I got the job at WSNO by fabricating a resume. On paper it looked like I had worked with Marconi. Thinking back I know they knew I was green. But they probably needed a warm body and I fit the bill.
The station was at the very top of the highest point in the small town of Barre Vermont where it really does snow. A lot. Al Noyes, the crusty old general manager and his son, Bill ran the place with indifference and economy. It was a perfect training ground for a young wanna-be announcer who owned a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Al Noyes had little or no time for the announcers at his station. We were so far under his radar that we didn’t really register. His time was spent in obscenity laced, red faced, spittle spewing harangues with the salesmen who, as near as I could tell, were worthless and weak.
Bill Noyes was the program director. Even as green as I was, I could tell he had no right to the position beyond birthright. He would focus on some minor formatic infraction and write long, poorly worded memos and hang them on the equipment racks. It became a game among the announcing staff to correct his spelling and grammar, changing our handwriting so he could not recognize who dared to question his authority.
But my first night I wasn’t ready to correct anything. I was so scared that I had trouble swallowing. It’s really difficult to read a newscast in that condition. It’s even harder when it’s your very first newscast.
I had a reasonably good handle on the mechanics of the deal. There was to be 15 minutes of CBS network news followed by me reading ten minutes of local and regional news culled from the clattering Associated Press Teletype machine just down the hallway. All I had to do was close the CBS network connection, open the microphone up and try to read without sounding like it was the first time I had ever done it.
It was going pretty well. I had made my way through a handful of stories without butchering them too much. Then, in my headphones I heard both a high-pitched tone and myself. I tried to ignore it and pressed on. The tone persisted. In fact it seemed to get louder.
I was terrified. Sweat streamed down my face and landed on my copy. Were we under attack? Had I been discovered as a radio fraud and the tone was an alarm sounding?
The tone abruptly stopped. I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief and continued on with the newscast. I was nearing the finish line when a voice appeared.
“Stations, this is CBS news in New York. Please be advised that…”
I suddenly understood. The one thing I had forgotten to do. Close the connection to the CBS radio network. The tone wasn’t an announcer fraud detector or a harbinger of the apocalypse. It was just some engineer sending a signal down the line.
I closed the connection, finished the newscast and began a career in broadcasting that would always be interesting, but never quite as scary as that first night, high on a hill, in Barre, Vermont.