Monday, June 28, 2010

Memories Of Norm Perry, WTAC's Chief Engineer

It takes a lot of people to run a radio station – you need sales people to sell advertising, traffic people to place the advertising on the broadcast schedules, announcers to voice the commercials and do an air shift and it also helps if you have a good chief engineer on staff to make sure that your station stays on the air and sounding good.  Before deregulation hit the broadcast industry – a good chief engineer was as valuable to your radio station as the top rated morning and afternoon drive-time air personalities.  I am lucky to have been able to spend some time and to have known one of Flint and the Tri-Cities’ best chief engineers – the late Norm Perry from WTAC. 

I think of Norm Perry every so often – especially when I’m just goofin’ off on the Internet listening to my favorite Internet radio station or playing a game or two of Sudoku.  Norm Perry died just as computers were coming into being and long before the Internet.  He had a computer chess game that he loved to play and he was beside himself when he would win a game or two against the computer.  I think it was that primal man against machine and man actually beat the machine – thump thump thump the chest – kind of thing. 

I think Norm owned a one of the early Commodore computers, but he had no idea of how advanced that computers would become and how big it would become in homes and businesses around the world.  He was more interested in challenging the computer than to harness it to do things for him.

Norm Perry lived just as Timex started making LCD watches and people were playing Pac-Man and Frogger on Atari game machine.  Imagine what kind of things someone like Norm Perry could do today with computers as powerful as they are today and of the ideas that he could connect with and grow just by harnessing all that the Internet has to offer.

Another thing that I can remember about Norm is that he loved to shop the garage sales.  Norm would check out the pickings – maybe see a television set that didn’t work for fifteen bucks and would end up convincing the owner that it wasn’t worth more than five bucks.  He’d give the person a fiver….take the TV set home….fix it with a turn of a knob or a touch of his soldering gun and get the TV working like it was brand new and sell it for seventy-five bucks. 

The same kind of skills that he used in profiting from garage sales he put to use in his daily job as a chief engineer.  Even though the chief engineer was a valuable person to the existence of a radio station – back when Norm was a chief engineer management at radio stations were pretty tight with a buck and they didn’t really give people like Norm the kind of budget that they needed – so you had to be creative in how you solved problems. 

When Dave Barber came over to WTAC from WTRX to do “Flint Feedback” – Norm was called upon to devise a tape delay so that we could “bleep” anything that needed to be bleeped.  Naturally, a professional tape delay device wasn’t in WTAC’s budget, but you can’t have someone doing a daily talk show and not have some sort of delay device.  Well…it didn’t take long for Norm to access the problem and come up with a solution of a long tape loop between two huge broadcast reel-to-reel players with a “dump” button in Barber’s studio and at console where the producer (yours truly) sat.  It worked and it cost the station next to nothing and it prevented more than a few obscene words from going out over the air.

Norm and I did talk about things other than radio.  At least once a week, we would both venture to the Ponderosa Steak House on Hill Road (no longer there) and feast on that $2.99 lunch special – which was the ground steak patty, baked potato, salad bar and drink.  We could have spent more for lunch – but we loaded up a lot on the salad bar and the rolls and it was enough for us.

During lunch we’d talk about cable television – which was just taking its infant steps.  ESPN existed of only one channel and I remember reading how they were on shaky ground financially as was CNN.  Neither of us had any solutions to how these stations could survive – but we were both intrigued by what they were going to do to survive.

There’s one thing that I will always remember about Norm – and it wasn’t how creative he was in his job or how smart he was – nope – I like to remember Norm as my friend.  I miss those Saturday nights – when Norm would visit me at my apartment on Richfield and Averill carrying a six pack of cold ones that we would enjoy as we watched the fights on HBO.  Neither of us were boxing aficionados, but we knew enough to make watching the fight enjoyable and it gave a chance to just be friends.  Norm….I miss ya!

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