Radio in the 90s: An Excerpt

Back in the late 90s, we played all the music from actual CDs, now of course everything is programmed in by specialist computer programs. I was introduced to the announcer Aleesha and I instantly thought she was the coolest person I had ever met. I decided then and there that I wanted to be her; I wanted to know how to operate this radio panel.  Could I ever learn?

The radio panel is the desk that the announcers sit in front of. It is used to control all the audio that goes to air. There are many different set ups, but in general there are many sliding sound controls or ‘faders’. These sliding buttons manage the audio level for all the CDs, the announcers’ microphones, the ads, the newsroom and outside lines to take callers. At large studios there are also many faders for things like sound effects and music beds. One single talk-break can utilise up to 10 faders if the announcer is particularly ambitious, or taking many different calls. There is also typically a ‘delay’ button, used in emergency situations if something goes to air that shouldn’t, such as a swear word; but I would learn all about that much later in my career.

This radio panel was far simpler than that, basically containing 2 CD faders and 2 faders for the microphones in the studio. I still thought it looked enormously high-tech and baffling – I hate to admit it now, but my first thought when I saw Aleesha behind that panel was, “Wow – I didn’t know that chicks could do this too.” Female radio announcers have always been around, but in my naiveté I guess I had never really put much thought into the matter.

Mark explained to me that they actually needed someone for a news shift tomorrow, and without so much as a trial, I was given the slot of reading the news headlines and weather the next day during the breakfast show, as the regular newsreader was sick, or hung-over, or on holidays, or all three. With a year of acting classes under my belt and the general confidence of the youthfully stupid I rocked up the next day at 5am, copied lines out of the local newspaper (being 1999 the radio station did not have the internet) and came up with what I thought would make a good 2 minute news bulletin.

Everyone had been so welcoming and casual that I really didn’t feel that nervous, but of course the fear of making a huge mistake live on air was there. How many people hear you when you’re on the radio depends on two main things; number one, how strong the broadcast signal is and number two, how many people tune in. A large, commercial radio station would have a really strong transmitter, enabling people to hear the broadcast sometimes up to over 100 kilometres away. A small community radio station usually has such a small transmitter that it can only be heard in the surrounding suburbs, it all depends. I have no idea how many people would have heard my very first broadcast, but it probably wasn’t a lot! I took a deep breath and prepared myself the best I could… (to be continued)


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