Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Leesburg, Virginia

Leesburg, Virginia is located in Northern Virginia not far from Washington D.C. It has a beautiful colonial downtown and, more interesting for Valery, a large outlet mall with bargain prices. Many years ago I lived in Leesburg and worked at a small local radio station called WAGE AM. At the time it played country music and local news including radio obituaries and lost pet reports.

I worked in radio as automation was becoming popular, but the kinks hadn't entirely been worked out yet. Although I loved the town of Leesburg, I never really experienced much of it. Most of my memories of my time there involve being woken up at night by the "Gentner" computer system, which would call my home if it's computer program had a glitch or the banks of pre-programmed CD players stopped in their tracks.

At the time WAGE was an odd combination of down-home local programming and impersonal computerization. We ran folksy segments like "Good News with Frank Rafflo," commentary by a prominent local man who was in his 70s. Each day the program began "And now the Good News for Loudoun County." It was followed by the radio obituaries, in which the announcer read names and biographies in serious tones. "Edna J. Smith passed away..." (We never said anyone "died.") After another commercial we ran a lost pet report. (My fondest lost pet memory involved a woman who woke up to find several cows grazing in her lawn).

In the mornings these segments were read live, but for other parts of the day they were recorded into a new Audio Vault computer system. (To give you an idea of when this was, we used to get updates for the music on 5 1/4 floppy discs.) Of course, we always had problems here and there with pieces not being updated or properly encoded in the system. Whenever that happened you'd have a pause and then the computer would move onto the next programming element. One day someone had neglected to load Frank Rafflo's "Good News" into the system, so after the introduction there was a pause and the computer rolled on. Listeners heard the following. "And now the good news for Loudoun County... Mrs. Edna J. Smith passed away..." Needless to say, our telephones lit up for hours.

Our first order of business when we arrived in Leesburg, therefore, was to take a nostalgic tour of the station where I spent so many sleepless nights and very early mornings. Like many stations, WAGE has eliminated the contradiction between technology and local programming by getting rid of the costly local programming. In the new economics of radio, most small stations simply can't compete with Clear Channel and the like. Most of the radio stations where I worked in my past life are now like this one, buildings devoid of people but humming with machinery that pipe out satellite feeds. There was some evidence of my past with a newspaper article on the wall featuring my photo, and after that walk down memory lane, we went back to our hotel and prepared the next day's class.

We very much enjoyed our class at the Loudoun School of Ballet. The studios are big and the students learn quickly. Thank you to Jan Malone for inviting us. We hope to return again.