Look back at 50 years Pt. 7 – Chris Lee
by on April 23, 2015 in News

“My career in radio.” or “How to really piss off your Dad”

One night at The Beachwagon, The Whites were performing. They had a few minor country hits and one of the daughters was married to Ricky Skaggs.The local country radio station, WYAK, was doing a live remote from the club. During the band breaks, John Dixon the radio DJ from WYAK, would come over and hang out at the sound booth with me and talk. John was tall, skinny and just a friendly guy. I would get on the mic and sell the band’s T-Shirts during this time and John asked me if I had ever worked in radio. I said “No, why?”  He said “We’re needing some people to work at WYAK and I think you should talk to Steve Mims out Program Director.” Really?!? Me?!? This hick kid from Greer, SC? On the radio? They must be desperate!

I had never even thought about working in radio before that moment…NEVER. Being 20 years old and full of myself I said “Why not?” I went to the studios first thing Monday morning and met with Steve. He hired me to run the board for the Nascar races on Sundays, one of 2 days off I had each week. The other being Monday.”Running the board” for a race simply meant listening for the cue to start the local commercials and then turn the race broadcast back up when they were done. Simple enough, right? Can’t screw that up, right? Wrong! I quickly learned the ins and outs of a Nascar broadcast and became proficient in my duties. Steve told me to work on my “On air” voice and skills by sitting in with the other jocks at the station. I know I got on their nerves but I learned a lot.

After a few weeks he decided to let me try a weekend overnight shift. I WAS GOING TO BE ON THE RADIO!!!  Me, Chris Borum….yes, Chris Borum. Borum…..Borum? “My God, I’m gonna have to change my name!” I thought to myself. I could just hear it….”Borum in the Morning, yes, he does….” or “You really bore ’em on the radio”. Now, I realize, after years of experience, that “Borum” would have made a unique and memorable radio name, I should have left it alone. But, I really wanted a cool sounding name like “Dr. Johnny Fever” but that was taken. “Chris St. Matthews” was tossed around, even “John Christopher” was said, but my 20 year old under-developed brain told me to “Use your middle name”, so “Chris Lee” was born. My PD liked it and it became official. Now, I had to tell the “Old Man”.

I had told my parents that I was working in radio, they were, of course, excited for me. I broke the news to Dad about the name change, he wasn’t thrilled needless to say. When I was 7, he came into our lives and worked very hard to help support us. He took on an instant family of four, Mom and three kids. After he and mom were married, he asked to adopt me. Now my natural father was out of the picture, and I had taken to my new father quite well, so I said yes. I changed my name from Christopher Lee Drake, to Christopher Lee Borum. I know it meant a lot to him for me to have his name and continue the family name for years to come. Now here I am telling him that I didn’t like the name to use on the radio. But as a loving father does, he told me he understood and wished me well.

My career in radio began just after de-regulation by the FCC had kicked in. For years before I began in radio, you were required to have a Class III Operators license. This was just a step short of being an actual engineer. The license would allow you to operate an AM or FM radio transmitter, because, often you were the person in control of the station, and had to be licensed. There were classes, tests and a lot of requirements. Now, in 1985, I simply had to pay a $15 fee and send off the paperwork. Wow, anyone can do this. My license came, it was a simple yellow/orange piece of paper, I had to sign it to make it official and have it with me whenever I was in the studio.

The WYAK studios and transmitter were located just off of Hwy. 707 in Surfside Beach, SC. The building itself was a log modern log cabin with the antenna just out back. Inside the studio there was a control board with maybe 10 channels, big knobs, 2 or 3 microphones, 3 “cart” players and 2 turntables. “Carts” or cartridges resembled 8-track tapes. (Kids, ask your parents.) Each cart would have a commercial or station promo on it. The carts were numbered to correspond with the daily log you would receive that dictated which songs to play and when to play the commercials.

The first song I ever played on the radio was “The Chair” by George Strait. I vividly remember the moment, putting the needle on the record and cueing it up to the beginning of the song and turning it back about a quarter turn. Then I had to speak!

I broke out in a cold sweat as the song was ending, I don’t even remember what it was. 30 seconds…..20…..10…..here is what I remember:

I turned on the mic and turned up the volume….and that’s it. I don’t remember what I said. When I started the song I turned down the mic and turned off the mic switch. I do remember thinking that I sucked and how strange my voice sounded in my headphones. It was weird hearing my own voice, it sounded so different coming through the headphones, not at all like my voice. In then realized I was actually shaking because I was so nervous. Next talk break got a little better, then I started to relax. Then, it was over. Six hours went by in a blink of an eye. My only thought was that I couldn’t wait to do it again! I made air-check recordings each night and I am grateful that they no longer exist!

We played actual records and albums in 1985, no CD’s, no digital music, no iPods and no computers. If you wanted to listen to music in 1985, you bought the album, cassette or 45, or, you listened to the radio. We had a box of index cards with song titles on them and they were color coded by how often one would play each hour. There was a color coded “Clock” printed on a sheet of paper, like slices of a pie. Top of the hour might be a green piece of pie, so I would pick the next green coded song to play, then red, then brown, etc. We had walls of albums and 45’s, a huge selection! I would go through the albums on the night shift and read the liner notes. It was great! The “current” music category would play 4 times per hour and there were 11 – 15  songs in the box as currents, so they should repeat @ every 3 or 4 hours. We had some liberty, especially at night to pick older songs to play when that category would come up. A restroom break would require a longer song….Marshall Tucker Band “Can’t You See”, over 9 minutes, yes!

Playing 5 nights a week at The Beachwagon, DJ on the radio, golf almost every day, happy horny tourists. Life was good. Then, as always happens in life, it was bound to change.


Part 8 – Click Here

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