Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Life In The Funmobile‏

The recent picture of Ron Owens (and Sonny Martin III, just to his left) at a remote broadcast in 1969 made me go time traveling again, back to the days when taking KAAY on the road was a pretty big deal. Now, you just stick a DJ with a cell phone into the store of whichever client is willing to pay the freight, send along a few t-shirts and the station banners and it's called going "On Location." It's also supposed to fill the store with customers, but it mostly never does--unless there are some Monster Trucks or Pro Rasslers on display.

In the Glory Days, a KAAY remote broadcast took some doing. We rolled our portable studio--the Funmobile--to the client location, hitched it up to a specially-ordered telephone line and cued up the 45 RPM records on QRK turntables (we called 'em Rumble Kings) positioned to either side of what is, to this day, the smallest audio console I have ever seen: a Sparta four-pot with a single VU meter. It was identical to the one below (ignore the microphone; we had a duplicate of our studio mic in the Funmobile).

We did use a gooseneck--a fair bit longer than the one above--to mount the Electro-Voice 667 A (I've never been sure of the model number, but it was a big honking beast that made voices sound huge on the air). It was nice to cuddle up to something nearly as big as your head:

In a time before widespread use of Marti remote pickup transmitters, a specialized phone line had to be ordered a week or two in advance of the remote. It was known as a 15K equalized loop, the "15K" referring to the highest audio frequency that it would carry: 15,000 cycles per second, now referred to as Herz. The human ear (especially the female human ear) can detect frequencies a bit higher than 15K, but such a limit was plenty good for music and voice. (Ah, we always went for Maximum Sound Quality, didn't we?) One end of the loop would be installed at the client location, the other end would come to the 1425 West 7th Street studios and terminate at the studio patch panel in the control room equipment racks.
In my memory, it generally fell to the unfailingly cheerful Dave Montgomery and his all-around assistant, Larry, to hitch up the Funmobile to what we'd now call a big SUV and tow it to the location. Larry would get out the jacks and set about leveling the unit, while Dave powered it up, connected it to the loop and sent a test tone to the studio. Depending on the time of broadcast, all this would have to be done early in the day or the day before. It was also important to ensure that there was enough AC power on-site to pull a rather large air conditioning unit; the Funmobile could double as an oven in the summer.

Music Director Jonnie King, a mighty man his ownself, kept a duplicate set of the 45's that we were playing in a sturdy wooden box in the Funmobile, divided by category and stored out of direct sunlight to prevent warping. Music and DJ content would come from the remote, with commercials inserted by a board operator back at the station. When the spot break ended, the board-op would hit a jingle and we'd take it again.

The Funmobile was what you'd probably call a camping trailer. We got it second-hand from WBBM in Chicago, where it was the BeeMobile. I am pitiful at estimating dimensions, but it looked about twenty feet long by ten feet wide by ten feet high, with huge windows to the front and to either side of the DJ position. There were horn-type speakers on the front and Pat Walsh (who must surely have been the P.T. Barnum of his time) had heavy cardboard signs printed for each DJ to put in the windows.
And did we draw some crowds or what? The Razorback football pep rally remotes with Sonny Martin and George Jennings on game days would pack 'em in downtown for a block or so. I remember one Jackpot self-serve gas station remote where the traffic got so bad that the police had to show up to break the jam and try to restore some semblance of a flow. Once when I ran out of prizes, I noticed that Sonny had left his hairbrush in the Funmobile, so I forged his initials on the back of it and gave it away on the air. Six women immediately showed up to try to win it! (I have never before confessed this. Sonny, this is what happened to your brush back when we were all famous.)
Remotes then were a bunch of work, but that Funmobile helped KAAY to always be bigger than life.

David B. Treadway
Doc Holiday VII
The Last PD

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading that post. Man, does that stuff take me back a way.