By JACK E. ANDERSON
Herald TV-Radio Editor
THIS business of advancing automation has gotten to the point where I've been wondering lately if human beings won't soon have to ask themselves the question: would you really want a robot to marry your sister?
But I had lunch the other day with Jack Sandler, general manager of WQAM, and I feel a lot better about automation. And more than that. I don't think we'll have to worry about sis yet.
Almost two years ago, Jack's station went almost completely into automation. Its McAllister Hotel control room has a bank of whirling tape reels, blinking lights and a polka-dotting of buttons and dials worthy of Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory.
When I saw this intimidating installation not long after it was finally in operation, Jack was as proud of it as a father who had expected one and got quintuplets.
He and I stood there the day I saw it, his face wreathed with smiles, as the damned thing ingested small spools of tape fed into its various mechanical kissers, raveled and unraveled big reels of tape and made all sorts of demanding noises and light signals.
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When he could tear his gaze away from big brother (Maybe it's big sister, for all anybody can tell), Jack boasted the contraption had enabled WQAM to use small quarters, fewer people and free those still on hand for more important and creative duties than constantly manning microphones.
And, as a regular listener to the station knows, the machine does its job efficiently. All the canned music, talk and commercials go out over the air precisely on cue.
Well, here he and I were the other day - about a year and a half later - for another chat. Jack sat with his chin thoughtfully cradled in his hands at the luncheon table.
"We've cut back on our automation," he said quietly. "It just wasn't quite right for us. Not yet anyway."
I COULDN'T have been more surprised if he had told me the station had just hit bottom in the latest Hooper rating. He went on to explain.
"Oh. it works perfectly. In fact, we're still using it for about 50 per cent of our broadcast output.
"The trouble is that it has put us all under too much strain. A couple of my people have actually broken down and cried.
"To keep it programmed has required more work from too few people. And another thing, the listeners have noticed the difference. They co detect the automation an they've complained about it.
"You know we've worked very hard - and I think successfully - to create a definate WQAM image here and I think it's important to preserve that image.
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"IT GOT so even our telephone operators were tied up helping with preparing ad-vance programming and they hardly had time to answer the calls. And that's one the things we forgot: people still like to call in and ask questions.
"Well, we're getting back closer to people again, both in the audience and in our own organization. We're doing more live broadcasting and using the automation for the routine things - time announcements, station breaks, weather bulletins and so forth."
After lunch we went upstairs and had another look at old whirr-and-whirl. It was still blinking its little green and red eyes at us, still spining its tapes, but it was comforting to know it wasn't ordering everybody around so much any more.