Bring On The 901
The changes at the studio were nearly complete, but we still needed a way to mount the microwave STL antenna. The sales staff insisted we have music on the air so advertisers could find us on the dial. So I took my record player and some country albums we had up to the transmitter. I connected the record player directly into the transmitter with the old RCA remote mixer for station ID. The first unofficial DJ was Tom Gallaher. The first unofficial song was "Living and Learning" by Mel Tillis. I caught a lot of grief over the albums played. Tennis Hatfield complained, "....He was ready to buy spots when I turned the dial to us. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" came on, a song he hated". I pointed out we were a POP station and had little country music we could play. Summer was fading when the racks that made up the 901 automation were put together in a line in front of the reception/traffic desk.
The adventure was about to begin. Bob had brought in Mike, the manager at WHEZ in Huntington, to help get the machine running. (I would learn years later that Mike's help had a dual purpose. He was there to see how well the station did because the WHEZ owner was thinking of switching to country. WHEZ became WTCR and made history itself.) Harvit had bought the automation thing for he wanted a "pro" sound on the air. We signed up for automation service from Drake/Chenault which featured Bob Kingsley as the voice. Harvit also wanted to push the fact we were stereo. Thus the first set of station IDs started with "stereo 96.5....". He also wanted to do a test where the machine ran until the tapes ran out. When I told him we couldn't do that, he was furious. "And just why can we not do that?" "Because two of the four reel to reel machines are auto rewinders and will play forever!", I responded. He laughed and said, "When it's working, let me hear it. I want to listen all day".
Now the machine was broken when we bought it. It had a batch of bad "pohoto interupters" from the factory in the 48 slot, three deck cart machines (autocarts) of which there were two. That was a large part of the problem at WXIT. It took a month and a visit from a factory tech. To get it to work. I connected the house speaker system to the unit and let everyone here it, mistakes and all.
The day came, October 27, 1978, when all was ready. The station call letters came from a list of decommissioned navy ship call signs. We were presented five in all. There is a popular belief that the FCC assigned our call letters. That is not true. Bob, Tennis Hatfield, Francis Miles, Janet Evans and I picked the call letters. Still don't remember who came up with the CC being "Coal Country", but that's what we chose. (Much later Bob would say his biggest regret was not registering the phrase "Coal Country Radio") Then there was the contest. What would be the first song played? Should have been an easy guess. We had over 600 entries, most of them correct. Bob picked one. The way it was supposed to go was this; At 10 AM I would introduce Bob Harvit. He would welcome our new listeners and announce the winner. Then the song would play. But that's not how it went. Mike, our helper from HEZ, pushed the start button late, so instead of me speaking, it started with Harvit. I was crushed. (It was Harvit's idea that I go first). So while everyone was a hootin' and a hollerin', I slipped out to Kings downstairs for lunch. When I came back, Francis tried to cheer me up. There was a relative of hers on the phone that wanted to talk to me. He said he was in Miami and we were blasting in! Well, I wasn't that impressed for I knew Miami was just East of Charleston. Then Bob called me downstairs where he presented me with a gold watch, a bonus check and an apology for the 'glitch'. It wasn't that much money, but it was an acknowledgement I had done the job.
The 901 would become the biggest headache in the history of radio! It was inconsistent, finicky and a pain in the ASS! It would skip a spot. Never the same one or the same time. It would play things twice. And, every day at 1:05 PM, it would play the National Anthem (machine #2, Deck 3, slot 16). The only remedy was to leave that slot empty. Now I have to say not all the problems were the machine's fault. Operators playing the same song twice for their girlfriends, programming spot sets wrong on purpose, it got to the point where I could tell who programmed the machine by what played when. The operators hated the thing because they wanted a live operation. (it would be several years, a lawsuit against the manufacturer and another machine later before that would happen!)
In the first year of operation Bob Harvit paid off all the debt incurred with the FM. He even bought the building! Total cost of the FM including all that litigation....just over $250, 000. What a start! The AM was bringing in $35,000 a month while the FM was doing $35-45,000!
The Myth had become the Legend!