Friday, January 23, 2009

WTUL alumni unite!

Talk about reunions. I'm not sure how this developed, but apparently there is a movement afoot to invite alumni from my college radio station -- WTUL -- to visit the present station's campus location in order to commemorate 50 years of broadcasting. There's even a new Facebook page that was created to help facilitate this. It's shaping up to be a most promising opportunity to visit with many of my old broadcasting compadres, but I'm not sure how well we all have weathered the 30 or 40 years that have intervened. Back when I attended as a freshman, the radio station broadcast over AM carrier current at 550 Kilocycles. The way the station worked was via telephone lines from the studio connected to small transmitters that would "broadcast" through the wiring in each building. Several of the dormitories had transmitters, which allowed any radio receivers plugged into the electrical service to receive the station at 660 AM. It was also possible to receive broadcasts while driving through the campus, but reception was poor at best. Then, the station made the leap from AM to FM and broadcast over a small 10-watt FM exciter. It was a giant leap for our tiny alternative radio station, which in its early days only broadcast folk music or other acceptable musical forms. Later, as an FM facility with higher power, it became a favorite of the city's younger listeners who shied away from commercial broadcasting. WTUL-FM eventually achieved over 3,000 watts of power in its early days of citywide broadcasting at 91.5 MHz over an antenna array perched above Monroe Hall, some 120 feet high on the uptown campus. The day of the conversion from low to high power took place in 1976, some two years after my administration as General Manager ended. It was my job to pick up U.S. Representative Lindy Boggs to come to the studio and flip the switch that initiated the higher power broadcasts. I remember picking her up from her Bourbon Street apartment in the heart of the French Quarter and driving her to the uptown studio in my brand new silver Ford Granada. I note that Lindy enjoyed a great career in Congress for many years beyond that event, eventually becoming Ambassador to the Vatican. In terms of her years of service, it is doubtful her ceremonial work with a campus radio station on that day registered very high. But, who knows? Perhaps it did make an impression. There were other great events at WTUL. Who can forget the Rock On Survival Marathon that was held during the height of the streaking craze? I recall a very well known attorney who, as a student, happily stripped and streaked across campus during the outdoor event on the University Quadrangle adjacent to the University Center. There was also the event I organized in 1973, the Raise the Bastille Radiothon, a benefit for Parish Prison's Inmate Welfare Fund that was held at Orleans Parish Prison. Some of the guest performers for that 24-hour event included Dr. John, the Meters, Professor Longhair, Chris Kenner, Robert Parker and Jesse Hill. How I wish I had a copy of that tape! And who can forget the times we interviewed celebrities in the studio like a very impaired Dr. John, two members of the Firesign Theatre, Rob Krieger of the Doors or remotely recorded rock personages like Ronnie van Zandt from Lynrd Skynyrd? Then, again, I remember meeting actors Vincent Price, Leonard Nimoy, Deforrest Kelly and William Windom among others, who all were encouraged to record promotional spots for the small campus radio station. Our logo was a little guy chipping away at a large rock (some said "chipping away at the rock of New Orleans," a reference to a large commercial FM outlet). Today, thanks to Hurricane Katrina, that commercial station isn't even broadcasting rock music and much of what WTUL-FM broadcast as "alternative" is now considered "classic rock." I must admit that much of what is broadcast today over WTUL-FM bears little semblance to what we broadcast back in the Seventies and Eighties. But, then again, we broadcast music that might have offended our earlier predecessors over the AM carrier current station. My "Oldies Show" was one of the most popular shows, held each Saturday night. Back then my only stipulation was that in order to be an "oldie," the song had to be a minimum of three years old. Such is the nature of broadcasting, especially as it relates to students, whose musical tastes are mercurial at best. Interestingly enough, my son is a senior at Tulane and his iPod is filled with songs I used to broadcast over the campus radio station. I wonder if the popularity of many of these songs wasn't helped along in some way by enthusiastic broadcasters like me and others so very long ago.

2 comments:

The Viceroy said...

And what an incredible weekend that was! (And no reunion is complete without Smase!) Though I wasn't there for all of it, I still got to experience this amazing opportunity to travel back 30 years and be with my compadres from a time significantly less consumed with responsibility. The years have treated everyone well and I was amazed at just how easily we all fell right back into whatever it was that we were. And it's great to know that Paul Mignogna's Federal Drug Administration "psa" wasn't lost back in time. In fact David Price has it up under the audio portion of www.bizzarreradio.com. Meanwhile I continue to recoup from that ten hour marathon shift Dan put together Thursday night - Friday morning. It's been a long time since I walked into a building at dusk and walked back out at dawn. Yikes! Warmest regards. Mark

Gregory said...

Dear Alan,
Can't tell you how much I regret not knowing of this event until it had passed. Really enjoyed the photos that a complete stranger, John Lippincott, directed me to after looking me up on LinkedIn. While digging through ancient archives today, I found the station "Staph List" with you as GM. At the time, we seemed to be obsessed with the old TV series, Mission Impossible. Better than half the list includes nick names. Would be happy to forward you a copy. I'm still living on St. Pete Beach, Florida. Contact me at gswilson@parwil.com. Thanks for the memories!