Radio Days

The perils of a talking head

By Bill Fields

Once in a while when checking the time, I go back in time.

It’s 4:15 . . . The current time brought to you by Bulova . . . Bulova available at The Glitter Box on Main Street in Aberdeen.

I hear myself — or my fellow WEEB-990 part-timer Keith Smith — reading that 10-second spot on the radio. The Glitter Box jewelry store is long gone, but the commercial has stuck in my memory like lint on a blue blazer.

Working for Southern Pines’ 5,000-watt AM station in the summer of ’77 was the first position related even a little to what I would do in the years ahead. Compared to bussing tables or parking golf carts, two of my other early jobs, turning onto WEEB’s driveway off Midland Road seemed a tiny journey toward a career.

I wasn’t entirely green to WEEB when Mitt Younts, then the manager and son of the station’s founder, Jack Younts, hired me.

Occasionally I had been part of a Key Club radio hour on Saturday mornings, when the booth was turned over to a couple of high school boys who would play records and yap mindlessly between songs. The Key Club show aired without incident, notwithstanding one weekend when, being Elton John fans and forgetting we were not on WQDR, the cool rock FM station in Raleigh, we put “The Bitch Is Back” on the turntable. We were allowed back but only after apologizing to the owner, who seemed to be on the phone before the chorus expressing his displeasure about our choosing such an inappropriate number.

Despite being part of that blunder, I got my own weekly show, “Pinecrest Sports Spotlight,” during which I would report on Patriot athletics and usually have a guest or two to interview in the studio. (When the Pinecrest girls won the state basketball championship, most of the team plus coach James Moore came, the microphone passed around like a bowl of mashed potatoes at Sunday supper.)

I had to pass up a post-graduation trip to the beach to start my job, but getting paid to come to work at the building I’d seen so often from the ninth tee while playing golf at Knollwood Fairways made that not seem like so much of an opportunity lost. I even got to cover some golf later that summer, the Women’s Trans National Amateur Championship held at Mid Pines.

Figuring out how to use Mitt’s tape recorder to get sound bites was infinitely easier than correctly pronouncing the surname of participant Lori Garbacz, which I butchered as “Gar-box.” Fortunately, Cathy Reynolds beat Beth Daniel in the final, two names that even I could handle.

A couple of shifts per week I got to be an actual disc jockey and got competent at cueing up vinyl, reading the required live advertisements and switching to ABC News at the top of the hour. Other days, much of the time was spent monitoring the auto-play operation that WEEB had adopted for the bulk of its programming. On Sundays, a preacher from one of the local churches would deliver a recording of that day’s service. I would collect his $30 payment and play the tape at the scheduled time.

One particular Sunday afternoon while on duty alone, there were prayers before the prayers.

I had my key to get into the station on a separate key ring from my car and house keys. Taking out the trash, I didn’t prop open the door. And, after emptying the garbage can and trying to re-enter the studios, I realized the WEEB key wasn’t in my pocket with my other keys.

It wasn’t Bulova time but panic time. 

If I used one of the golf clubs in my trunk to break in, everybody would know. If I left to go borrow a key and something happened to the station’s audio cruise control before I returned, everybody would know.

I decided to chance the latter choice, guessing correctly that Keith, one of the best athletes in my class as well as my co-worker, was lifting weights at a gym in downtown Southern Pines. Through his laughter he loaned me his key. Avoiding pine trees and police cars, I drove back to WEEB, the dust flying behind my Fairlane as I tore down the dirt lane toward the building.

Feeling as if I had been running wind sprints, I got inside and heard something. The programming had held. WEEB didn’t go off the air that day until sunset, as usual, nor had my career gone dark prematurely either.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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