When radio was “spontaneous and varied”

Thom Magnuson was "Doug Collins" back in the day.

Thom. H. Magnuson, responding to the eulogy for deejay John Mack Flanagan, writes:

“I am often asked  what was it like to be a “Disc Jockey” back in the sixties and seventies? Usually I respond with kind of a snarky look on my face and allude to the availability of feminine companionship as being the prime benefit of being a “jock”. Perhaps explaining what the job of a DJ, at that time, was really like would more fully answer the question.

“A DJ was a man… always a male, never a female… who sat alone in a small room with; a  microphone, a clock, an audio mixer board, a copy book, three turntables, a rack full of prerecorded “spots” (commercials) and a wall of shelves filled with records – 45’s and LPs. You had a “format” to follow each hour; a contest here, plug a station event there, read the news at a certain point. The idea was to give the station a certain consistent “sound”, regardless of who was on the air.

“The DJ was required to use these elements to make a continuous flow of sound; blending music, commercials, time checks and talk, that would… hopefully… keep the audience entertained. Meanwhile, at a dozen or so sites in the same geographic area, there were guys doing, basically the same thing. They might be playing the same kind of music or a different genre, but they all had the same goal. All were in competition for “ratings”, the number of listeners at any given moment according to a couple of polling services. DJs that got good ratings were rewarded. DJs that got poor ratings were fired and replaced. Job security was determined by your last “book”.

“Now, what did it take to do this job? You had to believe that you were better at putting this presentation together than those other guys. That people would rather listen to you than to your competition. There is one word that describes this belief. Ego. If you didn’t have it, you had to fake it!

“I always adhered to three principles; 1 You promote yourself – you promote your time slot, 2. You promote your time slot – you promote your station, 3. You promote your station – you’re doing your job.

“Radio in those days was spontaneous and varied. The FCC had the seven/seven/seven rule. One company could only own seven AMs, seven FMs and seven TV stations. This meant that there were hundreds of independently owned stations across the nation that provided on the job training for new talent.

“Now a few companies own hundreds of stations. Most programming comes “from the bird”, beamed down from a satellite. One DJ in a central studio is heard on stations across the country. Satellite radio in cars, commercial free, is a major factor

“When I was in radio it was Fun. Now, not so much.

“Thank You for letting me share the ramblings of a “Radio Dinosaur”


(REAL NAME: Thom. H. Magnuson)



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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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