02:32:30 pm on
Sunday 22 Jul 2018

Radio Air Checks
Matt Seinberg


Matt Seinberg, "Big" Ron O'Brien, Cadillac Jack at WOGL-FM, Philadelphia

With the retirement of Don Imus this week from WABC-AM, I had to convert some cassette air checks, recordings of him on the air, to digital audio so I could send them to my friend, Steve West, at Airchexx.com. Steve and I have been friends since 2003, maybe even earlier. Neither of us can remember exactly when we started talking.

Steve says I am by far the largest contributor to his site, which is probably true. If he has a request for a particular station or DJ, I'll dig through the tapes and CDs to see if I have it. If I do, off it goes to Steve via Dropbox.


Digitising Imus and other air checks.

I spent the last week converting many, many cassettes to digital files, not only of Imus, who just retired after more than forty years on the air. Radio programmer, Ed Salamon, sent me many tapes in the last few years. I finally got around to his tapes, again, with the intention of finally finishing them so he'll send me another batch.

Tapes from Salamon include WHN-AM, New York, WGBS-AM, Miami and KBZT-FM in San Diego. Converting tapes is a very time consuming process, as they have to play in real time. I have a Denon Dual Cassette Deck that goes into my mixing board and then into my computer, where I use Adobe Audition 3 to record and edit them.

If the air checks are complete with DJ, news, music and commercials, I time and scope most of the music and commercials from the recording. If the song is not complete at the beginning or the end, I must trim it. That is, I'll fade the song just before the DJ talks, a station jingle plays or news starts. If the song is complete, I'll do a shorter fade in to what follows. Then I add the Big Apple Airchecks imaging.

If the tapes arrive scoped, that is the music, commercials and such, are edited from the radio station skimmer or tape log recorder, I have to edit each swoosh, which is a very time consuming process. Today, an air check records digitally. Years ago, DJs used a cassette recorder to air check their show. Before that, in the dark ages of radio, air checks were on reel-to-reel tape decks.

The DJ would turn on the cassette deck or reel-to-reel recorder while he or, sometimes, she talked, read commercials and so forth. When the DJ finished talking, he turned off the cassette deck. Sometimes, the on and off were automatic, synchronised with the microphone button.

As the cassette deck motor fired up or turned off, it made a soft noise, a swooshing sound. For an expert-sounding air check, these swooshes must be removed, one at a time and by hand. A scoped version of a two-hour radio show thus runs twenty-five minutes or so. I usually leave the newscasts, if any, intact and my scoped versions are little longer.


Big Ron O’Brien air checks aplenty.

The other project I need to complete is a box of reel-to-reel tapes that I got from Big Ron O'Brien, when I met him in Philadelphia, in 2007. Sadly, he passed away a year later. This is the email I got from O’Brien, telling me about his first job at KBAB-AM. "The pride and joy of Indianola, Iowa, 15 miles south of my hometown of Des Moines   :-),” he said. Big Ron was a great talent, with the timing and knack of talking up any song to any post, that is, when the vocal on a recording begins, and hitting it with perfect timing. I don't think I ever heard him step on the vocals.

My friend, Scott Lowe, ended up with boxes of air checks of O’Brien; Scott converted his tapes to digital. I just found the original box that Ron gave me. After I finish with Ed's air checks, I'll concentrate on Ron's air checks. I'm sure there is a treasure trove of great radio show in those tapes.

After that, I just go back to picking random tapes and throwing them in the cassette deck and walking away. I don't sit in front of the computer listening to them unless I'm doing something else, such as writing this column. In fact, I decided on this topic as I was listening to Casey Michaels on KBZT in San Diego.

If you could see my corner of the basement, widely considered the Center of the Air Check Universe, you would shake your head in amusement at the mess it is. There are tapes and CDs all over my desk just waiting for listing on my site, bigappleairchecks.com, along with multiple boxes behind me of stuff I've already listened to that need listing, as well.


This is my retirement mission.

Maybe, when I retire, in eight years, and with little else to do, I'll be clean up this mess. Until that time, I do what I can when I can. By that time, I hope to be in Florida, enjoying the sunshine.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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