As we've noted elsewhere on the site, WROV sounded great and was perhaps the best sounding 1000W (day) / 250W (night) station in the country. It sounded better, louder, more compressed and "in your face" than any other radio station in town. It held its signal integrity for miles and miles and sounded like a 100,000 watt powerhouse, especially at night.
|The Pole In The Hole as it looks today. The AM transmitter is inside of the little white house at the bottom of the tower.|
This was due in part to the location of the radio station and tower. If you draw a star at 15th & Cleveland on a map of the Roanoke Valley, you'll see that it's almost in the exact center of everything. The tower's location, about one hundred feet from the Roanoke River in the moist land of "P.D. Bottom," is just right for excellent ground conductivity and this has a major impact on the coverage. Efficiency was improved by Burt Levine having the FM antenna removed from its side shortly after he purchased the station.
And years later, with permission from the FAA, the beacon light was removed from the top leading to more improvement. Another factor was the tower's proximity to the railroad tracks. The N&W shops were about a mile away and tracks ran throughout the area. The nearest were parallel to the river on the same side as the tower. The metal tracks have the effect of picking up and helping radiate the signal over an even wider area. Truly, some good planning went into the selection of this spot for the tower, which Bart Prater referred to as "the pole in the hole."
|Al Beckley, world's greatest engineer, 1991. Al was arguably a better engineer than Scotty!|
The other reason the station sounded so good was the expertise of Chief Engineer Alfred Beckley and his assistants who, over the years, included Jim Clark, Bart and Phil Beckman. Phil recalls "Al Beckley was the City of Roanoke's engineer and WROV was essentially a part-time job for him. He was a stickler for doing it right and I learned a great deal of engineering from him. He and I built the newsroom which replaced a production studio and he insisted that I wire the patch panels in a certain way. I guess that's why the damn things lasted so long!
"He would put the original Raytheon RA-250 transmitter on the air on Saturdays while he vacuumed out the Gates transmitter and tweaked it. That old transmitter had specs that rivaled FM which goes a long way in explaining why WROV sounded so damn good." Al is also rumored to have connected one of the tower's ground radials to the railroad track and dropped another into the Roanoke River. That would have been against FCC rules and we're not sure if it's true, but if so, it would help explain why the signal was so good...
|A Gates Diplomat board just like WROV's. Photo courtesy of C. Park Seward.|
In addition to the station's making the very best of it's signal, it further improved its sound through the clever use of audio processing which made songs sound better on WROV than on any other station. Eventually, songs were processed once when put onto tape, then processed a second time as they were played on the air.
Phil explains a bit about how this was done and what things were like back then: "Back when I was at 15th & Cleveland in the late 60's, we used a Gates Levil Devil and SA-39 peak limiter into the Gates BC-1T transmitter. The mod monitor (in the control room, behind the jock) provided the air monitoring audio. The Gates Diplomat was the board, and we had three RCA front loading cart machines. Middle one held the 'format' cart (chimes, news intro, etc.) The 'WROV girl' was on a separate cart which frequently sat in the middle machine."
|The air monitor was an Electro-Voice Sentry 1 just like this one. It was mounted over the window in the CR on the DJ's right—that's why all of us only have good LEFT ears these days. Photo courtesy of C. Park Seward.|
"When I went to work there full time in May of '71, we were still playing 45's and all the equipment was the same except for the processing. That was the 'Max Brothers' with an unmodified Audimax. They came with a 10-megohm recovery time resistor and were unbearably slow, so 'ROV sounded pretty lame.
"Soon after I started there doing all nights, I would patch around the Audimax with Al's wonderful patch bays and changed the resistor to 7 megohms. I speeded that puppy up gradually over a couple of months until there was a 700 k-ohm resistor in the recovery circuit. WROV was one compressed mutha after that! And, with that extremely well maintained Gates BC-1T that was flat out to 12Khz, it sounded terrific! Thank God I have a few unscoped tapes of that sound!"
|The WROV Gates BC-1T transmitter.|
"As far as the carted music, Ron Tompkins (Now in Denver) started carting up the stuff in 1971. Get this... we had NO timer in the studio, so the way we knew where the fade was, was Ron would pot the song up a couple of DB before fading it. The old WROV peak limiter was in the "new" production studio on a patch, so I encouraged Ron to compress the songs before carting them, which he did.
"We also bought a 'Recording Volumax' at some point for that studio. Later, after Ron left to go to Denver, I would patch the very speeded up Audimax out of the air chain and back to the production room. Al had every studio connected together with tie lines, so it was easy. The Audimax'ed songs were really squeezed, and then of course were played back thru the thing again on the air! That is why WROV was so damn loud. We were the loudest AM (at 250w!) at night in Big Lick!"
|The Gates BC-1T. looked like this when it was on. At night, the tubes lit up Al's office in the front of the Quonset hut. This one's at WSID, Baltimore. Photos courtesy of www.oldradio.com.|
Everybody who worked at the station has fond memories of Al. Larry Bly remembers "Beckley used to hum and talk to himself while his head was sticking into the main board and I was trying to do a show. He'd have problems finding things and I finally asked him one day 'Beck, why don't you just label the wires better?' He sort of did that Beckley laugh and said 'No way. That's my job security.' What a guy. I just truly loved that man."
And Bill Jordan recalls "I was just 21 years old doing mid-days when the FCC came in for an inspection. A couple of hours later I realized that I had forgotten to log my meter readings, so I faked 'em. The inspector came in and asked me "How did you take readings when we had the meters disconnected at the transmitter?" I was about to have a stroke when Al just said 'Aw, he's just a kid. He don't know any better.' And I was FREE!"
A close-up of the WROV BC-1T circa 1976|
(including a good view of the back of the "Hut")
One famous Al story involves his solution to the station's being in violation of an FCC rule. Back in the 1970s, prior to computerized monitoring and logging of transmitter meter readings, the FCC required that the meters had to be visible from the point of operation (the DJ chair) and WROV's weren't.
So, rather than spend lots of money to install remote meters, Al solved the problem by purchasing a very primitive closed-circuit TV system. He pointed the camera at the meters and connected it to a small TV that hung from the studio ceiling over the cart machines. Somebody cut out a picture of a girl in a swimsuit and mounted it on the transmitter so that on the TV it looked like she was standing there next to the meters. She remained there until 1979 when the studio was remodeled and actual remote meters were installed.
|The Girl on the Transmitter.|
Pat Garrett remembers nights when the transmitter experienced problems and Al had to be called in the wee hours of the morning. "Every time I called Al to come fix the transmitter in the middle of the night he'd always show up with his black pants pulled on over top of his pajamas, fix it, then when leaving I'd say 'Well what was the problem?' and Al would always say '"Oh the damn thing crapped out....' and I'd say 'What was it, a bad tube or something?' 'Oh the damn thing just crapped out...'"
"Another time, a rat crawled in there and electrocuted himself on top of a big capacitor, causing it to arc and add static to the signal. I called Al, who said 'Oh just open the back door, take a broom handle and knock him off of there' but I was scared to go poking around that much electricity. So Al came down there, did the dirty work then left, mumbling something about what a bunch of wimps us young guys were as he went out the door. He was great and we all loved him."
|The WROV Gates Diplomat Board as it looked in 1980.|
There are several legends about Al, one involving an FCC inspection. Upon going back to the transmitter room, the FCC guy noticed that one of the meters was stuck. He started to write up a citation for this and Al said "Oh there's nothing wrong with that, here I'll fix it" and went over and tapped it real hard with his fingers, jarring the needle loose, and it started working again. Unimpressed, the FCC guy said "I'm sorry, that's a dysfunctional meter and I'm still going to have to write you up for it."
|The newsroom board was like this RCA BC-5, only wider (9 channels).|
Al, completely unflustered, walked over to his entire wall of filing cabinets, opened the right one and pulled out a folder with the specs for the meter in it (amazing, considering how much stuff he had on file back there, that he knew exactly where it was). Then Al thumbed to a page in the specs where it said "Sometimes during normal operation, it is not uncommon for the meter to occasionally stick. If so, gently tap it to restore it to correct operating order." He showed this to the FCC guy, and since the specs said that this was "normal" he tore up the citation.
|The production room used a RCA BC-7A like this one at WFIF, Milford CT. See the picture of Starr on the 1970s-P2 page. Photo courtesy of www.oldradio.com.|
Another involves the big mainframe computer that Muriel Levine had installed at their house, which she used for managing the station's business and generating the program logs. Apparently, after installing it, there were some problems that were determined to be due to some improperly wired cables.
Muriel approached Al about this and asked him if he would come over to their house and rewire it. Al replied "Don't work on computers. It's not in my job description." So Muriel kept pushing. Finally Al said "Why don't you have the bastard who wired it badly in the first place come over to fix it?" To which Muriel replied "Well, OK, then I'll call my brother and tell him to come back and fix it." And that was that.
Al Beckley passed away on October 5, 1996 and is sadly missed by everyone who knew him.