A couple of weeks ago I wrote about overnight radio, and mentioned in passing how different the overnight environment is now. A spin around the dial late at night is a trip through a place with little sense of place, the audio equivalent of the strips of generica that adorn every city in the country now. Adrift amongst the syndicators and the automators, you could be anywhere. As a result, you’re nowhere.
Today, many stations are either automated or voice-tracked on the overnights, or they carry syndicated programming. Only a few stations have a live person on duty during the wee hours, and the bulk of them are talk-show hosts. ‘Twas not always thus. A college classmate of mine has recently posted on YouTube a spin around the FM dial as heard in Platteville, Wisconsin, on the night of May 29-30, 1979. Platteville is in the far southwestern corner of the state, so conditions must have been special that night to pick up stations from Milwaukee and distant places in Wisconsin, plus Chicago and the Twin Cities, along with the stations you’d expect to hear closer to home.
The aircheck captures a truly bygone age. Stations air newscasts and sports reports in the middle of the night. There are public-service announcements and full-blown public-affairs programming. One station introduces a rock-concert broadcast by telling listeners that if they intend to record it, the show will start in five seconds. There are lots of station jingles—distinct from highly produced sweepers, which everybody uses today, jingles required a cash investment, because singers have to get paid.
There are some automated stations on the aircheck, but it’s mostly real live people up late doing radio. Some of them are obviously young and inexperienced, stumbling through copy or ad-libbing clumsily. Others have more accomplished chops, but also the distinctive small-market lilt in their voices that will limit their on-air futures. Some are clearly bound for better shifts. A few famous voices are heard: longtime Chicago jocks Yvonne Daniels, then on WGCI, an urban/disco station calling itself Studio 107, and Bobby Skafish, then on WXRT. I recognized Jim Douglas from WFRL-FM in Freeport, too—and you might recognize some others.
(The aircheck includes two stations I was working for in 1979: WSUP, the college station in Platteville, and D93, the automated rock station in Dubuque. It includes another I would work for in the future, WFRL-FM, which would become WXXQ the next summer.)
About the title of this post: A commenter to my earlier post about overnights mentioned a jock in Dubuque who used “east of midnight” to refer to her time slot, but she’s not the only jock I’ve heard use it, and I don’t think she invented it. If you know anything about its origin, help a brother out.