Ode to Dad

August 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments
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RecordingStudioPic

When I was a kid, my dad had the coolest job. In the mid-80s he teamed up with a couple of good friends at a startup recording studio. From what I remember they mostly handled radio and TV commercials for large and small advertising agencies with accounts like Blockbuster Video, Worlds of Fun, and Pizza Hut. They also recorded musicians, I’m sure, but the crux of their business lay in the commercial world.

What I remember best were summer days spent at the studio with dad. We’d get up early for the morning commute, and despite the above photo, I don’t think mom came along with us very often. Being a mom now, I understand how she must have loved these days as much as we did! We’d arrive at the studio at 42nd and State Line, coming in the special back entrance. We’d run down the corridors, upstairs decked out in plush, maroon carpet and green walls with wood panels, and downstairs a wood floor perfect for tap dancing. Dad would check out the sessions he had booked for the day while Jill and I would snag Cokes from the fridge. Mom never allowed us soda at home, so the endless supply of sugar and caffeine provided quite a treat for us. Dad almost always worked in Studio B, our favorite because it was large like Studio A, but cozier and less pretentiously decorated. There was a big leather couch in the back that we’d lay on, soaking up the smells and textures. The chairs by the controls all had wheels, and we had many a spin in those. We met advertising creative directors who humored us our endless questions. We met high-spirited voice talents who made us laugh. Unlike Jill, I’d run at the mouth to most of them, which probably led to the handful of commercials I did as a child. Though I do remember one instance where the client was trying to come up with a nice, short name for a character in their radio spot, and they chose Jill’s name. She didn’t stop grinning that entire session.

At some point business was so good that the clients would order in lunch for everyone at the studio, including us kids. I remember Rose, the secretary, coming around with a menu and taking our orders. We felt so posh, despite our usual request for burgers and fries. We’d eat in the lunchroom and listen to stories. It was these moments where we’d see a side of our dad that we didn’t see at home. He’d quietly listen to whatever outrageous story was being told, munching away at his lunch as if he weren’t minding the conversation at all. And then suddenly he’d chime in with the most hilarious and random sentence. Our dad was funny?!

In the early days I remember racks and racks of reel-to-reel tape machines. Each recording would be spliced with a razor blade and taped with this special blue narrow tape. There was an art to it, finding just the right spot in the tape by rolling the reels with your hands and listening. He’d adjust dials on the control panel, hundreds of dials! In the sound booth, as big as our living room at home, all of the sound-proof treatments on the walls made it eerily quiet. Sometimes dad would make recordings of Jill and I singing. We’d don headphones made for much bigger heads, and stand on tip-toe to reach the microphone hanging down from a stand. Dad would push a button to talk to us, his voice strange and tinny through the headphones. Finished with our “set”, Jill and I would race to the door and push it with all our might — it was thicker and heavier than a regular door -– and join dad in the control room to listen to ourselves and giggle. Our voices didn’t sound like our own.

After the session with a client was over, dad would have to do some of the more boring, technical stuff. So he’d run to the archive and get us this very thick tape, then cue it up for us. At the front of the control board, below all those hundreds of dials, there were dozens of sliding knobs. Slide up, volume up. Slide down, volume down. On this particular tape, each knob corresponded to an instrument in the musical piece. Jill and I would spend the duration of the tape fiddling with the knobs up and down and composing our own masterpiece. Dad would check in every so often to start the tape over for us. Oh, how we loved this game!

In the 90s everything changed to digital, and most of those machines were replaced with computers running ProTools. Dad spent many countless nights learning everything there was to learn until he became an expert. That’s his way. Into junior high and high school, Jill and I would still go into work with dad in the summers. The computers were no less interesting than watching him splice tape. And I remember once, after a quick lesson in ProTools, he set us to work making our own Halloween spooky sounds and music tape. We’d fade one track into another, pretending we were the hotshot recording engineers.

Ultimately Jill and I never made careers anything like our dad’s. In fact, it saddens me to think of Liam going to work with mommy and watching me design at a computer (boring!) or going to work with James to, well, ok, who knows exactly what position he’ll be holding, but I’m sure it’ll have something to do with filling out paperwork and giving presentations about horribly acronymed policies. That thought makes me realize just how good Jill and I had it, those wonderful summers going to work with our dad.

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12 Comments »

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  1. That was wonderful. You should write a book. I really think you would be a good book writer. Thanks I enjoyed that. Will share it with your grandma. She will cry. She has always been very proud of your writing accomplishments. Marsha

    • Mandy, You have become a very good writer! It was great to hear a story like that from your perspective as a child.

      I met you and your sister when you were pretty much the same age you were in that family picture you included with your blog. I want you to know that your father, Mark, was responsible for my jumping into a lifelong career as a recording engineer.

      He was sitting in that very same chair (in the pic) as he turned around to face me when I asked him if he thought I’d EVER make it as an engineer. He said in his quiet and thoughtful voice “You already have…”
      That one comment, coming from your Dad, whom I certainly idolized at the time, was truly life-changing for me.

      By the way, I remember that 2″ multitrack tape your Dad set up for you to play with – and I have to admit, I spent much time experimenting with it myself! Funnnnn! 🙂

      Again, a beautiful story Mandy. Thank You.

  2. Oh, how that brought back memories!!! I started work in radio in 1976 and I remember all of that! I’m sure Robert does too! That was so interesting. You should submit that story to a magazine.

  3. I lived those days,and maybe-just maybe, was in studio with your Dad to record comm’ls for the corporation I was employed with. I spent a lot of time with the BR’s, Birdsall’s and Roberta Solomon’s of the KC voice-over world. This pic takes me back, and dang, you kids are just too darn cute!

    PS. I had a ‘stash, just like your Dad’s.

    • LOL, I’m trying to picture you with a mustache, Rick. It’s cracking me up 🙂 My dad is still rocking the ‘stach. It’s a permanent fixture.

  4. It was 41st and State Line.

    • 41st, 42nd, I knew it was somewhere around there 🙂

  5. Oh, those days! Remember when we went into Studio A with all of Dad’s old Pink Floyd records and transferred them all to cassette tape!! It’s so funny now to think that making a tape of records was updating them.

  6. What sweet memories! Mine was getting squirt out of the vending machine in the shop since my dad was a transport manager. Jonathan asked me the other day if I’d ever been in a rig having been exposed to truck driving, but sadly, no, not that I remember. I do remember driving the tractor with my dad out at our farm.

  7. I really enjoyed this story. What a sweet post!

  8. You are so lucky to have these great memories with your dad. I remember going to work with your granpaw Weddle once. He was painting a house out in the country. I got stung by a wasp and he put spackle on the sting.It felt so cool and made the pain go away. Little did I know he was just trying to get me to stop crying. It worked.

  9. So, funny story. I was talking to my mom, and she was like, “You make it sound like in this post that you went to work with your dad all the time in the summers. I only remember you going a few times.” And she’s probably right — we probably didn’t go to work with dad the whole day all that often. But we did stop by the studio a lot after work, or on the weekends, and I also worked there for a summer when I was 16, so I guess it all melded together in my memory. oh well!


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