McCurdy Radio Consoles

If you ask many people who work in Radio today if they are familiar with the name McCurdy, chances are you will find that most people have never heard of the name. McCurdy Radio was a Canadian company (They did have a US Division, located in Buffalo, NY, however I believe they originated in Canada - correct me if I am wrong) which produced high end analog audio equipment, mainly geared towards the broadcast industry. To my knowledge, the company no longer exists, which is a shame. However, those in the know, still collect McCurdy equipment. On eBay, a popular McCurdy device is a ATS-100, or an SA14023 Extended Range level meter. Both of these devices were very accurate, and gave a great indication of proper audio levels. I would love to own either of these pieces of equipment.

McCurdy Studio, in original configuration. Photo taken by me, at CHOW FM in Welland, Ontario

When I began my career in Radio Broadcasting, McCurdy consoles were the norm for Canadian studios. CFRB 1010 AM, had a full McCurdy console in Control Room 1 (CR1) and a smaller console in CR5, which was at the time, a general production studio. Mix 99.9 FM, had a full sized console in CR6 (Their master control room). All of these consoles used interchangeable input modules, which you could 'hot swap' while running the console live. CFRB's board in CR1 had the most active input modules.

As a boy who just turned 18, the idea that I was responsible for repairing modules which were valued at $1,200.00 a piece was amazing. It really gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that I was trusted with such a responsibility. I remember being so ginger and careful with them at first. Handling them like they were as fragile as eggs. I would typically have to replace the op-amps, or switch assemblies. I also often had to change out the balance pots, and cleaning and maintaining the Penny and Giles fader (itself worth $600 alone) was always a fragile and almost religious task for me.

During my first Summer at the radio station, after my internship had ended, and I was officially hired on, I finally began to reach the confidence level needed to work by myself on the board, while the board was live. Previously, I would be supervised by Ian Sharp, or Paul Husiak, both were my older Mentors in the field of Radio Broadcast Engineering, and my senior co-workers at the radio station. But now that I was on the payroll, it was seemingly expected that I should be able to swap out bad modules on my own now. And that I did, a few times by myself without incident. Typically we would swap the boards during a break, often around 11:40am just before lunch time, usually when Taylor 'Hap' Parnaby was on the air giving commentary. This was a good time, as no other boards were being used at the time, and no sound effects or callers were lined up.

McCurdy Console (similar to our configuration). Photo 'borrowed' from the web due to the fact that I have no photographs of these. The green edge connectors can be seen at the bottom of the tray.

The first Summer I was working there, I was also joined by another former intern whom we shall call Mike, who was also from my high school. He worked along side me, however something tells me, he wasn't quite as confident as I was, or as focused, or maybe respectful about the job. One morning, around 11:40 am, I was preparing to swap out an input board in CR1. I got the replacement board all ready and then called Mike over. Mike didn't think we should do this alone, but I had done it a few times on my own at this point, with the knowledge of my senior co-workers, with approval at the results. Ian Sharp was working in the shop, and I had left one of our VHF Radios on in the shop. I brought the other one with me, in case something went wrong.

I pulled out the bad module with no issues. Mike handed me the replacement, and I carefully lined up the board with the guides and slowly slide it down so it could make contact with the edge connector. Once I felt it reach the bottom, I firmly pressed down evenly on the top and bottom of the module... It didn't budge. "Odd" I thought to myself. I tried again and again, but it wasn't going in. I pulled it back out to make sure that I was aligned, and it seemed that I was. The board operator was getting nervous. So was I... I shrugged and looked at Mike, and Mike decided to try. He pushed it hard and it went in. But the whole console started buzzing and popping, and eventually went completely dark! We were off the air! Holy Shit.... And now smoke was rising from the board that Mike had just inserted. I got on the VHF radio right away, calling for Ian to come quick, we were off the air! The board operator, Taylor Parnaby, Mike and myself were all staring at each other, jaw dropped, for a good 30 seconds... It was one of those 'oh shit' moments. When a major market radio station goes off the air, it is big money that is going down the drain each minute.

We rushed to move everyone into the standby studio, CR2, which used (I think) a wheatstone (or possibly different style McCurdy) console. We were able to get everyone back on the air in about 2 minutes time, perhaps even less. Then began the mad rush, and finger pointing as to what actually went wrong. It seemed that the socket in the console, for the edge connector, had cracked with wear, and had slightly caved in on itself, blocking the area the edge connector slid into. When the card was forced into place, it bent the pins around the broken area, which happened to be the power pins, and shorted them to the main mix bus pins. That whole edge connector socket was toast! So was every board in the console.

McCurdy 8801E Input Module. Photo 'borrowed' from the web due to the fact that I have no photographs of these.

We worked through lunch to get everything going again. We pulled every module, and I would sit at the bench replacing the blown chips, which were luckily the same chips on every board. We also luckily always kept a decent amount in stock. I believe Ian Sharp and Paul Husiak worked to replace the Edge Connector in the console, which was a hell of a job in itself. Soldering on the wires, to the right pins. We also had a bad power supply which we had to swap out due to this as well, if I recall. We ended up getting that console back on the air by about 3 PM that afternoon.

That was my only bad experience hot swapping the McCurdy modules. After that experience, I mostly did this alone, without Mike. I became somewhat proficient in doing this and even timing the insertion to correspond with sound effects so that the subtle 'pop' of the module powering up, wouldn't be noticed. In about 2003 we began the process of scrapping the old McCurdy studios, and began building new studios without the old McCurdy's But somehow, those new consoles, never had that same sound...