I also cut some radio teeth running the board for Doc Johnston. CP is right-on. Doc was not the easiest guy to work for. I do for control board work what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door sales. Now, combine that with Doc's temper, and the results were some really colorful chewing out sessions. He could be a real tough person to please sometimes, but Doc also had another side that he would show sometimes. And I think he had a genuine relationship with his listeners.
The control board I ran was an old RCA BC6-A, tube type that got hotter than blue blazes. All of the CBS radio features were delay broadcast, and you had to remember when to roll the tape. For that, you had a Gra-Lab timer like the ones used in photo darkrooms. The delay broadcast programs were recorded on an old Magnecorder- a "Maggie" that Moses used to record his daily program.
Doc was a fantastic piano player, and he always started the program with the tune "Sunrise Serenade". I'm a musician of sorts myself, and I always like to warm up with some scales or exercises or something. Not Doc. He would come in, crack his knuckles, and start right on cue with the old "Woody Herman" song on that baby grand.
The spots were run on old Spotmaster cart machines, the kind that you had to lock in the pinch roller with a lever. Later, we graduated to some newer machines. Remember how the recording would have a bad place on it if you didn't watch the machine and cue past the splice before recording? The telephone coupler was a complex switch arrangement that made putting live telephone calls on the air next to impossible.
Later, I dee-jayed afternoon drive on WBIR. Doc would pre-record the General Shale 5:50 news before he went downstairs to do the WBIR TV news at 6PM. WBIR Radio ran the CBS World News Roundup at 6PM. I still believe that newscast is the best fifteen minutes of radio network news around.
Once, the legendary Lowell Thomas came to town and had to hook-up with the network to run his Lowell Thomas Report from Knoxville. That took some engineering set-up work. Thomas didn't write his own material, which disappointed me. It was dictated to someone at WBIR from the CBS newsroom in New York..possibly written by Mervin Block or one of his colleagues there. Today,..his script could have been e-mailed, and his newscast e-mailed right back to CBS. What a difference between 1976 and 2007!
Back to Doc- I was once told a story about how someone put a piece of steel re-bar across the piano strings of Doc's baby grand. One morning he came in, cracked his knuckles, and at the appointed second, he started his theme...and WHANG ! I was told it sounded more like a sitar than a piano. I never found out for sure who played that prank, but Don Lindsey, now the PR chief for Triple-A was also a Doc sidekick at WBIR, and might have some clues to their identity.
Ken McGavin (McWhorter) was a good boss and a good PD to work for at WBIR. He was even tempered, something that was a real asset in that job. Working for him was a pleasure. I also had the opportunity to work with Ken Johnson, one of the early voices of Knoxville radio from WATE.
Later, when I moved to WSB in Atlanta, I got a call from Anita- Doc's sister. She heard me on-the-air and called to see if I was the same David Foulk that had worked with her late brother in Knoxville. We had several pleasant phone conversations over the next few years.
I am forever thankful for the time I was able to spend at WBIR with the good folks who were there.