642 Tiny Things to Write About: Breaking the Law

Write about a time you broke: the law

Each time I approached this topic all I could hear in my head was the following:

Many things trigger songs in my head; I have this sort of running soundtrack of thousands of melodies that pop up even in my sleep.  So instead of discussing a certain incident in my life about being  cited in a dry town in New Jersey for an open container of beer, I’d rather talk about my small defiant act against the FCC and a college radio station manager.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was a college radio DJ back in the early 1980s at a small western Pennsylvanian college.  When I started spinning discs behind the mike in 1981, our little station, WTGP, was only about 10 watts, way down in the 88 frequency area on the dial.  The broadcast range was limited to the campus and not much else.   While we adhered to the basic rules of not saying the seven words immortalized in George Carlin’s famous comedy sketch, it was a bit wild and loose as far as format.  A few years later,  the FCC in one of their famous reorganizations of frequencies, declared that any FM station needed to broadcast at minimum of 50 watts, which meant we now could reach the nearby town and environs with our signal.  Our station manager, Ray, was also told by the local FCC auditor, that they would be monitoring our station at times to make sure that we conformed to the rules of a non-profit station and broadcasting in general.

Ray took this very seriously, and we were all told we had to shape up, quickly.  (I never got along with Ray; he had, in my opinion,  horrendous taste in music and his parting gift to all his DJs upon his retirement from the position was bic pens.  Cheap and a huge Foreigner/ Loverboy fan).

One of the dictates was that we had to play a PSA (aka Public Service Announcement) at the quarter past and quarter to the hour.  These came on little 8 track cassette like tapes, and usually included “McGruff the Crime Dog” and similar PSAs.  Sometimes, a DJ would misjudge the timing on a song, and the PSA wouldn’t be played until, say 10:18.  This drove Ray nuts, and we were pulled into a general meeting and told we needed to play them at exactly quarter pass and quarter to the hour.

I had a Friday afternoon / night shift soon after this meeting.   A bit miffed about Ray’s constant nagging about the PSAs and the American political scene under Reagan, at my first quarter to the hour PSA, I pulled out and played this instead of the pre-recorded tapes:

(Well, Joe Strummer did say “This is a Public Service Announcement”)

The rest of my shift went as normal, and I thought that maybe my tiny act of rebellion went unnoticed.

The next day I was told that I need to go see the professor who was the faculty adviser for the radio station.  I trotted over to his office to find Ray and the faculty member in his office with less than welcoming faces.  Ray had heard my little PSA swap and I was told by the faculty member that I was never to “violate FCC rules” again.   I made my promises to behave going forward, while in my head gleefully imagining Ray being hauled off by the FCC in handcuffs for my misdeeds on the air.

I did behave from that time forward, and eventually Ray was replaced by a good friend, Chris, who ran a much better station my senior year.  But I knew for a good while, that for every Friday night, I had at least two listeners: Ray and our faculty adviser.




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