world. I always wondered if the message I was hearing was the start of the end of the world, or just another constant test that the Air Force is always running.
    I was also a scanner geek back when I was in high school. There wasn’t a lot of things going on in Bloomington, but every once in a while, there’d be tense moments while waiting for the officers responding to a call to check back into dispatch.
    I haven’t fired up the scanner for a while in my area, but I can pick up all sorts of interesting frequencies from my house. Chicago PD comes in crystal clear in the 70 cm band. Gary always keeps busy. And, it’s always fun to just scan the public service bands to see if there is anything interesting going on that might not be widely published, such as task forces tracking and rounding up fugitives.

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  7. What a magnificent message, Chris!
    I love it that you are into signals from far away and living them in the moment.
    I have never heard of EAM but I appreciate the cool link!
    I was never into scanners or shortwave but the guys who were taught me a lot. Listening to conversations all over the world was like being a witness to secret instant messages.
    WLS has a lot of resonance for a lot of people from our era. It is a common touchstone of early communication of needs. Great fun! Thank you for your memories!

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  8. Ooo! I love it when you go back and comment on an old article, Chris, because you bring it back to life!
    😀
    Hey! I hope it all works out for Roe! Now that would be a lot of great fun. Keep us posted!

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  9. http://www.fox23.com/news/local/story/Phil-Brent-hang-up-their-headphones/XLiVT3R2PE28OVXu-uvYjg.cspx
    The ‘golden age of radio’ has met it’s demise in Tulsa. Phil and Brent of 97.5 KMOD have left the morning show microphone. Apparently it was contract negotiations that fell through and the heart of Tulsa is mourning their leaving.
    This pair has been a mainstay on the airwaves for as long as my generation can remember (nee 1969) and I along with any within the sound of their voices will miss them.
    Radio, and the memories associated with it, are not lost in this generation. Who knows of the one yet to come?

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      1. There’s no money in local radio. One of the best morning men I know — and who was #1 in Morning Drive for at least 25 years — left the air a couple of years ago to become the head of the local food bank. Radio never paid him anything. No job security. Zero appreciation. Now he’s making over 100k a year finding food for hungry people.

        Another popular afternoon drive radio guy and station manager at the same place left that job to become the head of the local small business association.

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