— Ed Glab tried to learn something new every single day during his
more than 40 years as broadcast engineer at WLS(AM/FM) in Chicago.
That accumulation of knowledge made Glab an extremely valuable
commodity and enabled him to survive lots of management changes and
an ownership switch.
Glab is shown in WLS Control Room A sometime in the mid-1990s.
from the Cumulus-owned stations in late June ended what Glab, 65,
called “four decades of being on call.” That sort of dedication
requires a passion for broadcast engineering.
can be a very demanding mistress, but I have loved most of it. I
started with consoles that had vacuum tubes in them and cart
machines. I could draw the entire functional diagram of the radio
station on a napkin,” said Glab.
retirement he held the title of engineering supervisor.
1967, Glab was attending the prestigious Northwestern University,
majoring in radio, TV and film in the School of Speech. He answered
an ad for an on-air summer relief position at WYFE(AM) in Rockford,
Ill. He joined the clear-channel AM directional as an on-air fill-in
after passing the test for the FCC’s First Class license.
halfway through the summer the CE quit,” Glab said, “so I was
named chief engineer” — because he held that license.
1968, Glab returned to school and by happenstance met Carl Nelson,
who was engineering supervisor at WLS(AM). Nelson mentioned that the
station hired people for summer relief in the engineering department.
Glab joined them for that summer.
the allure of on-air employment was still attractive to Glab, so
after finishing his degree and rejoining WLS for about nine months,
he left to work on-air shifts at stations across Illinois in Highland
Park and Aurora, which are considered part of the Chicago metro.
interviewed for the production director’s position at WLS in 1973
but instead joined the station full-time as a board operator, a
position that was in the engineering department.
figured I would take it until something better came along. Here we
are 40 years later,” Glab said with a chuckle.
then, board ops were the only station personnel allowed to touch
equipment, Glab said; on-air folks had a mic, stopwatch and headphone
jack. “[WLS] was a very strong union shop. Board ops ran all the
equipment. So when the on-air people got a cough switch it was a big
deal. Eventually, all that changed, of course.”
at one point even had a lifetime guarantee of employment, he
recalled. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local
in Chicago negotiated the agreement, covered the entire engineering
staff, with the then ABC-owned radio stations.
believe it was the only such contract ever negotiated. We had 15
people in the engineering department, but ABC soon came back and
renegotiated that out,” he said of the guarantee. “They also
bought out a number of the engineers and reduced staff.”
that time, Glab had moved to equipment maintenance, figuring it
provided more job security than being a board op. “Engineering is
more stable than any other department at a radio station. No matter
the ownership changes, or program and management changes, they always
need capable engineering talent who know the stations.”
always looked for opportunities to contribute and make himself more
useful. If there was something that needed to be done he did it, Glab
it meant learning the office phone system, even though that kind of
work wasn’t covered in the engineering contract, I did because I
thought it added value to my job.”
Glab learned how to
write computer code in the 1980s and eventually wrote computer
software for the online streaming software the WLS stations still
use. Glab also wrote the program for the Radio Data System that the
facilities use to transmit song title and artist information on
of it is so complicated I’m having trouble explaining it to my
replacement. Sometimes it’s a lot of work and effort to find the
of the highlights of Glab’s career was building new studios for the
AM and FM operations of WLS in 1990, he said. Glab designed the floor
plan for the studio areas and spent nine months wiring the AM talk
studio. “I think being on-air at one point helped me through the
process to understand what the on-air people needed to make their
jobs easier. It was a very satisfying experience. We came up with
something that has served us for the past 23 years and is still
is a 50 kW non-directional clear channel station on 890 kHz. It airs
a news/talk format and carries local programming in addition to Rush
Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. WLS(FM) is a Class B station on 94.7 MHz
featuring a classic hits format. The FM broadcasts in HD Radio; the
AM aired digital for a short time in 2008. Citadel, which owned the
stations at the time, made the decision to limit the AM HD to
daylight hours and then to turn if off entirely because of
interference concerns, Glab said.
one regret about retirement is never having the chance to work in a
state-of-the-art radio studio environment.
“Now they are
doing audio over IP and I see so much more flexibility built into
something like that. Today’s audio over IP systems make
installation so much easier than what we had in 1990. We are still
using the basic infrastructure. The consoles and the basic wiring is
given another opportunity to build a new radio station, Glab says he
wouldn’t change the WLS studio design much. “I’d make the talk
studios larger. I feel our choice of the Pacific Recorders consoles
was one of the best decisions we made. They were built like
tanks and have proven their reliability,” Glab said. “There are
some systems out there today that don’t have the physical
ruggedness that Jack Williams built into his consoles. Consoles
take a beating. Our AM Control Room A has been on air for 23
years with only a handful of hours down for maintenance.”
the physical plant of a radio station today is vastly different than
in 1973, Glab said, with computers greatly changing how a radio
station is designed and how broadcast engineers do their jobs. “In
a way things are more specialized but infinitely more flexible. What
you can do with computers has changed the business exponentially,”
said he might have retired sooner had Federal Reserve Chairman Ben
Bernanke not kept interest rates so low in recent years, which
limited the growth of his retirement savings. He also doesn’t see
a great future for terrestrial radio.
threat of removing AM/FM from the dashboard and from the
entertainment systems in automobiles is real. Some say it could start
happening within three to five years. The sheer number of
entertainment options will make it more difficult to compete for
listeners in the car where so much [radio] listening takes place. You
have to do good local programming to be successful.”
he feels that radio operates in an “atmosphere of huge
conglomerates,” and that as a result, “the impetus to do good
local radio just isn’t there. And that is going to really hurt
Glab in the Windy City Cumulus engineering department is Tim Wright,
who comes aboard from Clear Channel. The department also includes
Chief Engineer Scott Clifton and IT Chief Carlos Gonzalez.
called Glab “a very unique and legendary radio engineer,” and
said the retiring engineer spent most of his last week at work in
mid-June preparing others on how to do his job, “including creating
a binder of how-to type manuals on many software programs he has
written for our operations.”
retirement, Glab might consider a return to the organ. He used to
play the instrument in a church and was paid for it.
haven’t done that for 35 years, but I’m considering it. I have
been bitten by the theater organ bug. It’s a very whimsical
instrument. I am thinking about building a virtual theater organ at
home,” he said.
has been married to his wife, Lenci, for 38 years. The couple resides
in Elk Grove Village, Ill.