Radio hasn’t always been centralized and computerized to death the way it is now, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been automated to some degree practically forever. That process is obviously much easier these days than it used to be, but how did they manage to pull this stuff off before everything was digital?
Radioworld takes a look at one of the systems that a company called Sparta was bringing to market back in 1974. It’s equal parts fascinating and complicated, and looking at it today it kind of makes me wonder if all the organization and editing work that went into making it all come together as well as it did was worth more than just having somebody broadcast live. Obviously the answer turned out to be an unfortunate yes, because here we are today.
The brains of Spartamation (also spelled as Sparta-Mation) was the 1052 automatic program controller. It delivered automatic start/stop control and overlap audio switching for 10 sources, plus two special channels for network and fill music. The basic model had a 52-event format capability, with an 11 x 52 matrix board for the format information.
For greater flexibility with carousels, the RS-250 Random Access could be purchased, as it acted as a sub-programmer for the 1052 controller. Once it was installed, two carousels (48 carts) appeared as a single source to the 1052. The 250 determined which carts would be played, which skipped and in what order. When there was no commercial scheduled for an availability programmed into the 1052, the “skip” setting on the 250 would cause the controller to ignore the play command.
The 250 also featured “search-ahead cueing,” which insured that the other carousel had the correct cart loaded ahead of time, so carousels could play back to back with no dead air. An LED readout displayed carousel and tray number to play next. Event position was programmed via a series of slide switches located in a slide-out drawer. This was the 1970s equivalent of non-volatile memory; event programming would be preserved during power outages.