31 July 2008

Ode to a true Diplomat

One look at the above just brings forth uncontrollable gushes of nostalgic sighs. For those unfamiliar with the workings and equipment of your average radio station, this is what is known as a broadcast console. Or, as most of us call 'em, a "board." (as in "mixing board"). It's the heart of any control room, and facilitates the mixing of audio.

The big knobs corresponded with one or more audio sources, allowing one to control the volume of each. We call them "pots", short for potentiometer - the technical name for what most folks recognize as a "volume control." The switch above each pot control where the audio is directed ... middle position = off. right = program (i.e. on-air). left = "audition", allowing one to preview something without it going over the radio.

Pictured above (courtesy of www.oldradio.com) is the Gates/Harris "Diplomat." In the late '60s into the early '70s it was the company's top-end model. And for decades, a specimen was in use at KASU/Jonesboro, where I cut my Public Radio teeth. Millions of hours' worth of crackly and scratchy Mantovani and Jerry Vale records, along with thousands of students' voices, passed through the wiring of that particular Diplomat. The Mantovani alone should prove how hardy and resilient those boards were. "Listen while the music forms a soothing pattern of pleasure ... on KASU's DINNER BY SUNSET..."

It got me thinking of the boards I used over the years I've worked in this crazy business that makes prostitution look downright respectable. I worked with some antiques back in Pine Bluff ... In 1988, KCLA had in regular on-air use its original 1946 Gates board! And KOTN was using another Gates model, the Dualux. Both were incredibly well-built and solid as a rock. (It was really cool seeing a couple of old pictures of KOTN, one as early as 1968, with that very board in clear view -- the same one I would use 21 years later).

Most boards today aren't worth the plastic in one of the slide pots. They don't last too long, compared with the old workhorses of yesterday. WTBF bought a new console (I forget the name and model) when they moved into their current digs on Court Square in May 1997, retiring a battered Harris Medalist. Brand new in 1997, and when I was doing Thursday on the Rocks, that thing was already beginning to fall apart.

I recall one night early in 2000, when the turntable kept cutting in and out. I opened the lid and tried tightening the connection, and - so help me - the circuit board governing that pot literally crumbled. Whoops! I had to do some quick vigilante engineering ... I moved that connector to the extra bus on one of the adjacent pots and continued with the show (although the only pot I could use was one of the CD players ... making for some clumsy transitions).

By the time I left there in July 2000, that board - barely three years old (!!!) - was already down at least two of its pots. Meanwhile, the old circa 1968 Gatesway 80 console - now in the auxiliary studio - was still plugging along.

Here at our station, we have a hand-me-down Studer OnAir 2000, with a three sided look which resembles something one might've found aboard the Enterprise. It replaced an Arrakis that to call it a "piece of feces" is to pay it a high compliment. The Studer has been less temperamental, but the touch screen displays are already starting to go out. It's due to be replaced any day now by a pair of digital boards. And I'm sure those will be doing well to last five years!

Sure, I love slide-type fader controls over the old-school rotarys ... many of us do ... but if faced with the choice of ditching a modern-day Arrakis or BEI in favor of a 40-year-old Gates "Quincy Tin Works" Yard console - weighing more than a refrigerator .... well, you know which one I'd choose.

But I still love that Diplomat. What I wouldn't give to find one for our station.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Board certified" Gleck

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