It’s been a long, long time

Frederick R. Vobbe “Genius”

The time arrived. I’m now RETIRED, as of September 29th, 2023, from long hours, early rising, and nightly phone calls.

I always said that when you start to grow disenfranchised, and dreaded coming to work …. it’s time to exit.

I worked at the TV station since June 20, 1985. Before that there were multiple radio jobs, two stints in major recording studios, a couple summer jobs in cable television, an audio console manufacturer, and even test equipment for marine engines. The journey started May 15th, 1968, while still a kid.

By the numbers, my employment was 20,225 days, 5 hours, and 30 minutes. Or 29,124,330 minutes. And during 1968 to 2023 I was only unemployed 132 days, 86% of which was Covid-19, and the balance radio drama. You know the drill. “We’re changing format, so you’re out!” Pack the U-Haul and move on. Radio Gypsy.

I started in radio quite by accident. I didn’t have my drivers license yet, but I wrangled a job at a radio station as janitor to make a few bucks, (back then $1.50 per hour). The station was what they called a “progressive rock” station. When the D.J. overdosed, they needed someone to get on the air quick, and against my protests I was thrown in the studio.

The chance started in Berkey, OH, at a mono FM on 105.5, licensed to Delta, OH. When I was there it was a mish-mosh of progressive rock from a Gates “Yard” board, Gates turntables, and ATC cart machines, and a Gates FM-3H transmitter, and records from a “head shop” on Sylvania Avenue in Toledo. I had an epiphany. I could do this! I stayed, learning as I go, and between long songs did my homework for school.

Unknown to me at the time was that you could not operate a broadcast transmitter without a license. But, the station manager didn’t care. Rules never concerned him. The station had gratuitous sex, free flow of drugs, and ads for every adult bookstore or movie house, and carry-outs in only the sketchiest places in town. It was the best opportunity for a young kid to get familiar with the business without being licensed. The station finally when bankrupt, and was sold to the owner of a successful AM station in Toledo, and became automated easy listening.

During that time, a fellow who I knew, who was Chief Engineer of WQTE 560 Monroe, Michigan, suggested getting my F.C.C. license. I was interested, but scared at the 400′ towers, and all the RF. Maybe I should start smaller. But he pressured me because he knew I needed the license to get a job. I studied for about 3 months until I felt confident.

My mother drove me to the F.C.C. Field Office on Jefferson Avenue, in Detroit, and I took the test. It was a hard test, and intimidating. The exam room was small, decorated in typical 1940s government desks, and everyone who was there was older than I. It was terrorizing hearing older guys sigh in frustration, or muttering “I don’t know this”, or the examiner whispering, “Sorry, you can try again later”. I think that April 15, 1968 day saw more people fail the test, and a couple gave up and walked out of the exam.

After handing in the exam, I sat and waited for my rejection. The test was a lot of electronic theory and math. Eight minutes later, (I remember watching the clock), the examiner, Richard Cotton, (FCC Detroit Field Chief Engineer), pointed at me with a scowl, and gave me the hand signal, ‘come here, kid’. I walked up, prepared to meet my fate, but he smiled and whispered, “Great job, kid!” Holy cow! I passed! I never did find out if a squeaked by or passed with a decent score.

After leaving the progressive rock station I found another opportunity, (for $1.55 per hour), at WMHE-FM, mono 92.5 in Toledo, to play what amounted to background music off LP records. The station was closer to home, 2.43 mi (3.91 km) which was much closer than the rock station, so the nickle differential plus travel time/costs made it better. If it was a good day, I would walk.

The format was bone drying boring. Play music for 15 minutes, play a 3” reel of an ad, or maybe 2 off an old Magnacord reel machine, ID the station, and …. repeat. The hours sucked, Friday and Saturday from 6PM to 6AM. Yep, 12 hour shift. The studio was in an eight foot by eight foot room, in the design of a military radio room, all battleship grey. The audio board was mono and built by the Chief Engineer. But, it was radio!

The station’s big money maker was background music, Muzak™, and they had the lock on a six to seven-county area with subscriber rates at $30.00 per month, (1968 dollars). Every business had their service. It was a money maker, (except for staff).

From there I got into pop radio, did the “gypsy tour”, going from station to station, market to market. The radio career was up and down, and I saw the greatness as well as the belly of the beast. Good people, bad people. Even a couple brushes with death.

Marriage took part between a move from small market, to medium market, to the Detroit radio market. Starting out it was not that bad of a move since we remained in a 40 mile radius of our hometown.

TV started, quite honestly, by accident. I was holding down two jobs while living in Detroit. At one of the jobs, (the minority owned TV station), I was prompted by the Chief Engineer of WGPR-TV to investigate the Chief Engineer’s job in Lima. I went to the interview, and my qualifications apparently impressed them. I was hired on the spot with a pay grade higher than Detroit! My first day was baptism by fire, since the station did a long telethon for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

From there I became the company’s Group Director of Engineer, a deputy for the EMA, pastor, amateur radio operator, publisher of a magazine for the blind, and several other personal achievements.

So where do we go from here? Well, camping, scratch building microphones, maybe an internet radio station (feed from my Part 15), DJing on WNAP from 10A-3P weekdays (Brother Buzzard), voice over work, and a few other things.

After a health scare in 2021, (Covid), I started thinking about retirement. The post-Covid business doldrums in business pushed the issue. Young employees not working, apathy by coworkers, and a general lack of quality made me think even more about calling it quits. And sadly, I see this all over; from restaurants, to service providers, to contractors, everyone is having problems with people showing up to work, or giving 100% if they are working.

My final hurrahs were the F.C.C.’s RePack where I had to coordinate the move of our high power stations to a new $10-million transmitter site, rebuilding three low power stations, and a brand new automation system. The transmitter site is perhaps the jewel as I had to balance the costs between making a nice looking site, which was sustainable, low maintenance, and multi-functional.

So it’s time. Not necessarily time to relax but remain active in things that my family and I want to do. I have plenty of home, amateur radio, scanners, audio recording, writing, and machinist projects. After all these years I don’t see a change from getting up at dawn and doing my thing, but this time under MY timeline, and MY family’s needs. And when we feel like taking off and going on an adventure, or visiting family, we’ll do so without checking to see if it’s OK.

PS: I hope to get this blog shaped up. It’s been too long neglected due to other priorities.

Contact Information

About Frederick R. Vobbe

Now retired, my 50+ year career has included recording studios, radio & television stations. I have multiple hobbies, and have worked as a tech to corporate management.
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