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The Four States Area

by George Lester
George Lester

My first day on the air in Texarkana I made the mistake of referring to our listening area as the Ark-La-Tex. It wasn't long before someone came into the control room to remind inform me that ours was the Four States Area. They were including Oklahoma. I guess it made sense to them even if the Oklahoma border was about 25 miles to the northwest.

The radio station was built on the classic lines of the early day facilities. It had three big studios lined up in a row with a common hallway. I was told that in the old days they would have musicians broadcasting in one studio while another group was preparing to go on the air in another. In some rare cases all three studios would be occupied at one time. Now the studios stood empty and unused. It was kind of spooky to look out the control room soundproof glass and see that haunting sight reminding us of the glory days gone by.

They had long since given up their block programming with various acts coming and going all day. The present format was an early form of Top 40 music. The announcers played the 40 most popular songs according to Billboard magazine. They were repeated over and over all day with maybe a few future hits thrown in. It was a new experience for me but I liked it because we had a very responsive audience calling in all day making requests. I really enjoyed taking the calls and chatting with the listeners. We never had that kind of feedback at my previous station.

I never considered my self to be overly talented for radio. Everything I learned came the hard way, through constantly chipping away at a problem until I mastered the technique I was working on. I knew others in the business who could breeze through the most complex operation with ease. I made up for my lack of natural ability with hard work and determination. When I played football in high school almost everyone on the squad had more athletic ability than I did. Regardless, the coach said if everyone on the team worked as hard as I did we would win every game. I never made the varsity but I hung around because I liked the challenge. I guess that creed helped me make it almost 40 years in a super tough line of work.

By trial and error I had honed my alter ego voice down to a science. I had learned how to do lightning fast transitions without making mistakes. Cousin Ed began to take on a personality all his own. It was almost uncanny. Some times in our banter I didn't know what he was going to say next. I didn't just "do" Cousin Ed. I became him during his part of the conversation, as if I could look across the room and see "George" sitting there. The reverse happened when "George" took over.

One day I was looking through the sound effects library and discovered some laugh tracks. It took quite a bit of experimenting but I learned how to make it sound as if we had a live audience in the studio. I limited the two voice part of my program to just a few minutes around the noon hour when people would be in their cars going to lunch. From a huge joke file I would select a few of what I thought were the best and I would play straight man to Cousin Ed's constant put downs. The segment became the highlight of the day and people would tune in just to hear that few minutes of comic relief.

It is a bit fuzzy in my mind how it came about but I received a letter from a new TV station in the Dallas area wanting to know if I would be interested in putting my act on their station. The very thought of doing the act before a camera scared me. I always thought that the magic of the whole thing was painting a thought picture in the listeners mind. I couldn't see how it could possibly work on television. I reluctantly declined their offer. That was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my broadcast career. At least I should have given it a try. Now, over 50 years after the fact I still wonder why I made that decision. With my work ethic I'm sure I could have figured out a way to solve the problem. It wasn't long before I regretted my turning down the job.

George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

January 1, 2007 column

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