The country music radio show Hillbilly at Harvard posted an article titled The Beep, and How to Make It  (August 24, 2022) regarding some behind the scenes radio techniques and terminology.

« In radio and TV the clock rules, though in the modern era, it may seem different. Local and non-commercial radio often operate on flexible schedules, where one program may meld into another with little notice or fanfare, and only a rough approximation of the actual hour. But in the ‘real world’ of commercial radio and television, especially where networked stations may share programing, commercials, IDs, break-aways, and other elements, the clock reigns supreme. »

« Back when I was an undergraduate at WHRB, Harvard’s quasi-independent radio station, there was an unspoken but obvious effort to emulate professional broadcasting. In those days studio engineers and announcers had separate roles, in separate rooms. At WHRB the engineers were called ‘controlmen’, and had large floor-mounted turntables and rack-mounted tape recorders to manage, in addition to the broadcast board with inputs for all the audio devices and the microphones in the adjacent studio. The controlmen worked on their feet, and communicated with the announcers, usually seated behind the glass, with a ‘talk-back’ microphone, or with hand signals. »

« If an announcer wished to talk to the controlman, he made an audition signal with thumbs and forefingers, thus: To start a record or tape, the announcer pointed with his forefinger. To open his mic, he pointed to the microphone. To kill the mic, he used the throat-cutting gesture. There were other signals, e.g. for ‘time left’, or ‘go to tape’. The programs were generally run by the announcers. »

«We had Western Union clocks in the studios and control rooms, and these clocks were tied to Naval Observatory time by a Western Union line. On the hour, the Observatory would send a signal, lighting a red bulb on the clock and sending a brief tone (a ‘beep’) down the wire. We were expected to ‘time out’ to the hour, i.e. to ‘make the beep’, which would go over the air. If it wasn’t necessary to time out, e.g. when a program continued past the hour, we would pull a two-pronged jumper from the ‘matrix’ (a circuit board with rows of 1/4” phone-plug sockets). If the announcer wanted to avoid the beep coming over the air, he would make a rude signal (an open, grasping hand) to the controlman to pull the jumper and ’castrate the beep’. »

« On HAH we preserved the tradition of ‘Making the Beep’ long after the Western Union clocks disappeared from our studio walls.  »

« I think it was in the mid ’60s, about the time when WBCN-FM abandoned its classical format and Pete Wolf began playing rock-’n’-roll overnight, that music shows began playing ‘sets’, segueing songs together without breaks—yes, before then, it was unusual enough to play songs back-to-back that we had the term ’segue’ for it, and an announcer signal, as well (two fingers together) to request one. Today, ‘sets’ are standard practice. They make life easier when one person is responsible for the whole program and not following a strict playlist. »

«Of course we could ‘make the beep’ at whatever time we chose, though we endeavored to announce “The time at the tone” right on the hour, unless we were running late for one reason or another. We always asked permission of the following DJ to run over, which was always granted—except when we had to end on time for the football pregame show, or (in more recent years), the Metropolitan Opera. That is called a ‘hard break’ in radio today. »

« There are easy ways to end the show on time. If you listen to news or talk radio, you’ll hear music fading in, and announcers, anchors, hosts winding up their current gab fests in time for a logged commercial or program break. That’s called ‘bumper music’, and if you’re good, like the late Rush Limbaugh, it’ll time out and end with a bang right when it should. If you’re not as finessed, it’ll just fade or disappear when the new signal appears. »

« In my undergraduate days, most programs had themes—musical themes, to open and close. They served two purposes: to identify the program, and to separate it from others, to serve as bookends. »

«Closing themes serve another purpose: to time out and make the beep. The easy way to do this is just to end your last song a couple of minutes before your scheduled close, play the theme, and if it’s too long, just fade it down. The more elegant way is to ‘dead-roll’ the theme during your last selection, then fade it up and have it end right on time. That’s the way we’ve always done it on HAH. ‘Randy Lynn Rag’ is 2:00 minutes long. So if you want to end at 12:59:50 PM, leaving 10 seconds for the station ID and the beep at 1:00 PM, then you start the theme at 12:57:50, dead-rolling if your last song is still playing. If you didn’t plan right and your last song is too long, then you might be reduced to ‘cross-fading’, fading down the song as you fade up the theme. You end on time. »

« In the old days it was fairly rare to combine the roles of announcer and controlman. »

«Commercial music radio quickly favored single disk jockeys who became ‘personalities’, a development made easier with ‘carts’ (tape cartridges with individual songs and commercials, which were quick to insert and self-cueing) and strict playlists. »

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