It bears mentioning that the years I spent at WACKY 102 – 1976-1980 – were the peak years for Disco. Certainly WACKY was no stranger to “Saturday Night Fever” and we played lots of songs with a heavy back beat and sizzling hi hats.
I talked Don and Mike, the owners, into fronting me the cash for a huge mobile disco sound system. We had the WACKY mobile unit (a bread truck with an iffy engine, no heat and a cavernous storage area). It was painted purple with the station’s logo and it became the home of the WACKY 102 Rolling Boogie Machine.
As I recall I spent about $10,000 on sound and lights. In 1970’s dollars this bought a huge amount of gear. We had insanely big bass reflex cabinets with two 15” drivers in each. Two JBL medium throw lenses handled midrange and we had two banks of piezo tweeters with six to a side. The rack had three amps, if I recall correctly they were 1000, 500 and 250 watts with a three way crossover to the stack. It was LOUD. We had this stupid heavy all in one turntable console set up. It was robust enough to withstand the kids jumping around but it sure was a beast to move.
Three mirror balls, the largest one was a yard across. Various spotlights, pin spots, a huge follow spot, colored strip lights, black-lights (cool, simple effect-make people look weird and would highlight ladies bras through their clothes-made them glow!) intense strobe lights, a fog machine , a bubble machine and flashpots. When everything was cooking it was pretty awesome.
We worked mostly high school dances. It paid well and the kids loved us. It was HARD, sweaty work, setting all that stuff up. It took three hours from the time we pulled into the school till we hit the first notes of Steve Miller’s “Space Intro” into “Fly Like an Eagle”. I used to bring an extra t-shirt because I would sweat through the first one. I hired kids to help me on some set-ups but I preferred to work alone – more money for me!
And it actually was pretty good cash income. $300 per dance, at least two a weekend. I busted my ass. I don’t recall paying back a dime to Don and Mike. Hope they don’t come looking for it.
The high school dances were my favorite. We had tons of giveaway albums courtesy of the record companies. With a little finesse we also scored T-shirts, Frisbees, key chains and concert tickets. The kids just loved us and asked us back over and over again. I ran dance contests and generally played the star DJ. Then I put my sweaty t shirt back on, stuffed the system back into the van and drove home. Usually home by midnight depending on where the dance was. Of course with WACKY’s massive signal we worked all over hell’s half acre. I got to the point where I charged mileage!
The WACKY bread truck was a trip. It only had one seat so passengers rode on the bass speakers and tried to hold on for dear life. The heater motor had stopped working so in the winter I bought a propane catalytic heater. Talk about dangerous! Not only was it likely to catch the whole deal on fire, it specifically said not to use in enclosed spaces, as it robbed the area of oxygen. So many times it was a trade off with being sleepy or cold. There is a god who looks after fools and DJ’s in vans.
The effects were always fun to play with. The bubble machine was a circle of holes on a rotating axle with a fan behind it and a reservoir of bubble soap. The circle turned, dipping it in the bubble soap and the fan pushed out the bubbles. We used dishwasher soap diluted a little and it made loads of bubbles. It would make the floor a little slippery so you had to use it sparingly. We worked some old church hall once, where the wiring was Jurassic. When the sound system was drawing all the power out of the small box the motor on the bubble machine was turning so slowly that it only made huge bubbles, a foot or more across, at the rate of one a minute!
The fog machine was an “extra” that could be added to the show. I think it was a $50 option. It basically was a 50 gallon drum with a heating element in it, and a basket that you could lower dry ice into the hot water. A big fan on the lid was connected to a couple of dryer hoses and in the right temperature range you could fog up a pretty big area with dense, foul smelling fog. Of course getting the dry ice and handling it was an experience. If you forgot gloves it was like the kids tongue stuck on the flagpole in “The Christmas story” but it really hurt your hands!
The flash pots were the simplest but most effective effect. It was just a bread tin with two connections inside. You strung a single strand of copper wire between the two connections and filled the tin up with black powder. When you were ready you just plugged it in, the wire shorted and blew up the powder. It made a brilliant flash of light, a loud explosion and filled the area with acrid smoke. Of course I always used too much black powder. The usual spot for the flash pots was on top of the speaker stack but one time I set them on the floor by mistake. Before I set them off I noticed a kid standing pretty close but I pulled the trigger anyway. He must have been terrified.
You couldn’t get away with half this stuff nowadays. Imagine explaining to a school principal in post 9/11 that the little bottle was black powder, ‘don’t worry it’s just for a small explosion’… right!