“Invisible Ducks”

tv-abcinconcert CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

INVISIBLE DUCKS

November 23rd was Thanksgiving Night. For the first time, I encountered serious head-on competition.

Edgar Winters’ White Trash pulled in nine hundred at Sherwood Forest. It was a decent night, but only half a house.

Alvin Lee and “Ten Years After” drew five thousand to the Flint I.M.A. Auditorum for Detroit promoter Bob Bageris, who had booked them in five cities with a guarantee of twenty-thousand dollars per performance. He lost money on three of the shows, but made it back and a little more with the other two. That was the new game. Only big action could play.

Bageris returned to the I.M.A. on December 8th with  Fleetwood Mac opening for Deep Purple.  He used WTAC as his exclusive advertising vehicle and I introduced both groups. If you can’t beat ’em,  greet ’em!

Christmas Night, Sherwood Forest was jammed again for Bob Seger. I didn’t bother running New Year’s Eve. There was nothing of interest uncommitted.

WTAC was still operating at a technical disadvantage to WWCK-FM, but we were countering with everything we could throw at them. Even psychological warfare was bought into play. I made it a habit of pulling into their parking lot on Lapeer Road late at night and pounding on a studio window. When the disc-jockey on-duty would look out, I’d wave and relieve myself on their lawn.  My picture was posted in their control room on a dart-board. They knew who I was!

A challenge was presented when the ABC television network started their “In Concert” series Friday nights at 11:30. “In Concert” featured major rock acts performing for ninety minutes. That part was fine. What sucked was that rock FM stations were offered an opportunity to carry a simulcast of the program in stereo. That meant that Channel 12 in Flint would run the telecast and fucking WWCK would get to do the  simulcast. That would offer them a huge competitive advantage in terms of image and marketing definition. One of the first “In Concert” telecasts would feature Alice Cooper. Goddamn it!

Well, now. What do we have here?

Satellite dishes at radio stations were still a few years in the future and the “In Concert” television audio feed was in “monaural”. The stereo signal could be delivered to FM partners over equalized phone lines from New York (which would be somewhat expensive) or could be re-broadcast with network permission off a nearby ABC FM signal, providing one was available. WRIF-FM, owned and operated by ABC, was right down the road from Flint in Detroit. A well-tuned quality receiver at WWCK could grab the WRIF signal and patch it right in.  Talk about saving money!

It wasn’t just the mechanics, but the art of utilization with which I was most gratified.

It was ridiculously easy constructing a twenty-watt audio generator which would oscillate for limited distance with a screeching roar on WRIF’s exact 101.1 frequency. More difficult was rigging battery-powered operation, but only temporarily.

The entire package fit handily into a Harley-Davidson saddle-bag.

My “Concert Associates” were pleased to offer assistance.

The first “In Concert” simulcast on WWCK went very well. For the first two minutes.

What the hell was wrong with them?

Jesus Christ, you’d be totally into a group and then “WAAAAAAAAAAHHHH”.

It only lasted ten seconds or so.

Everything would be fine again, then look out. The noise would be back, but with rhythm, like someone was knocking on your door.

“Waah-Wawa-Wa-wa. Waach-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH”

It would leave again for fifteen minutes, then come back in beat with the music. Deep Purple might have started playing “Smoke On The Water”. There it was!

“Wah-wah-wah; wah-wah-wah-wa. Wah-wah-wah;  wah-WAAAAAAH”

A “Concert Associate” was riding up and down Lapeer Road wearing head-phones with one hand on a switch in his saddle-bag. The WWCK FM receiver was straining to pick up every broadcast whisper from WRIF on 101.1. A flick of the wrist kicked on the “WAAAAAH” with substantially less originating power, but much closer proximity at the same frequency. Talk about coincidence!  The exact scope and manner of interference had been discussed at length. There were only six “WAAAAAAAH” appearances during the initial sumulcast and none in the last ten minutes.

The WWCK folks couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Maybe some kind of weird moon activity or something. Anyhow, it had disappeared at the end. Next week might be better.

Next week had nine interruptions, but the “WAAAAAAH” had become a
“THA-THA-THA-THA-THA-THA” “thumping” sound, like you’d just blown a tire. It would come and it would go. What the hell?

ABC technicians couldn’t figure it out.

A WRIF engineer brought a brand new, highly calibrated receiver up to Flint for the third simulcast. It worked fine for fifteen minutes and then on came the sonar.

“PUH-DI-DOW–CLANK.  PUH-DI-DOW–CLANK. PUH-DI-DOW–CLANK”

Who turned-on the submarine movie?

Word was out all over town that you were much better-off just leaving the Channel 12 television audio up at full-blast for “In Concert” than listening to that stupid FM station with all the disruptive noises. What assholes! Word was also out that the WRIF guy and ABC had come to the conclusion that somebody might be intentionally generating signal-interference. We left it alone for the next three weeks and then came back for the seventh broadcast with an attack by invisible ducks.

“QUACK-QUACK-QUACK! QUACKITY-QUACK-QUACK-QUACK!!!”

WWCK went to phone-line reception, but credibility had been damaged.

Intentional interference with a broadcast signal is a Federal felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and a ten thousand dollar fine.

Do NOT attempt this in your home.

Unless you are a professional.

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