The WOR-FM Airchain
by Eric Small and Jim Davis

New York radio programmer Pete Salant ( was instrumental in collecting this information


Eric Small was Chief Engineer of WOR-FM from 1969 until 1971:

I arrived at WOR-FM as Chief Engineer in 1969 with a somewhat non traditional background. I also found a somewhat non-traditional station technically.

Here's what I found:

1. My entire radio background had been several stints at classical music WNCN. My personal music taste was folk and classical. I had no prior exposure to Top 40.

2. In addition to WNCN, I had worked for about two years in recording. First at MGM Records under Val Valentine, then A&R Recording with Phil Ramone, Bill Windsor, Neil Muncy, Shelly Yakus and Roy Cicala. Bob Ludwig was a contemporary who started at A&R the same day that I did. I learned a LOT about audio for all of these people.

3. In recording I learned to work with (and often appreciate) record producers. At WOR-FM I just treated the PD, Sebastian Stone, the same way. He wasn’t technical, but he knew what he wanted. It was my job to show him what his options were and help him chose among them. Sebastian in turn supported me 100% and using the clout that comes with bring in good ratings, he got me whatever I asked for from the company.

4. Our production guy, Artie Altro, really cared about how the station sounded. He also had Sebastian’s full support. Artie would go on to play a critical role in the sound of WOR-FM once I was able to give him full control over production.

5. I was the first Chief Engineer WOR-FM ever had. FM was the stepchild of WOR AM. Before I arrived different groups, headed by different people were responsible for the studio, processing (transmission) and the transmitter. Trouble was, no one bothered to tell the folks who had been running each of these chunks of the station that I was now in charge. It took some politics and protracted “memo wars” before I had the control to match my title.

6. When I arrive the station sounded dreadful. It was muffled, distorted and the average modulation was below 30%.The music (on cart) all sounded like it was jet streaming because of mono compatibility issues arising from azimuth problems with the cart machines.

7. I also needed to learn how Top-40 radio worked. In my previous world of classical music radio, the announcer would wait for the music to fade out, then count to three before doing the outro… the same was true before playing spots. Terms like upcut and cold set were all new to me. Sebastian was a patient teacher, but I am sure that more than once he must have questioned his own sanity in hiring such a naïve engineer.

8. My first shock was finding that no one knew what was in the air chain. There was no overall drawing, just prints of each section with blank spaces between them – black holes. No one from the station had ever seen the modulation monitor. It was at the transmitter and they were not welcome there. Neither was I for that matter, but I did not let that stop me.

9. I documented the air chain by “walking it.” Sometimes it was not clear if a piece of gear was in the air chain or just carrying FM’s audio. A few times the only way to find out if a unit was actually in the air chain was to shut it off and see if the station went off.

10. The Left and Right channels of the air chain were not identical. I found transformers and even amplifiers on one side that were not mirrored on the other. This led to some really weird phasing effects. I also found that the CBS Stereo Audimax was not stereo coupled. This caused the apparent center channel to wander around with level. Our only saving grace was that not much of the audience was listening in stereo.

11. When I arrived the audio processing was an old (3RU) AudiMax and a Fairchild Conax (a disk mastering cutting limiter). Both were located in the WOR “terminal room” on the 40th floor of 1440 Broadway. WOR-FM studios were on the 2nd floor. The links to the transmitter on the Empire State Building were equalized copper telephone lines. Even if the Conax limiter did any good, the massive phase shift of the telco lines would undo any waveform shaping.

Here's what I did to fix the problems:

1. Pulled all the crap out of the path between the output of the console and the telco lines in the terminal room.

2. Installed a new Audimax in the FM studio and a Volumax at the transmitter.

3. Remoted the Gain Reduction Meter of the Audimax to the console in front of the operator and removed the console VU meters. Created a simple colored meter scale that was green from 2 to 10 dB of gain reduction and amber from about 2 dB of gain reduction to about 10 dB of gain enhancement. The rest was red. The operators were told to keep the meter in the green except during fades when it was OK to go into the amber. This had the effect of making the station’s levels very consistant.

4. Daven 1 dB and 0.1 dB detented step attenuators were installed between the Volumax output and the stereo generator input. The output level controls of the Volumax and input level controls of the stereo generator were sealed. This allowed me to set the modulation and know if anyone else was tweaking it. They were and it took several surprise visits to the transmitter room that was manned 24/7 because of WOR-TV to stop it.

5. The production room where discs were dubbed to tape cartridges was adjacent to a setback on the roof that had a lot of air conditioning compressors on it. The rumble on the turntables without the discs even spinning was about -20 dB below about 100 Hz. This wasn’t directly audible on the air, but it tore the crap out of the processing. Five hundred pounds of sand and Lord shock mounts in the bases of the turntables make a BIG difference in the air sound and average modulation.

6. We did some EQ on the air, but I eventually convinced the PD that EQ was better added to the records on a case by case basis when they were dubbed to cart.

7. Overall, I’d sum up the technical sound of WOR-FM as a product of cleaning up; and paying attention to details, rather than any great technical innovation.

Eric Small
Modulation Sciences, Inc.
Somerset, NJ 08873


Jim Davis was a WOR-FM air talent as "Big Bob Evans" from 1970 to 1972:

I worked at WOR-FM as an air talent and assisted Jim Davis from time to time with engineering projects.

The small on air studio was located on the 2nd floor of the building at 1440 Broadway. It of course was a “stepsister” to the very successful WOR-AM. The technical equipment was mostly “hand me downs.” There was a main DJ studio with a full time board op on the other side of the glass. To the left of the op was a tiny (closet sized) news booth. Behind the DJ was a production studio used by production director Artie Altro.  

The air chain as I remember it:

There was a condenser mike, I think an AKG “shotgun” type with a foam blast muff. No audio compression on the mike. The console was a vintage stereo tube type General Electric circa mid 60’s with 2 dB Daven stereo step-attenuator pots. The console was NOT memorable, frankly, although WLS Chicago ran the same console about the same time). There were 6 cart players, I think they may have been Collins, although they may have been early ITC issues.

(Pete Salant note: They were MacCarta cart machines, stereo versions of the cart machines found throughout the WOR-AM studios upstairs. Occasionally, a Gates cart machine was used as a replacement when a MacCarta failed and had to be repaired or retired from service. Thanks to information from current WOR-AM morning host John R. Gambling for this correction; John was a summer replacement board op at WOR-FM before he began filling in for his father, the late John A. Gambling, on WOR-AM.)

One of the cart machines always had an "emergency" song loaded into it, so that if for some reason something didn’t fire, that machine was always ready.

I don’t think the stereo Audimax at the studio had any modifications (this was epoxy sealed technology which was considered proprietary until later years).I was never at the Transmitter end at Empire, so Eric would have to fill in those blanks.

Eric did employ a CBS Loudness meter, which operates on a similar algorithm as the current Dorrough loudness meter. Board ops were instructed to watch ONLY the CBS Loudness meter to perform their mixing, rather than the heavily damped GE console meters.

All tape heads were cleaned at the beginning of every shift.


Al Brady (Law) was a DJ at WOR-FM in 1969: 

Not directly related to the audio chain, but nonetheless interesting is the fact that when I got to WOR/FM in 1969 the jock's headphone were fed by only the left channel.

Generally, this was not a problem, but when a song started only in the right channel it could get very interesting. Lots of Beatle records were widely separated, and on some of them, you could not hear the intros in your headphones. We always checked to see if the board op was panicking. If so, we would know there was a problem. If he was calm, then we knew it was just one of those left/right issues.

Later, the problem was solved by installing an FM tuner in the studio and plugging the headphones into the output of the tuner.

As Eric noted, the place was a mess, but it was very early in the FM birth process, and he did a masterful job was making it much better.


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