Mirth on Memory Lane
by Kerry Peace (PD, DJ 1979-1981)
Friends, I had some memorable experiences in my WIDB days, triumphs and tragedies alike. The day Slaga handed over the keys to the Program Directorship embodies the former, while the night John Lennon was killed is over-qualified for the latter.
But it’s the silly things I remember best. They just seemed to be in the air at WIDB, ready to ignite at a moment’s notice. Some return in a flash as indelible images (“JOEY RAMONE ATE THIS BREAD!!!”) and some inspire a more substantial reminiscence. Below is one of a handful of my favorite silly WIDB episodes. Fair warning: I don’t swear to recalling events exactly as they happened, etc, disclaimer, fog of war, blah-blah, woof-woof…
SILLY THING #1: MESSIN’ WIT’ YO’ MIND
Its summer semester 1980 and Wright One is having air conditioning installed, so the studio has taken up temporary residence in the Student Center. Just the on-air studio, mind you; sales, administration, engineering and, most importantly for this story, production, remain In Da Basement.
Around eight o’clock at night, a small gaggle of ‘IDBers are hanging out at Wright One. Memory doesn’t serve everyone who was there, but Chief Engineer Kent Lewin was definitely among them. Kent was a rock of seriousness and smarts at WIDB; all business, all the time and the absolute foundation upon which the rest of us merrily went about our station business.
I’m also thinking Production Director Tim Cawley was present, for two reasons: Firstly, the man is natural born silly. When first I met Timmo, at a WIDB recruiting event in 1979, he wore a plastic helmet adorned with WIDB sticker and rotating red light, and a t-shirt that said “RADIO WHORE.” Secondly, he was perhaps the only other person at the station besides Kent familiar with the fundamentals of electronic mischief that were about to unfold. The more I think about it, because Kent = seriousness and Timmo = silliness, the latter almost had to have instigated the proceedings.
Seriously Kent Lewin Tim Cawley, Radio Whore
Anyhoo…Kent was there actually working while the rest of us milled about, talking and listening to ‘IDB DJ Roy Millonzi do an airshift from the Student Center. Suddenly, for no other reason than we could, a decision was made to mess with young Roy’s head.
Because the on-air studio headphone mix fed over to Wright One, then back to the Student Center, before reaching the DJ’s ears, it was ripe for manipulation. Kent had a mischievous gleam in his eyes as he routed the studio’s headphone mix through one of our state-of-the-art TEAC tape decks before sending it back to the studio (no doubt patching it into B). The decks were handily equipped with the ability to adjust speed and pitch on the fly and the next time Roy cracked open the mic, Kent began twirling the pitch-control knob hither and yon, causing the sounds fed into the studio headphones, and only the sounds fed into the studio headphones, to alternately speeduprealfast or s-l-o-w, w-a-y, d-o-w-n.
Despite being one of the station’s ace DJs, Roy was no match for what was coming out of the headphones. Halfway through his first sentence, he paused for a moment, the last syllable reverberating into an Alvin The Chipmunk register. He started up again, but fell silent for several seconds as his voice dissolved in muddy frequencies spilling down a drain. At last he made a tentative attempt to say just one word and Kent sent it spiraling crazily back to his ears. Roy dumped out of the stop-set and went back to music.
Seconds later, the engineering phone line lit up, Kent answering calmly on speaker. Roy was apoplectic. “Kent…I don’t know what’s going on…the sound…the headphones…speeding up and slowing down!” While we doubled over in stifled laughter, Kent replied with the verbal equivalent of a poker face, conveying concern, but telling Roy he had no clue as to what could possibly be causing such a thing. When the call was finished, we exploded in howls and tears.
Maybe it was because we felt bad for taking delight in a fellow DJ’s confusion, or maybe the silly just dissipated, but by the time he attempted his next stop-set, the pitch-control was left untouched. I don’t know that the trick was ever tried on anyone else that summer or if Roy was ever let in on the joke, but it was hands-down some Class A Silly from the annals of WIDB.