Seconds from history.

I love when information on the Internet settles a question once and for all.

But on the flip side, there’s nothing more frustrating than finding info and not … quite … being able to believe or trust it.

I learned today that my grudgingly semi-sorta-adopted hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is supposedly the home of the broadcast profanity delay.

According to the Wiki piece, an engineer at local AM station WKAP developed a primitive five-second tape delay system in 1952 for use on a new call-in program called “Open Mic.”

The innovation allegedly spread to other radio stations owned by the same company, then throughout the radio industry, and eventually to the world of network television as well.

I know some of of the basic facts are true. There was a radio station called WKAP in Allentown for many years. (Casey Kasem mentioned it a good half-dozen times on American Top 40 countdowns between 1974 and 1977, according to Pete Battistini’s excellent AT40 book.)

But the Wiki page for “broadcast delay” is completely unattributed. No references are provided for any of the material. Not industry publications, not newspaper articles, not interviews with the principal players … nothing. That’s always a red flag.

I also note that there are two different paragraphs next to each other covering pretty much exactly the same ground on the WKAP story. When I see that in a Wiki entry, it always makes me wonder which one is right (or closer to right); where the contributors are getting their information; and why each section includes information the other one lacks.

While the first graf is more crisply and professionally written, it includes the phrase “it is believed that,” which should set off alarm bells for anyone even remotely skeptical about accuracy. (It was believed once that the earth was flat, too, until people started looking into it. What people believe and what is accurate are all too frequently not the same thing.)

I also find it interesting that the Wiki page for WKAP’s descendant station, WSAN, makes no mention of WKAP’s claim to broadcast history. One would think such a fact would be worthy of mention on the WSAN page … if it were verifiably true.

Finally, Googling some of the basic names and terms from the Wiki article turned up no substantial supporting information. All I seemed to find were articles on other sites that had copied Wiki’s text.

This little tidbit of local history — which marks its 60th anniversary this year, by the way — might well be true. If it is, it’s kinda cool, in a whaddya-know sort of way.

I just wish the greatest, most wide-ranging  information source in the history of the world gave me enough information to be completely sure about it.

(Coda: As I think more about this, I find it remarkable that in a boring burg like Allentown, in a supposedly polite era like the early ’50s, people were concerned about inappropriate comments on the air. Were they really worried that someone was gonna call in and say, “This is Stu from Lehighton, and I’m really f—king sick of Harry Truman”?)

2 thoughts on “Seconds from history.

  1. You should give the people what they want – extended excurses on Canadian rock and pop history. I’ve been listening to CKWS out of Kingston, Ontario because they play a Casey Kasem ’70s Top 40 on Saturdays and one from the ’80s on Sunday. Anyway, it’s an oldies/classic rock station, but they play bands like Streetheart or Chilliwack of someone named Luba that never made it big in the states. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out the connection – they play a lot of Blood, Sweat, and Tears because apparently the lead singer was Canadian.

    Here’s Streetheart with their disco-rock cover of “Under My Thumb” – . It appears that they were Manitoba’s answer to Styx.

  2. Delay is done digitally now, and has been since the late 70s, although at my cash-strapped college station, a couple of guys once rigged up a different way. We had two tape decks mounted on top of one another in a rack. They figured a way to record through one of them and play back on the other (which is probably the way tape delay actually works, although I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know). It was inelegant, and I’m not sure how they would have dealt with an actual obscenity, but at least they could say they had a delay.

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