On-the-air lights don't light up so much anymore, because there's not much that's live, everything is so automated and recorded. Some local stations are run from their corporate headquarters in a distant city, employing, at the station itself, only a few engineers and a small sales staff. It must get lonely in these skeletonized "stations."

Sound Vault | Breakups & Screwups

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David Brinkley

In 1958, about the time David and Chet Huntley became white hot network stars, David was still rotating on NBC Radio's News on the Hour. One day there was an incredible story that put David away.

Play track 1.

Grady Cole

WBT's morning man had a popular (to farmers) noontime farm report. Here, in the 1950s, he's recording a commercial for a manure loader. He finishes, then is astonished by what he just read. He's talking to the recording engineer.

Play track 2.

Dallas Townsend

Every weekday morning at 8:00 CBS Radio had a 15-minute World News Roundup. Townsend, not to be confused with the WBTV engineer with the same name, was its regular anchor. This was one of those rare days when nothing seemed to go right.

Play track 3.

Frank Blair

For years Frank, a native of Greenville, S. C., was a regular news reader on the Today Show and also did radio news for NBC. As luck would have it, one day Frank's nagging cough was scheduled adjacent to a cough syrup commercial.

Play track 4

Lowell Thomas

Many of the old bloopers you hear are recreations, but these from the 1950s and 60s by CBS Radio newscaster Lowell Thomas are the real deal. About once a month Lowell would break up, sometimes unable to continue his newscast. Here are three of his "best."

Play tracks 5, 6 and 7.

There's a long tradition of forced on-air breakups, particularly on smaller stations. An announcer, while reading a script, might suddenly find it on fire, torched by a smartass colleague.

Another common breakup method was for a "breaker" in the control room to walk slowly along the announce booth window, and with each step squat a little lower, giving the effect of him descending a flight of stairs. It was such a bizarre sight the announcer was sure to blow.

Another was for the breaker to kneel down close to the the window, with his shoes perched on his shoulders, looking to the breakee like a very, very short person, with no torso or legs. Crossed eyes were optional.

Fortunately, most stations had a "cough button" near the announcer's mike, so, in instances of extreme breakup-ness, he could kill the mike until he regained his composure.