The Contribution of the Board Ops
by Steve Hunter

Any history of CKLW needs to make a major bow to the "board ops" who actually put the music on the air. RKO was a stickler for quality, and for "no air failure," so those guys ran, most of the time, two copies of everything, simultaneously, on two channels, so that if a tape failed or something else went wrong, they could simply fade from one channel to the other and CK would keep on rockin' without any perceptible hitch.

[Colin Kennedy, circa 1967]The high quality and tight sound of the station owed a lot to those guys' sometimes-near-heroic work. More importantly, it gave the jocks, just across the glass window, time to concentrate on music choices (yes, in those days the JOCK picked the actual music sequence from the playlists, trying to observe and integrate several complex "rotation" wheels from the current and oldies lists while following the general format!) and tight, well-designed "bits," instead of having to worry about whether the station was on the air and whether or not the right commercial spot was playing. Sometimes the -- ummm -- "debate" between the jock and the board op got a bit heated, even bitter, but the result was arguably the tightest, hottest sound in Top 40 in those years (Photo is of Colin Kennedy in 1967. Johnny Williams is on the other side of the glass).

The best of those Board Ops prided themselves on their skills in " layovers" with the songs and jingles, neatly timing the hot points of the opening or closing notes of the rockers and ballads so that they would hit neatly -- and pleasingly -- during the brief pauses in the acapella "more music -- CKLW!" jingles that tied everything on The Big 8 together. If you think that's easy, try it sometime! If you listen to any CKLW aircheck from the late 60's-early 70's, you'll notice those "layovers" happening -- and brightening the sound -- at least once every few songs.

[Added May, 2003:] Former CKLW board op Colin Kennedy wrote these comments in the forum (from two messages, slightly edited and combined):

..... best job I ever had !!! A little fraught with pressure for a 20 year old but still fun - remember this was 1966!! Ops did all the mechanics once the jock threw the first cue. Only one op at a time and shift was initially 6 hours but the Union complained so we went 8 hours at 4 on, 2 off - making carts - and two more on. We used carts for all spots and jingles and 33's and 45's for the music.

On 33's the tracks that were not to be played were taped with vinyl. There were three turntables and 4 cart machines though a 5th was added. All this was done on a McCurdy 8 pot board - sliders - new at the time. One was reserved for the news room and one for the Jock so we really did have to move and shuffle.

Each jingle had its own cart so practice was easy except for three that rotated on one cart for the million dollar weekend.

In later years they went to a mechanical clock to try and time everything to the nano second. I did not have nano eyes and felt - and still do - that the clock was an intimidation and management interference with my creativity - and one of the reasons I left CKLW.

Interesting tidbit of Big 8 Trivia: In the Operators Booth - on a nail - was a copy of Marty Robbins' El Paso, placed there by Paul Drew. It was the one long record, about 7 minutes, that we could use if we needed an extended washroom break.

Playing it also signalled Drew that there was an "emergency" and it triggered a call to the "Bat Phone".

[Added May, 2003:] Former CKLW board op Gary Tinnes wrote these comments in the forum:

I worked there 1972-77. I worked a few months in the old studios before we moved into the new facilities. We did not have 33's at all. They were moving everything to cartridges. When I started, we would play the odd 45 on a shift. By the time I left, I can't recall playing any 45s. In fact I can't remember having a record player the last few years of my time there.

The jock turned on his mike and had a digital timer so that he could cue us with a buzzer. We did everything else except talk and choose the music. Everything was timed to the quarter second. In fact, my friend, who started at the same time as I did was known to time things to 1/8 of a second. Intros were timed to various "posts" (when tempo, instuments changed, or singing started) so that jock could select the post he wanted to hit.

Day shifts were usually 4-5, hours on air and the rest off air recording/timing spots, songs, etc. Evening shifts were usually 6 on air and 2 off.

It was fast and rarely a dull moment. Sometimes we would not get the next song from the jock until 10-20 seconds before the current song was ending. There was a 10 second warning light at the end of a song/spot. It was a mad spin of one of several racks for recent songs or a dash to the back of the control room to look for a really old song. It was not unusual to be finding and loading a song during a jingle.

But, it was fun and a great feeling when you came off a good show.

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