Sometime around 1965 I received a phone call from a buddy Tom DeBray, I had worked with Tom in Fort Lauderdale at several stations. Tom was in school in Maryland and also working part time for two radio stations in Silver Spring Maryland. It seems they were building new studios and relocating their AM and FM transmitter plants and were in need of a project engineer to get the job done. Tom could have been the man for the job but his education could not be but on hold. Tom recommended me for the job as he and I had recently built a state of the art FM stereo studio facility in Fort Lauderdale.
WQMR/WGAY was then owned by Connie B Gay the legendary Country and Western promoter. Country and Western was the then term used for “Country” now. Connie had purchased the stations from another legend in the communications and Broadcasting business John Kluge. The stations were also managed by yet another legend Ed Winton.
By the time I came on the scene Ed Winton had departed for South Florida to crank up the OCEAN. Connie installed his son Jan Gay at the station’s GM, Ted Dorf was the Sales Manager and if memory serves me well Bob Chandler was the program director and Bill Doty was Production Manager and News director. I may have the titles confused but there is no question that Ed Winton had set a great course for these two stations and following his departure the ship continued to sail on auto pilot with a few minor corrections by the team he had put in place. Ed was the creative genius and understudy of Gordon McLindon. Ed did copy much of McLindon’s material like those super, “mood intro’s with the Dallas Symphony and the “WQMR Concerto.” Where is that Concerto anyway? It is my understanding Ed himself wrote many of the intros, like:
“a sleek jet liner whisks across the midnight sky…….. 20,000 feet below a brooding Lincoln keeps constant watch on our Nation’s Capital……. Ushering in another hour of great music on WQMR….. Washington’s Quality Music Radio Station."
Ed had hundreds of these. Each one better than the other. Each had carefully selected music under the words setting the tone of the hour.
These stations were so good the Government had a special line installed to pipe the station straight from the studio to the White House. Somehow I suspect Ed Winton had a hand in this. When I was building the new facilities President Johnson was in the White House, however I think the line was installed first during the Kennedy administration and then reinstalled at the World Building. Somehow I can’t picture LBJ tuned in, but you never know who is listening.
Soon after I arrived Jan called all of us into the conference room to tell us Connie had cancer and was to be operated on. At that point Jan was the Man. Jan admitted he didn’t know much about radio as he was a lawyer not a broadcaster. However, Jan did know he wanted to build a showplace for these stations. He wanted lots of “bells and whistles,” real show Biz. I think the big bucks to build out these two stations and the Hunington WV stations came from sale of the valuable real estate formerly housing WQMR/WGAY. This real estate was sold to a developer to create a large Condo project. I was told it was worth a great deal. As I recall the original WQMR/WGAY was located on Viers Mill Road and perhaps in Wheaton. I have included a few pictures of this wonderful old radio station building and studios.
Most of the equipment was ordered and some being delivered when I arrived so I
had very little say in what was installed. I added all those cute little
switches in front of the controls on the main control board to control the cart
machines, turntables and tape machines. Yes they still used real vinyl records
for all the music broadcast over the air. I also designed the tally light system
above the console on the wall indicating the status of the transmitters, EBS,
telephones and the teletype. I also designed a special extended remote control
metering panel on stainless steal panels in the equipment racks to control the
20 KW RCA BTF 20E transmitter on the roof and the RCA 1R transmitter over on the
Sligo Creek golf Course.
I supervised the construction of the self-supporting tower on the roof of the World Building as well as the free standing tower at the new golf course site. Each site had it problems. In order to install the tower on the roof of the World building it was necessary to mount big I beams on top of the roof and secure them with additional I Beams directly under the roof. This required drilling many large holes through the roof about 3 inches in diameter. Unfortunately the weather turned really bad right after we finished drilling. The 5 inches of snow was not the problem. It was when the snow melted the big problems started. I received a call in the middle of the night from a watchman claiming there was a flood taking place on the top floor of the building in our new studios. The snow was melting and leaking through the many holes and coming down through the ceiling and stairs. The water coming down the stairs looked like a water fall. How to solve this problem? Like the child who put his hand in the dyke in Holland to hold back the water, we needed something like 36 of those children. The solution was somewhat the same idea, Thermos corks. You know those large big old corks that came with the old fashioned thermos bottles. Where can we get 36 big corks at 3 AM Saturday night. There was no Home Depot then. We called every drugstore in DC, Maryland and Virginia within a 50 mile radius. Three here, 4 there, 6 somewhere else. In 2 hours we had 36 thermos bottles and 36 corks. We pounded the corks into the roof and the flood waters subsided.
We did a lot of quick drying of the equipment using hair dryers and blowers. Fortunately the carpet had not been installed so we didn’t have that problem to contend with. Actually there was very little damage other than the inconvenience and lost time. The next problem with the tower was that the RCA vertical and horizontal antenna system had to be re installed as the labeling was wrong therefore part of it was installed upside- down. The actual problem was brought to our attention by an 8-year-old, Charlie Plunket who had taken to hanging out with us almost every day during construction. Why Charlie was permitted to be out till 10 at night was beyond us. We all adopted Charlie, so to speak, taking him to dinner and giving him a few dollars for helping us. I did meet his Mom and Dad one time. They seemed like normal middle class intellectuals. His Dad a patent attorney and his Mom a cellist. This kid asked more questions than any 20 children, but he was very helpful as a gofer. As the tower crew from Utility Tower company were installing the last vertical bay of the antenna Charlie ask me, “ How DO they know which end to point up? Now that was an excellent question. Upon examining the drawings with the antenna we discovered they were in conflict. One said do it one way the other indicated the opposite. I didn’t know as this was one of the first dual polarized FM broadcast antenna I had installed. The tower crew didn’t know. They said “we don’t know nothing about this crap”. “We just try to follow the instructions, but most of the time they don’t make no sense”. These guys weren’t any Einstein’s but boy could they work hard when they were on the job. However when quitting time came around they lived at the bar.
I made a call to RCA. They connected us with their antenna group. The person we talked to there wasn’t sure either. Finally the answer came. The answer was, we installed it wrong. The tower crew was not happy, but it got changed. The side bar to this problem was that Connie had a new station in Huntington WV. This crew had installed that antenna as well. Two days later Dan Grassi and I worked all night on top of a tower on top of a mountain in WV zero degree temperatures changing that antenna.
Next was the transmitter problem. This new RCA BTF 20E was the latest and suppose to be the best designed FM transmitter in the world. I had worked on the previous model the RCA BTF 10 D that had a history of fires in the final cavity. That old transmitter was hard to work on. The final cavity was small and not in the center of the cabinet. This new one had a much larger cavity with a much larger shelf and larger tube. It was also easier to work on. However the same problems that caused the old transmitters to catch fire had never fully been addressed. Unfortunately soon after this transmitter was installed those old gremlins reappeared. RCA sent their design engineer to the World Building immediately. Repairs were made quickly, but guess what? The same thing happened. They then sent us a low-power standby transmitter to use till a solution was found.
Unfortunately much air time was lost during the first few weeks broadcasting from the World Building. Having Jan Gay (Attorney) as the GM was a blessing in disguise. He may not have known much about radio but he sure knew how to get the attention of RCA. RCA finally came up with a fix. I rushed back to WV and installed the fix there first as we were running at low power there as well. The fix didn’t totally solve the problem, but we were able to get the transmitters back to full power. Tuning became the critical issue. Tuning for the minimum smoke was the slang expression as to how to tune one. I learned how to tune this series of transmitters with no more fires after the fix was installed. If I have tuned 1 I have tuned 100 of these over the years. Once they were tuned they generally stayed tuned. There is one other guy who is an expert at the E series and that is Ed Holiday in Columbia South Carolina. This guy has forgotten more about the E series than I may have ever known.