Charles Laquidara, Radio Man

The night man, Charles Laquidara, had his Third Class Radiotelephone License in the air studio on the wall next to the others. It was a blue paper rectangle about half the size of my first class ticket, posted nearby. Somebody had altered the birth year on Charles’s ticket from 1938 to 1948, in ball point pen. When I asked Max why Charles didn’t get a new copy from the FCC with the “right” date, 1948, she only rolled her eyes.

Arnie Woo-Woo Ginsburg did not like Charles. To anyone who would listen Woo-Woo would repeat “A twenty minute drum solo! A twenty minute drum solo!”. And I guess Charles did play a long drum solo, probably while he was talking on the phone.

Charles played a lot of peculiar stuff. Woo-Woo, always threatening overtly or otherwise to fire Charles, shifted him from the evenings to the afternoon, back and forth several times, trying to find the slot where he would do the least harm. Woo-Woo wanted to sell time and follow through on his commitments to WBCN’s advertisers, and Charles’s experiments not only tended to alienate potential Slack Shack customers, his insensitivity to commercials resulted in their being delayed or not played at all.

There was a lot of classical music around, in the record library and on 1/4″ tape, and one day, for some reason, I mounted a ten inch reel, containing some Rachmaninoff, that had not been rewound. Rachmaninoff played backwards is not very interesting, but when I began to rewind it I discovered that by depressing the tape lifter I was able to play it in the right direction, and wildly vary its speed by dragging my thumb up against one of the reels. This sounded pretty good – like motion sickness for symphony orchestra, and it got Charles’s attention. He put it on the air for about ten minutes. We got a lot of calls (this was mystifying for 1971 – the techies out there couldn’t figure out how we were doing it), but when Woo-Woo found out there was more trouble, and Charles was shifted back to the night.

I didn’t blame Charles for not letting me into the studio to watch him cue up records, operate the “board” or control console, and talk on mike, even if the other announcers did let me in, because I was somewhat in awe of his talent, or at least his bravura. I recognized that DJ’ing required a lot of concentration and that I would distract him. On the other hand, others were let in, especially 20 year old DJ’s from the local college stations, whom Charles needed in the same way that Alcoholics Anonymous needs new alcoholics.

I enjoyed Charles on any shift. I listened to him at nights from home. By this time I had moved in with the News Dissector, and Danny had a real stereo, transistorized – it even had a stereo indicator light. One night about 10 as I listened to Charles’s rather hypnotic delivery between sets there was a sudden change in tone. First a clunking noise, and then in Charles’s normal or non-radio-persona voice: “Oh my God. I just knocked a cup of coffee over right on the board”. Then a muted hum. Then a very loud hum. Then silence. There was probably five minutes of silence or “dead air” before Charles, with my help over the telephone, was able to get back on the air from the production studio.

In 1971 all across America small station radio managers with blond bowl haircuts and dark glasses, sport jacketed and tassel-shoed, had parked their Cadillacs outside the Rotary Club and were slapping backs inside, trying to sell radio spots: “Whatt’y say – any time you want, buddy, eleven bucks a holler”. Dead air was anathema. What was a listener supposed to do who turned the dial to a station and heard nothing? Nothing at all, not even static?

Through this incident I discovered the potency of coffee with cream and six sugars to destroy electronic equipment. The only more powerful method is to use Coca-Cola. Try it sometime. If you need to disable your boy friend’s cell phone,  make sure it is turned on and dip it in Classic Coke (the kind with the corn syrup) for about 15 seconds. A quick rinse with tap water , blow dry, and he will not be the wiser.

Somewhere out there Charles’s broadcasts still exist. And I don’t necessarily mean in John Voci’s collection of five inch reels or other moldering air checks scattered around. These signals were radiated, and 100 MHz radio signals are not attenuated appreciably by the atmosphere, so they are still expanding outward, as I write, 38 light years away, and have already passed several nearby stars. And even if the beings on those stars were not tuned to 104.1 it possible that we still have a chance to hear WBCN live, assuming a reflector out there in interstellar space of sufficient dimensions and appropriate geometry, perhaps an unusually intense burst of solar wind from millenia ago, a spherical pulse of expanding, reflective ionization, just the right size and shape to reflect WBCN back at us. Let us go to the far side of the moon with large antennae and listen to 104.1.

In my collection I have a cassette tape that I recorded when I was living in Cambridge in the 70’s, off-air from WQXR AM 1540 in New York, sky wave, at night, of Hindemith’s Mathis der Mahler. I don’t want to put down Hindemith or the Mathis, which I love, but I have to say that it is vastly improved by the fading, distortion, and random, swelling unpredictable noise. Listen to your radios at night, when you are driving down the road, lonely and bored. Use your steering-wheel mounted frequency selector carefully, to select one AM channel at a time. Listen to what is buried there. You will be suprised, comforted and delighted.

8 comments

  1. Charles’s normal or non-radio-persona voice: “Oh my God. I just knocked a cup of coffee over right on the board”. Then a muted hum. Then a very …

    I remember this but for some reason my memory is telling me it was a frappe ( milk shake ). Did you know Deirdre O’Donahue?

  2. She had long dark hair. She was well established in LA in the 80’s and 90’s and I had heard she had her start at BCN. Her photo-http://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Deirdre-O-Donoghue-SNAP/282503662982

    1. Bill: I just saw this! LOL. You bastard –You’re throwing me under the bus. Ha ha I totally do not recall keeping you out of the studio but I do have ADD and you’re coming in there might have distracted me as any shiny object or anything else would. I would like you to make one clarification correction above, if possible, however. When you say I like 20something DJs coming in the studio, I would like you to specify that they were probably all hot females. Not that it’s a good or bad thing but I just want to keep the record straight that I am heterosexual– and if I were not, I would have no problem with that either. I am not homophobic — just want to make sure people understand what you meant to say.
      Thanks and also thanks for spelling my name right!! Get in touch with me– it’s been a long time! I’m so glad I re-found this blog.

      1. I just re-read this and realized you may not have been talking about a “tete-a-tete” thing at all.. My bad LOL– you may have been referring to the fact that I would always let “up and coming DJ wannabe’s” in to watch me do the show. Yes; if I knew someone wanted to do that to help learn the craft or to talk about how to maybe break into radio, I would try to help. I was “addicted” as you say, to helping people because when I was in Los Angeles trying to get a break in acting in the mid 60’s I saw so many kids like me and others get hurt and demoralized.

    2. Deirdre Donahue came into the studio when we were on Newbury Street back in late 1968. She called herself “Green” and brought me a snowball wrapped in a green ribbon. I thanked her and put the snowball on top of the console. Eventually it melted and took the station off the air for about three hours. This was I think pre-Bill Spurlin era because as I recall Michael Ward was the engineer at that time. So there you go — that was the second time in memory that I inadvertently took WBCN off the air. By the way, Deirdre Donahue eventually began going out with Mississippi Joe Rogers.. Became the BCN music director for a time and unfortunately passed away many years ago. It was a very sad sad thing…

  3. Bill, great blog and I enjoyed reading your WBCN posts. I was one of the local college 20 year old DJ’s (WRBB Northeastern University) who benefited from Charles having me in his studio during one of his morning shifts at the Pru (Around 1979). It was really generous of him and probably the first time that I could see myself in the business. I wrote and thanked him again a few years ago. Anyway, I was not a good DJ but did end up really excelling as an engineer and was lucky to work with you at WGBH when you were there. And I really enjoyed engineering all those WBCN live broadcasts over the decades in the GBH Audio Mobile Unit. They were great to work with especially Steve Strick, Carter Alan, and John Mullaney. Anyway, I thought that I would chime in. Best regards.

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