Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Friday, March 03, 2017

Live On Delay

Like the overwhelming majority of radio stations, the entire KTRS broadcast day is on a digital delay just in case someone -- a host, a caller, a guest -- utters one of those phrases the FCC freaks out about. It exists purely to protect the station's license. However, I can't even remember the last time we hit the dump button because of content.

I do remember a show way, way back when I was interviewing Graham Nash and he dropped the f-bomb. My engineer looked at me as if to ask, "Did he just say that?" I shook my head and waved him off. He didn't hit the dump button, so the conversation continued airing intact as Graham and I had a great discussion (one of many we've had over the years).

When we went to a commercial break, the engineer asked me if I was sure, and I told him that, in fact, I was sure that Graham had said it. Then I pointed to the phone lines -- none of which were lit up with listeners shocked by or complaining about what they'd just heard. I explained that most people who were listening at that moment probably tossed it aside thinking, "Nah, there's no way he'd be allowed to say that on the air."

I had the same thing happen once while talking with James Randi, who used the word "bullshit." We didn't hit the dump button and, to this day, no one inside or outside the radio station has ever brought it up.

I have one other story about doing a show on delay, which I told on this site ten years ago.

When I did mornings at NBC-owned WYNY/New York in the mid-80s with Rick Harris (no relation), there had never been a morning show that took listener calls on the FM station, and they were scared to death someone would say something wrong. Thus, we were prohibited from taking those calls live until they installed a delay unit. Rather than ordering a new stereo unit from Eventide, their engineers borrowed two mono units from our AM sister station WNBC, wired them in (one for the left channel, one for the right), and told us tomorrow  go ahead and try it.

The next morning, when we began the show at 5:30am, we punched in the delay system and went about our normal morning silliness. In less than a minute, every hotline number on the phone bank was ringing like crazy. We were still talking on the air, listening to ourselves in pre-delay and thus didn't know what was wrong, but it had to be something major, so we went to a commercial break quickly.

Off the air, Rick answered one hotline and I answered another, to find the chief engineer and the program director both yelling at us to dump out of delay immediately. It turned out that the two mono units weren't slaved together, and their delay wasn't in sync. None of the engineers had considered this possibility, and they hadn't tested it on the air until that moment.

The effect was to create an echo from the left channel to the right channel that was unlistenable. We turned the units off completely and had to do yet another show with no live phone calls. Two days later, a stereo unit arrived, the engineers put it in, and everything worked just fine -- except we had an airborne reporter then, too, which meant going in and out of delay all morning for his reports.

I was not all that surprised when NBC got out of the local radio business less than two years later.