What did we do before computers?

It’s a question I silently ask myself from time to time, so I thought I’d try to reconstruct how I (and others) did my job when I first came to Learfield in 1984. (This photo was taken in 1985 and I’m including it with this post as a memory aid.)

It might be easier to to start with what we didn’t have. I’m going to say no computers even though there was a Lisa II (?) running VisiCalc. No fax machine. No mobile phones.

The bulk of my job was dealing with affiliate radio stations and there was only three ways to do that:

1. Call them on the phone
2. Send them a letter in the mail
3. Get in the car and go see them in person

Each week we would send stations a “log” showing which commercials would be airing in each of the news or farm programs we sent them via satellite. One of the secretaries had drawn a table (6 columns for M-Sa and 13 rows for the number of shows) using a ruler. This was copied (we had a copier) each week and the blank table was rolled into an IMB Selectric typewriter and the names of the sponsors typed in.

This had to be completed by Wednesday of each week in order to get them mailed and to the stations in time for their “traffic” person to insert those commercials into THEIR log for the coming week. And delay and the system fell apart.

The photo above reminds me I used a manual typewriter often enough to keep it close. The computer in the photos is a Zenith and I was the only person in the company with his own personal computer.

We also had a big IBM Displaywriter that allowed us to do mail-merge documents. Amazing tech for the time.

Next to my phone is a Rolodex with all of my contacts, each typed on the big Royal but continuously updated with scratch-throughs and margin notes. If you got fired, you wanted to have a copy of your Rolodex.

If –god forbid– we needed to get information to every network affiliate “fast,” someone had to call each station, one at at time.

One of the tools I relied upon most was my big map. You can’t see them but there is a pin showing the location of each radio station on the network. It was a thrill to add a new pin and agony to remove one.

Long before Google Docs, there was the bulletin board for all the important lists. (this was not portable)

Years later we got our first fax machines, even though most of our stations didn’t have them. We knew they would. Someone stood at the machine and keyed in the name and phone number of every radio station (or advertiser). When you wanted to blast a fax out to a “list,” you fed the document in and it called each number, transmitted the facsimile; printed a “receipt” and then called the next number on the list. It was wonderful. We didn’t have to wait 3 or 4 days for the USPS.

And it got better. As we got more computers and modems, programs like WinFax could do the job of a fax machine but with far less effort and with much greater speed. We could keep a station’s fax machine humming all day and all night, burning up expensive rolls of thermal paper. The term “spam” was years in the future.

Now we post information to our websites and stations download at their leisure. We communicate with them on Facebook and Twitter and all the rest. Email is instantaneous.

Will it get faster/better/easier still? Hard to imagine how but I assume it will