ELLSWORTH – A lot has changed in the 43 years that Michael Hale, morning show host on Star 97.7, has been in broadcasting.
The technology is different, of course – disc jockeys no longer spin turntables or pop in CDs, and the news no longer comes from an Associated Press Teletype machine. Another thing that’s changed?
“Bathroom records,” says Hale. In the age of record-spinning, DJs had to manually change records, which meant “If you had to use the restroom, you had limited time,” says Hale. “So we had what we called ‘bathroom records.’ You hoped they didn’t skip.”
“‘American Pie’ by Don McLean was about nine minutes long, so that was a good one.”
Hale hung up his headphones last week, after decades in local broadcasting and seven years with Star 97.7 morning show.
The Medway native got his start at a station in Millinocket as a teenager, later studying radio and television broadcasting in Boston at the Leland Powers School of Communication. He eventually moved back to Maine, where he worked at radio stations (and later television as well) in Bangor, Brewer, Lincoln, Ellsworth and Houlton. There was a spell in Florida at ESPN, but the Millinocket-born broadcaster says his heart is in local broadcasting.
“People get used to you and the way you do things,” says Hale, who wakes up every morning at 3 a.m. to be at the studio for his 5 a.m. shift. “You become part of their lives and families.”
Local radio stations began disappearing in the mid-1990s, says Hale, when the 1996 Telecommunications Act eliminated a cap on nationwide station ownership, among other deregulatory measures.
“It used to be required that if a town had a station the transmitter and station had to be there,” says Hale. After the Act was passed, stations began consolidating, meaning local radio stations moved to larger cities, all under the roof of one company.
While Hale says he understands the financial reasons for the change “I kind of miss that local areas don’t have their stations in their towns anymore.”
“People could stop by their stations to drop off a lost pet, or say they won a prize or something, or they just want to give you a notice about a bean supper.”
Hale says that makes the local stations that were able to survive the consolidation unique.
“Radio trudges along,” says Hale. “Anybody can play music, but [with national stations] you won’t get there’s a traffic accident, or that schools are getting out early.”
Hale has won several awards in his time, including “First Place, Best On Air Personality” in 2016 from the Maine Association Of Broadcasters. Hale and newscaster Stu Marckoon also won the award in 2014.
Hale plans to spend his retirement as “a bit of a snowbird,” traveling between Maine and Florida. Decades of early mornings and driving to work in blizzards have taken their toll.
“Sometimes a blizzard’s going on and you still have to be there – we don’t get to cancel ourselves,” says Hale. “I’ve just grown a little weary of that.”
He plans to hike, bike, golf and explore Florida’s white sand beaches. Maybe visit Disney World.
“Do some of the touristy stuff.”
Oh and…Maybe a little radio, a few commercials here and there.
“Radio is in our blood,” says Hale. “Radio’s been pretty much my life and hobby.”