(Editor’s note: Denny’s answer to this blog question belongs here in the Modesto Radio Museum. Denny’s long radio career included five years at KFIV, MODESTO during the peak of Top 40 Radio’s popularity. His air name was Jay Michael Stevens.)
It was 1966. I was 16 years old, and top rated music station KHJ/930 AM Los Angeles California was doing a “Cash Call” contest. The cash prize, which grew larger at every incorrect answer, had just been won the previous hour, so it went back to a small amount ($10). I guessed wrong, and got the
consolation prize, which I wanted anyway. It was a souvenir KHJ Boss Radio record album, with pics of the KHJ jocks including Robert W Morgan, The Real Don Steele, and twelve songs from 1965 including “Gloria” by Van Morrison, Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe”, and Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction”.
For someone who wanted to get into radio, this was better than winning the cash. Unfortunately, when I moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1970 for my first radio gig, my album collection and other stuff I left at home, was given to the Salvation Army.
Now, fast forward to 1972. The tables were turned. I was 22 and just started working at top 40 radio station, KFIV, Modesto. We were giving away a Yamaha motorbike. We took one caller every four hours to try and win it. The program director thought we could milk the contest for at least a couple of weeks. I had a winner the first evening of the contest. Program director was upset. Management was upset. And I thought I was going to get fired. The other more ‘seasoned’ jocks, thought it was funny. Especially when I put “Jane”, the winner, live on the air to congratulate her. After a few questions about how she felt winning a motorcycle, I asked if I could be the first one to ride with her. She answered with a very loud “NO!” I hit the radio station jingle and went straight to music.
Station management realized the contest needed to be reworked. Fortunately, the sales department got us a second motorbike. For this contest, we played the sound effect of a motorcycle throughout the day. We took the first caller’s name and phone number. All the contestants were then put into a barrel. After taking entries for a month or so, we had an on-air drawing for the “big” winner. This time around, the program director was happy. Management was happy. The advertiser was happy. And I continued working there for the next five years. But I never did get that ride on her new motorcycle.
Bessie Pappas Grillos, 83, of Modesto, passed away on June 3, 2022, after battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Bessie was born on April 4, 1939, in Hiawatha, Utah, to Nick and Mary Katsavrias, as was active in the Greek Orthodox Church all of her life.
Bessie met husband Pete Pappas at a church dance in Price, Utah. They were married in 1962 and had two (2) sons, Pete Pappas, Jr. and Mike Pappas. Always famous for her cooking, Bessie creating a warm, welcoming home for her family and countless friends. Bessie proved to be a dutiful wife and loving, caring mother.
As a broadcasting professional, Bessie was instrumental in helping husband Pete and his twin brother, Mike Pappas, build, manage and own radio stations in Las Vegas, Tulare and Modesto. Eventually, Pete and Mike, along with brother Harry J. Pappas, built and launched KMPH-TV in the Fresno-Visalia television market. At each location, Bessie was the unsung hero who helped manage the stations in the always-difficult but growing broadcast industry. Eventually, Bessie and Pete settled in Modesto and owned two (2) radio stations, KHOP-FM and KTRB-AM. In 1986, Pete suddenly passed away at almost 49-years old, leaving Bessie a young widow.
In 1998, Bessie married Steve Grillos, a retired CSU Stanislaus professor. They enjoyed travel, spending time with family and friends and serving their church community. Even in her later years, Bessie had a limitless supply of energy and was always active in her church’s Greek Food Festivals. Steve and Bessie shared 22 loving years together until his passing on February 9, 2021. Bessie finished her professional career working for Modesto City Schools and retired in 2011.
Bessie is survived by her sons, Pete Pappas, Jr. and Mike Pappas and his wife Katerina; grandchildren, Panayiota, Manolie and Yianni, all in Denver, CO; brother Gust Katsavrias (Sharon), Price, UT; sister-in-law Noula Pappas, Fresno CA; brother-in-law, Harry J. Pappas (Stella A. Pappas), Reno NV; and many nieces and nephews who all grieve the loss of their beloved Thea Bessie.
Trisagion services were held at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, at Salas Brothers Funeral Chapel, 419 Scenic Dr, Modesto, CA 95350.
Funeral services were held at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 313 Tokay Ave., Modesto, CA 95350. Interment at Lakewood Memorial Park, 900 Santa Fe Ave, Hughson, CA 95326.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.
(The Radio Museum is grateful to Ron Underwood, former faculty member at Downey High School, and advisor to the school’s radio station, KDHS. Here’s where this story begins: Bob Pinheiro, Webmaster Emeritus of the Radio Museum, discovered a 1964 recording labeled “Knightime.” The program had audio about activities at Downey High. They are the Knights. We asked Ron for details.
He wrote back, and here is Ron’s backstory of “Knightime.”
“Yes, this program was called “Knightime. It was a fifteen-minute program highlighting Downey High activities, athletics, and student talents. The shows aired weekly on KBEE-AM 970.
They aired until 1972. (NOTE: 1972 was the year Ron Underwood transferred to Beyer High School.) Interestingly, the program aired with the same title and the same format in the mid-1950s as well. Downey Speech teacher Edna Spelts organized and produced those shows through the efforts of her Advanced Speech class. I was a part of these shows then as a student! Years later, when I returned to Downey as a teacher, I told the class about “Knightime” and they seemed eager to revive the show. So we did!
Furthermore, in the late 50s we added “Funny Paper Time” to our broadcasting efforts. This was a program where the students would read-with character voices and sound effects-from the Sunday comic section of The Modesto Bee. Our version of the comics also aired on KBEE…..In the late 60s we changed the name to KCEY Comics as the shows were moved over to KCEY in Turlock.
P.S. I sure do enjoy the Radio Museum web site. I am looking forward to a visit to the new -in person- edition with one of my future trips to Modesto.
Keep up the good work. Sincerely, Ron Underwood”
Here is one of those programs. We are happy to present “Knightime,” from 1964, produced by the students of Downey High School, and heard on KBEE-AM 970:
One of the guests was Chuck Hughes, for many years, Coach of the Downey Football Knights. The stadium is named after him. KFIV-AM broadcast a number of their games.
Editors note: This Modesto Bee article appeared on November 21st, 1968. Later, Bee Photographer Al Golub added follow-up commentary. Special thanks to Al, a friend of the Museum, for permission to archive his story.
November 21, 1968
Wellesley Richard “Dick” Boynton was the news editor at KBEE AM, The Modesto Bee’s sister radio station. In November 1968, Dick volunteered to be my subject for a day-in-the-life-of-a-radio-reporter story. My goal was to improve my story-telling skills.
I asked Dick to just do his job and ignore me. We met at 6 a.m. at the Stanislaus County jail to get booking information.
Then we were off to Modesto Police Department to read the police logs.
At MPD, we discovered a big story was unfolding. Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Fred Beyerand his deputy Joseph Howard had died the night before in a plane crash coming back from Fresno.
Making images was easy under these circumstances: I just followed Dick as he worked. I moved in and out while Dick ignored me, just as I had asked. When he finally sat down to write copy, he talked aloud and banged away on his typewriter. Next thing I knew, he was on the air broadcasting the news.
Boynton worked as the news editor for KBEE for nearly a decade under managers Roy Swanson and Ed Boyle. Earlier in his career, his deep, resonant voice was heard on the airwaves at KWG in Stockton. Boynton had also worked as a newsman for radio stations in Salinas and San Diego. Among racing fans, Dick was known as a winning driver of dragsters and super-stock cars.
Richard Strauss’schildhood mimicked countless other youngsters: he was hooked on radio.
One generation before Richie’s childhood (he was “Richie” during his younger days), a household’s radio was large, was placed on the kitchen counter, and was controlled by the parent. Kids listened to Arthur Godfrey, because they were forced to. Or Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club, which didn’t appeal to youngsters, but it was better than going hungry. Then, in 1957 things changed. It was the year Sony mass produced the transistor radio. Overnight radios the size of toasters were replaced by radios the size of cell phones. Since transistors didn’t require much electricity, they ran on batteries. Wow, they were small, lightweight, and could go anywhere!! They were personal! Since they came with a little earpiece, they were private!! They made a worldwide splash, and they made Richie Strauss’s world.
Day and night, the radio was on, on the way to school, even during school, at home doing homework, at bedtime, under the covers. It was non-stop, it was addictive, it was fun! The radio station with the most fun was KFIV, known as K-5, Modesto’s first Top 40 Radio Station!
Oh, what a station. The music was modern and fun. The disc jockeys were glib, clever, and shared the Low Down on Mo-Town (they knew what was going on in and around Modesto). What’s more, you could call them on the phone!! They were friendly, would joke around with you, and sometimes they played your request.
But for Richie, contests were the real fun. They were non-stop. K-5would give away a brand new ten-speed bike a day for 30 days, and the following day the next contest began. The size of the prize didn’t matter, from movie tickets, to K-Tel albums, to ski lift passes, to crisp clean hundred-dollar bills, it was fun to play and even more fun to win.
Richie played as often as K-5 allowed.
Often the contestant would have to be “caller number 5” or “13” or “27.” Richie’s house had two phones. He would call on one, and then start dialing on the other. He might be caller “3” and then “11” and then “18”. And sometimes he got to play. These persistent players were given a nickname! The KFIVProgram Director, Larry Maher, called themContest Cuties! Richie was a dedicated Contest Cutie Craftsman. Sometimes he won “older people’s” prizes, such as concert tickets to see Englebert Humperdink, or Liza Minelli. Those tickets he gave to his parents.
One time, K-5 virtually hid an ounce of solid gold. Listeners did not go dig up the town looking for the gold; they listened for, and studied the clues, which went from vague to more and more precise. As an example, one ounce of gold was hidden inside the skull at the old dental office exhibit at the McHenry Museum. (Note: as the clues revealed the gold was somewhere inside the Museum, the McHenry Museum set all-time attendance records!! The curator couldn’t figure out what was going on!)
Back to Richie. He had a cassette player, and he recorded every contest he played. When it came to contests, Richie was practically an on-air regular. The jocks could have fun with him. One time, Radio Rick, on the air, took Richie’s guess, and said, “Richie, over here, I have a big book where we write down the names of people with wrong guesses. Next to that book, we have one piece of paper where we write down the winning name. Richie Strauss of Modesto, your name goes. . . . into The Big Book of Losing Guesses!”
Along with all this good fun, Richie fell in love with radio. His father’s friend, Jerry Rosenthal, managed one of the local stations, and he helped Richie get an intern job at KTRB with news director, Carol Benson.
He graduated from Davis High School in 1988, and then on to UCLA. He is now Richard, and his extracurricular activities centered around KLA, the university’s station. He wrote and delivered newscasts, and covered news and sporting events. He was at the press conference in 1991 when Magic Johnsonannounced to the world he had H.I.V. and was retiring. With his press pass, Richard covered sports for free, would record quotes from coaches and players, and feed the audio to radio stations. This Free Lance work paid him fifteen dollars per audio feed. Not bad for watching games for free.
In his senior year, Richard left school to work in the Bill Clinton Presidential Campaign. Traveling with the campaigners, his hard work impressed the Clinton staff. Dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, Presidents delivered weekly Radio Addresses.
Bill Clinton won the ’92 election, and with his knowledge of the inner workings of the medium, Richard Strauss was appointed White House Radio Director.
Hard work and long hours paid off, and Richard took what he learned about public relations, and started Strauss Media Strategies, which has grown into the nation’s premier communications, public relations, consulting and strategy firm specializing in comprehensive radio and television media relations services. Now in its 25th year Strauss Media has offices in Washington, New York, Charlotte, and Los Angeles.
You’re in for a treat. The Museum thanks Ken Levine for granting us permission to post these podcast interviews with the nation’s leading radio personalities. Their stories give great insight as to what it was like to be “that guy on the radio.”
We think you’ll learn a lot; we know you’l laugh a lot. After all, these are disc jockeys. . .
We begin with Shotgun Tom Kelly, a radio star who was given his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
Ken Levine is a creative giant with at least four huge careers: Comedy writer for MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, AND WINGS, among others; Broadcaster of Major League Baseball for the Orioles, Mariners, and Padres; prolific writer of books, plays, movies, and one of America’s most-read daily blogs. His Career Number Four: Radio Personality! Yes, it all began with radio. His podcasts, Hollywood and Levine, focus on Entertainment, Pop Culture, and, of course, all things radio. Want more? Ken has over 200 podcasts, click the logo below:
Superman had his Lois Lane and Wonder Woman had her Steve Trevor. Before the Wonder Woman movies, Wonder Woman, the TV Show, airing for 4 years, paired Lynda Carter with Lyle Waggoner. He was a good-looking, mighty fine Steve Trevor.
And, one day, Steve Trevor came to Modesto. . .
(Rick Myers wrote this back in 1975)
Last weekend, Modesto was invaded by celebrities in tennis shorts. Comic Fred Allen once said, “A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become famous, and then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.” Most of these celebrities did wear dark glasses, but they came to have fun, and help raise money.
The Lyle Waggoner-Best Chevrolet Pro/Celebrity Tennis Classicbenefited the Stanislaus Association for the Mentally Disadvantaged. Twenty-four“famous” people came to Modesto and played tennis over three days at the Sportsmen of Stanislaus (S.O.S.) Club. The locals paid five dollars per match to watch the stars come out—all in all, a pleasant way to donate to a charity.
Lyle Waggoner, a star of The Carol Burnett Show, organized these charity events around the country. It was Modesto’s turn. Lyle came to KFIV several days in advance to set up the promotion, and our first meeting began a wonderful friendship. When the others at the station were introduced to Lyle, they had the usual compliments: “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” and “I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time,” “Thanks for coming to Modesto; this is quite a thrill.” Me? I went for humor (it’s my disc jockey DNA). As Lyle approached, I stared awkwardly at his feet, looking confused. Then I said, “Wow, I thought Porter Wagoner always wore cowboy boots.” Lyle laughed and said he was the other Waggoner. (I had a similar remark about Leon Wagner, the baseball player, but that joke had run its course.) However, with that comment, Lyle Waggoner and I connected.
Lyle Waggoner was gracious and witty—so few of us have both these traits—and instinctively he knew he could have fun with me. When asked to record a station promo, he was ready, “This is Lyle Waggoner, and whenever I’m in Modesto, I never miss the Radio Rick Radio Show; I don’t listen to it, and I don’t miss it.” (The audience loved it, and I aired that promo off-and-on for years.) Later that day, on the air, I asked about his future endeavors, he said, “I plan to do a little screen work this summer; my kitchen door needs repair.” We were having fun. Lyle Waggoner conducts dozens of these tournaments but while in Modesto, I became his go-to guy.
Modesto was rocking with celebrities. Friday evening found these greats and us mere mortals congregated at a party and Lyle Waggoner, my new friend, saw me first, and–happily for me–it was “Hey, Rick, I want you to meet my wife!” His wife
was the lovely actress, Sharon Kennedy. I returned his friendly gesture by introducing my girlfriend who was five-foot-ten. Then came Lyle’s marvelous, awkward miscue. He shook her hand and commented on what a big girl she was. She apologized, explaining her plans were to lose some weight! Lyle gasped, caught off guard, foot in mouth, totally embarrassed. He stammered, searching for an apology, searching his brain for a funny comeback; his brain gave him nothing, and all he could do was utter that he meant “tall” and not “heavy.” I was enjoying this. Sharon rolled her eyes and gave Lyle one of those “What does Wonder Woman see in this schmuck?” looks.
Just then, the great actor Cornel Wilde came limping by and Lyle Waggoner seized the opportunity to change the subject, and introduced us. Nice save, Lyle. Mr. Wilde had pulled a muscle and was in no condition to run through the jungles as he had in The Naked Prey. He was supposed to play tennis the next day; maybe he’d use a stunt double.
As he gazed at us, Mr. Wilde pleasantly accused Lyle and me of starting a “height conspiracy,” and limped away. Wow that was nice; Cornel Wilde, an Academy Award Nominee, was looking up to us.
My eyes scanned the room and there was Ron Ely, a mammoth of a man, who portrayed Tarzan on TV for three years. As I was wondering if he ever tired of being referred to as Hollywood’s original swinger, I noticed a celebrity I practically grew up with: Ozzie & Harriet’soldest son, David!!
David Nelson is a good-looking young man, but extremely shy. According to Lyle, my great friend for the weekend, he and David had been neighbors for years before Lyle ever discovered his quiet neighbor’s existence. Lyle further noted this was David’s first attempt at celebrity tennis. Even surrounded by admirers, David Nelson appeared so uncomfortable I doubt he’ll attempt another.
Merv Griffen’s pudgy trumpet player, Jack Sheldon, supplied most of the humor. His jokes were non stop. And each joke was politically incorrect.
Ex-athletes play tennis, too, and they were there, returning us to the joys of our youth. Former football stars RC Owens and Bruce Gossett had put on a few pounds. They looked like they retired to the buffet table. However, Y.A. Tittle and Frankie Albert were tanned and fit. (Moral: When you retire, it’s best to retire as a quarterback.)
As our weekend with the stars came to a close, I told Lyle Waggoner I was impressed by what a sincerely nice person he was. (Yes, I could be serious for a change.) Jokingly, Lyle replied, “Well, you know, the bigger they are, the nicer they are.” I said, “Lyle, at six-foot-four, you should know. And I hope you’re right, because I’m six-foot-five.”
(Post Script: Following his acting career, Lyle created Star Waggons, providing customized location trailers used by the entertainment industry. He and Sharon were married for 59 years, until his passing at age 84.)
When DJs take on a subject, their train of thought often jumps the tracks. One of us radio guys read an article that breast-feeding could improve the neuromuscular system involved in speech. All that suckling activity is just darned good, healthy exercise. That article morphed down into the lower levels of disc jockey humor. “Hey, DJ guy, you’ve got a great voice, but imagine where you’d be if your momma breast fed you. You’d probably be in New York City by now…” I wasn’t breast-fed and I’m not in New York. That’s my excuse.
With that in mind, this February 21st, I came upon an “Ask the Doctor” column. A woman wondered if it was all right to continue breast-feeding her twenty-six month old son. I misread the column, thinking for a second it read “twenty-six year-old son.” I did a quick double take, and talked about my goof later on the air. All was fine, as I summed up the story with “But if there were to be a woman out there somewhere breast feeding a twenty-six year old son, I’d be happy to put myself up for adoption.” It was just one punch line out of many, and I forgot all about it—until those letters started coming in.
Negative letters usually are addressed to the boss; favorable ones come to the disc jockey. I wish it were the other way around. The first paragraph of the first letter read:
“I am surprised that you would let a disc jockey profane himself on prime time public radio by making gross mockery of such a sacred subject as breast feeding babies….” The closing sentence had some holy wrath with it: “In my opinion this man should be ‘adopted’ as he wishes—only by a mental facility!”
Another letter decided to embellish what I said: “And he wondered what it would be like for a 26-year-old to be breast fed and he could go about volunteering to be adopted and breast-fed by that young mother.”
That was more than what I said! I closed by saying I wondered if I could put myself up for adoption. This listener added to the punch line. In radio, that’s called “talking past the punch line.” The writer watered down what I said just to make sure it didn’t even remotely sound clever. When it comes to humor I need all the help I can get. As fellow disc jockey, J. Michael Stevens, once said, “Rick, to call you a wit is only half right.”
Radio stations do get letters! Most are complimentary. The critical ones seem to be written to release tensions. The writer just feels better with, “I told them a thing or two.” My Program Director, Larry Maher, likes to say some people listen with one hand on the Bible, and with the other hand on a note pad ready to dash off a letter of protest.
Most protest letters come when the listeners are given the chance to be “righteously indignant.” At the letter’s heart lies the assertion the disc jockey was insensitive. One winter day, I made the comment, “It’s December 7th, and every year on this day, the Navy goes out and bombs Pearl Bailey.” In came a letter:
“How dare one of your disc jockeys make fun of Pearl Bailey, a woman who is such a great entertainer, she is practically an American Institution…”
Oh, come on now! Just because you don’t get the joke, don’t take it out on me. (Note: Pearl Bailey was a great entertainer, passing away in 1990. The Navy never sought revenge.)
I’m not alone on these incoming slings and arrows; many DJs are Writers’ Wrath Recipients. One foggy morning, Terry Nelson made the comment, “be careful out there, folks; it’s foggier than a pervert’s breath.” In came a letter:
“…How dare you people! I was in the car with my son when your disc jockey talked about a pervert, and my 10-year old asked, ‘Daddy, what’s a pervert?’ I was all embarrassed and didn’t know what to say. Parenting is hard enough without idiots who think they have the right to ruin my day!! Well, thanks; you succeeded!!”
You’re welcome. Another time, Ron Posey started his show with “I got a letter here, let’s see what it says (then the sound of the envelope being opened). Ron then reads, “It’s addressed to All the Virgins of the World. It says, “Thanks for nothing!” Let’s not even get started on those letters.
One brutally cold day, I mentioned that it was “colder than a Mother-in-Law’s love.” Those incoming letters were pretty much universal, along the lines of “I laughed at what you said, but, I want you to know that MY MOTHER-IN-LAW is a VERY NICE PERSON!!” The letters all had that common theme. I guess mothers-in-law have their own union, and they’re headquartered in Modesto.
So keep those cards and letters coming! They let us know that at the microphone’s other end are living, breathing people. Letters keep us on our toes. DJs really strive to never cross the line. We just like to get close.
I’ve learned threes things about listener letters: 1) they are certain to continue. Therefore, 2) It’s better to limit any controversial comments for when the boss is on vacation, because 3) when he’s away, he’s put me in charge of the mail.
Rick Myers always dreamed of getting into radio, and it became a dream come true. He started early. He went to radio school while still in high school, and two days after graduation, was hired by KSRT-Tracy. He was seventeen, on his way to a 47-year career.
At KSRT, he learned a lot, and saved a little money. In June, 1968, he, John Chappell, and Wes Page went to Ogden’s Radio Operational Engineering School and got their FCC First Class Licenses. That was a big step; that license allowed announcers to work at any radio station in America. It was at Ogden’s that fellow student, Shotgun Tom Kelly, gave him the nickname “Radio Rick.”
Rick went right to work at KFIV-AM, Modesto, hired by Tim St. Martin. After serving in the Air Force, Rick came back to KFIV. He liked working with the public, and MC’d dozens of Miss Modesto and Miss Stanislaus County pageants, along with telethons and fundraisers.
Rick joined the Modesto Radio Museum Foundation in 2019, and is currently serving as President.
Here are some samples of Radio Rick’s work. We hope you enjoy them as much as he enjoyed creating them.
KFIV – Radio Rick blasting the air waves in 1974
KFIV – Radio Rick, Rockin’ the 136 in 1976
KFIV – Rick Myers audition tape from 1977
According to Radio Rick he sent friend Terry Nelson who was then working in New York a number of airchecks for him to critique back in the mid/late ’70s. This one was actually an audition tape for Radio 99-X; they were looking for a swingman, a part timer to work weekends and fill in. As was the case in radio many times, Rick never heard from them again. He states, “That’s showbiz” but occasionally wonders to himself what that fork in the road would have led to.
Aside from on the air duties disc jockeys were called upon to produce commercials for local businesses. Many times they would write and record the commercial. Here are some examples of Rick’s talents.
K5 Cash Cruiser. Rick says this contest went well until people started taking too many chances to win the loot. K5 either had to discontinue it or change the name to K5 Crash Cruiser
Mountain Air Concert
Sierra Seasons with the voice of Virginia Lundquist as Klondike Katie. Virginia was Assistant Production Director at KFIV
The Hamburger Caper with the voice of Dave Nelson
Magnins in McHenry Village Radio Rick and Radio Maggie
Read more about Rick Myers here at the Modesto Radio Museum:
Altec-Lansing Corporation billed it as “The mike that became a must!” when it came out around 1949. I’m talking about the Altec 21B condenser microphone capsule which was part of the M-11 Microphone system. This capsule was an amazingly small mike for that era.
This mike was a revolutionary development at the time because condenser mikes had fallen out of favor way back in the 1930s. Ribbon and dynamics had taken over the professional audio field and many thought the condenser would never come back. Altec engineers had a different idea…a new approach to the problem: not “redesigning what was already available, but starting from scratch with a dual specification: “The best quality and the smallest size.”
More than 20 “man-years” were spent in the design and engineers of the 21B. The result wasn’t just a “better mike” – smaller in size – but a mike, smaller in diameter than a dime…that set a new standard in microphone performance…with new pickup techniques as well. The condenser mikes of the 1920s and 30s were big and had bulky amplifiers that had to be in close proximity to the pickup capsule and were powered by large battery packs.
The new smaller size capsule mated with the new “miniature” vacuum tubes developed during WWII made possible the come back of the condenser unit. Altec used an A/C power supply box instead of bulky battery packs. The result was the M-11 microphone system. The capsule itself was 5/8ths of an inch in diameter and just a quarter inch thick. It had a sound entrance opening that was a tiny slot around the top edge of the capsule.
People referred to this mike as the “coke-bottle” because of its unique and stylish shape. The small 21B capsule was mounted at the top of the slender “coke-bottle” “150A” base which contained a 6AU6 miniature vacuum tube which converted the very high impedance of the capsule to a low impedance by use of a cathode-follower circuit. The unit used a multi-conductor cable connected through a Cannon “P” 8-pin connector which was at the bottom of the “coke-bottle”. The mike could be separated from the power supply by as much as 400 feet.
This cable mated with the power supply box which supplied both filament and high voltage to the vacuum tube and condenser capsule. The power supply box also had an output cable that connected the system to the audio equipment it was to be used with. There was an optional matching transformer that plugged into the power supply box to provide a balanced output for professional audio systems.
The 21B capsule produced an extremely smooth and extended response over the entire audio range and was omnidirectional. Later modifications were the 21C and D which only changed the way the sound entered the mike at the top. Its graceful, slender shape made it possible for artists to “get out from behind the mike” and be seen with a minimum of obstruction when used on a mike stand and it also fit comfortably in the hand for mobile use.
The M-11 mike system became an instant sensation in the audio industry and saw wide use in broadcasting, public address motion picture production and recording. Later Altec used the same capsule with an even smaller base that used printed circuits and a sub-miniature vacuum tube…this was dubbed the “lipstik” M-20 microphone system. It was literally no larger than a lipstick and was practically invisible on a regular mike stand. It was also equipped with a fountain pen clip so that it could be put on a coat lapel or tie or hidden underneath the tie, corsage or other ornaments.
Altec went on to develop other condenser mikes including uni-directional units. This was the start of the resurgence of the condenser microphone in the US. Shortly after the Altec was introduced the industry saw the importing of the very fine German condenser mikes that continued the condenser comeback. Today condenser mikes of all kinds are used universally in everything from telephones to high end recording. Altec-Lansing was considered one of the premiere electronics manufacturers of the 20th century.