ATC tapes, or automatic tape control tapes, were a WSBF-FM method of fulfilling the station's Federal Communications Communication requirement for 24-hour on-air broadcasting when the station was not actually manned round-the-clock. A pair of tape-player machines equipped with twelve-inch reels which played six hours of music per side, were controlled by a microprocessor system that recognized audio cues at the end of each side, reversing the tape when when it reached the end of the reel. This system was active from the late 1960s throughout the 1970s.
FCC requirements that the station be manned at all times were deftly side-stepped by the WSBF engineering staff, who made arrangements with the university housing office such that block-housing rules were applied (usually involving Greek organizations in the dormitories) so that the Johnstone Hall rooms B-801 and B-802, the pair of dorm rooms closest to the radio station, were assigned to WSBF engineering staff, and were wired with an alarm system that would ring if the on-air signal was detected as having shut down for X amount of time, usually because of a failure of the ATC system to automatically reverse. If the alarm bells clanged, any available WSBF technical staffer would run down the hall to put the station back on line.
ATC tapes were made by station staff, sometimes during marathon sessions late at night, using vinyl albums from the WSBF and personal collections. The tapes were representative of the eclectic musical tastes of the DJs; although the DJs did not normally identify themselves on the tapes, their voices were easily recognizable during the intros and extros of selections. Several DJs in the early 1970s created tightly edited segues and some of the first musical mashups (or "rare recording sessions" as they were known then) live on the air and on ATC tapes. For example, the Firesign Theatre could be heard in the middle of a Uriah Heep cut. Tapes were recorded over after several years, erasing many magic minutes of music.
Eventually, the technology of the automatic tape control system became outmoded, and the station either ran on-air 24-hours a day with live personnel, or went dark for the periods when airstaff was not available. In the modern day, computer data base technology now allows the student radio station to air programming around the clock even when the station is unmanned, fulfilling the federal requirements.
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