My Red Light Stint In The Radio Business

Posted: May 16, 2017 in Blur of Life

Once upon a time I worked at KELK and KLKO radio in Elko, Nevada (circa ’92). I was 18 and ran the boards from 11pm until 5am. I read the news/weather during the breaks between satellite feeds, and occasionally recorded commercials for Radio Shack and other various businesses onto “carts” (basically 8-track cassettes) for play rotation during the week. The little room in this photo was for the reel-to-reel feed on what we called the “old people radio station (KLKO)”; the most contemporary of mind-numbing contemporary music. Once an hour I had to come change out all of the reels. Mostly I was responsible for managing the broadcast of the Kasey Kasem American Top 40. Here you can see how much I loved doing it (photo credit: x-wife).
The back half of the building was a part of a 1950’s era bomb shelter. Inside the dank, cobwebby room, the station managers kept on dust-laden shelves old radio antiquities; phonographs, tape players, Morse code devices, oscilloscopes, and all sorts of museum-esque collector junk. Being the only one in the building during these late night hours, there was a lot of downtime to explore without being questioned.
Which leads me to mention the ghosts in the building:
Each night, in the early morning hours, the phone system would start calling all of the empty offices. You’d hear a strange chirping ringtone in one room, it would end, only to answer itself with a chirp in the office across the hall. If you’d try to answer the ringing phone, all you’d hear is a rapid click-click-click-click, then it would go dead… only to repeat the cycle once I sat down at my desk in the “fishbowl” (control room). Night after night, randomly, but routinely. I’d even brought my wife in to witness it; to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. Unnerving is an understatement. I’d find myself yelling at phantoms to knock off their creepy, hair-raising antics. I’m hardly a believer in ghosts, but this is by far my most “paranormal” encounter. Combined with the wartime trinkets in the bombshelter, relics scattered throughout the building, the wee hours of the morn, and my Dungeons & Dragons imagination, it was a mental playground for teenage me.
And, to add to that…
At the station was the looming fear of a transmitter power outage, which, I was continually reminded, would be a “very bad thing” to happen. If it did, they said, there would be a red flashing light with red numbers counting down, just behind me in this picture. I would immediately need to follow a process of flip switching and button mashing in order to attempt to bring the station back to life before TOTAL CORE MELTDOWN (just making sure you’re still reading)!!!! No, but seriously, power outages were bad. Without power, the cooling fan for the master transmitter tubes wouldn’t keep them at proper temperature, possibly causing them to heat too fast and explode.
This job was one of 3 I was attempting to hold down at the same time in my early, fresh-outta-high-school-with-a-kid-and-a-family, self. The radio stations were my Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights, the Elko Daily Free Press (as a pressman) was my Monday through Friday 8-5’er, and Saturday/Sunday I worked for my dad as a laborer at one of the gold mines 42 miles North of Elko. I literally didn’t know if I was coming or going most of the time, while trying to make enough money for our new family to survive in an old, shitty apartment building 30 miles from town in a much smaller town: Spring Creek. Days and nights blurred together. I slept in the rafters of the Newspaper building on breaks, in the car rides to & from the mine, slept at the mine, on the control boards at the station, and slept through commercial breaks I should have been playing commercials in. To put it mildly: life was a bowl of sleep deprived cherries.
One of the few times that I actually got to sleep in my own bed, I opened my eyes in the middle of the morning to see the red alarm clock flashing 12:00. The power to our apartment had gone out, but I was unaware of that. As [fake] reality hit me, I sprang full force from the covers, tossing them (and my oblvious snoozing wife) off the side of the mattress with a crash. I ran around the front room screaming, “OH MY GOD THE POWER IS OUT!!!!”, handling it just as cool as a cucumber on fire. About 60 seconds later, I could hear my wife shouting at me through my dreamstate. I was not, in fact, at work, and should calm the hell down.
About 2 weeks later (and right at my 1-year anniversary as a radio DJ) I was fired from the station for asking the general manager for a pay raise to GET to minimum wage (which was $3.80 at the time; I was at $3.25 an hour). He scowled and told me I was just like every other punk kid who feels the “world owes you something” and promptly pointed me towards the exit.
Damn know-it-all generation X’rs anyway…

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