RTS Repost: ‘This is the end of the broadcast day…’

[RTS, or ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’ from the Ben Folds song, is the occasional music-related series of posts I’ve been writing on my Live Journal of the same name for the last few years.  I’ve decided to repost some of them here for your enjoyment. — JC]

“This is the end of the broadcast day…”

That’s a phrase you don’t hear much anymore, do you?

With the large number of terrestrial stations picking up satellite feeds or having overnight shows (pre-recorded or otherwise), and all the internet and satellite stations (at least the ones not run out of someone’s basement) running twenty-four seven, it’s kind of strange in this day and age to hear a station read out the end-of-day legal sign-off.  You know, the one that says the above phrase, followed by the technical jargon of where the station is broadcast from, where their tower is, and what frequency they’re at.

Even rarer nowadays is hearing the station go off the air, followed by the hiss of static.

I’ve been listening via internet to WAMH, Amherst College’s radio station and the one I’ve been listening to since 1987, especially on the weekends with their Potted Plant countdown.  I could be listening to any other station here in the Bay Area, or even Save Alternative (which in my opinion is doing a great job of resurrecting the freeform radio format), but you all know my love for college radio, so I try to listen to it as much as I can while it’s on the air.  Since WAMH usually goes off the air about 10 or 11pm Eastern time, I get to hear the sign-off at 8pm out here on the west coast.

The funny thing is that I remember as a kid hearing the sign-off all the time, and for a brief stretch I knew WCAT’s by heart when I worked there in 1987-88 and again in 1995-96.  I was hired for weekends back in the 80s (I thank my friend Chris for that position), back when it was only an AM station that went off the air at sundown.  I had to play a prerecorded cart of the owner reading off the same legal sign-off, played exactly fifteen seconds before shutting down, so that I could power down right on time.  I had to do the same thing as well at my college radio station, when I had a late night show on WECB, and again at the other college station when I had the alternative show on WERS.  By the time I returned back to WCAT in my last radio gig, that station was broadcasting on both AM and FM frequencies, but I only had to play it for the AM station.

There’s something melancholic about hearing a radio station sign-off, at least for me.  When I was a kid–and even as a teenager–radio was my link to the real outside world, past my family and past the small town I lived in.  I think that, more than anything else, was what pulled me towards radio in the first place, even more so than the idea of playing all my favorite songs and sharing them with other listeners.  I liked the community aspect to it, a sort of etheric connection that kept everyone informed and entertained.  Of course, the internet is a hyped-up, jacked-in, overloaded version of that idea, but somehow it isn’t the same…where the internet is aural and visual, terrestrial radio is only aural and therefore more personal–the deejay is talking to you, informing you, playing you music for your enjoyment.  The internet, while it can also do that, sadly also has the effect of turning you into a five year-old with a sweet tooth let loose in Wonka’s Chocolate Factory–if you have no self-control, you end up overindulging.

Hearing that sign-off always leaves me with a sense of sadness, that I’ve reached the end of a performance, leaving me to make my way back to the real world again.  I’ve been entertained by the deejays and the music, I may have even learned a few things, but their job is over for the day.  Hearing it today reminded me that the school year is almost over, and this station will soon be off the air for the summer, leaving me to my own devices.  It also reminded me that today is Sunday, and my relaxing weekend is almost over.  This time, instead of needing to go back to school the next day, I have to go to work.

Still…I’m glad radio is still out there, whether it’s online or terrestrial.  Even if it is a fleeting entertainment, it’s a sound salvation (as Elvis Costello sang), and still my favorite way of relaxing.  Even when it’s the end of the broadcast day.