News from the Kitchen Table

WKEI radio, in the early ’60s, was located on the second floor of an older building in downtown Kewanee, Illinois. By today’s standards, the station would look as old as the OK Corral in Tombstone. The main studio was the size of a mini-van, the production studio the size of a walk-in closet and had egg cartons on the wall for sound-proofing. The biggest room in the station was about 20 by 20 and had a kitchen table and a piano. In the months I worked there I never saw the piano used for anything except as a place to set coffee cups.

Kewanee
WKEI was downtown in the white building with the red awning .

The kitchen table was just that: aluminum legs, linoleum top. It held a big old RCA microphone, and a strange-looking little metal box with two buttons on it: a mute button, to hold down if you needed to cough, and an echo button which was used to “dateline” news stories. When it was time for the nightly six o’clock newscast, the announcer would sit at the table and read news. Fifteen minutes worth. No more, no less.

The loyal WKEI listeners would listen to what really wasn’t local news, but rather just copy we got off the teletype machine. Didn’t matter what the stories were; just as it didn’t matter what music the station played. It was Kewanee’s own station and Kewaneeans listened for that reason alone.

One day I was on the shift which included reading the six o’clock news. So, I pulled what news had been collected from the teletype during the past few hours, and sat down at the kitchen table. The engineer, in the mini-van sized studio, threw the main switch for my microphone and got up to go into the other room, where the coffee machine sat next to the teletype. He stayed there enjoying his coffee.

Each story was “datelined” with an echo chamber notice of where the story originated. As an example, I’d hit the “echo button” and say, MOSCOW. . . moscow. . . moscow. . and then go on reading, “. . . the Russian satellite, Sputnik, is in its fifteenth day of orbiting, etc.” I was about twelve minutes into the fifteen minute newscast, and running low on news copy, so I hit the “mute button,” turning off the microphone, and yelled as loud as I could to the coffee drinking engineer, “MORE NEWS!” hoping he’d bring me some more copy. He brought some; and after the newscast, told me I had accidentally hit the “echo button,” announcing “MORE NEWS. . more news. . more news. . .” to the loyal Kewanee listeners. It still reverberates in my mind, decades later.

Later that evening I stopped by my girlfriend’s house to pick her up for a date. I walked into the living room where her father was sitting on the sofa, smoking his pipe. “Young man,’ he said, “I really liked that thing you did toward the end of the news, when you said, ‘more news.” It woke me up. I was dozing off. Was that you’re idea?

“Yes, sir,” I said, “. . yes it was.”

2 responses to News from the Kitchen Table

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