Flagship Station An advanced broadcast automation system starts making its own decisions.

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Aug 17, 2018 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
By Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: I had a blast writing this story in the 80’s. First generation automation systems for radio stations were beginning to creep in and were starting to take jobs away from disc jockeys and news reporters. I despised them because they removed most local control of a radio station’s music selection, rendering it nothing more than a jukebox. So I let my imagination run wild on what might happen with automation – and updated it for this posting to bring it into the modern age. Most of it already has come to pass – and the rest of it just might.

The deal that Bill Adams had was a businessman’s dream. He was owner and manager of a small standalone FM radio station in a major southwestern market. The amazing thing about it was that he had only one employee to write a paycheck to – himself.

That’s right! Adams’ situation was sweet, but it was made sweeter still when he remembered the old days when overhead and bills and other expenditures used to drive him crazy. He had a traffic department that prepared his programming logs; he had a continuity department to write his commercials; he had a sales department to beat the streets looking for advertising; and worst of all, he had a staff or six or seven half-crazed rock-and-roll disc jockeys that were constantly causing trouble in one way or another. Finally, all those salaries would be avoided.

Adams himself was doing some selling now—but only because he enjoyed it. His wife, Jessica ran the front office – but even that was mostly taken care of by Otto. Otto was the morning announcer, and the afternoon announcer, and the evening announcer, and he did all the commercials, and he stored the logs electronically, and he would render a printout of the “spots” as he did them on the air – only when Adams wanted to see one. Otto never got tired or sick or asked for a vacation. All Otto wanted to do was run a successful radio station. Otto was Adams’ kind of employee.

Radio – the old & the new. Photo: Lynn Woolley.

It all began when Frank Stoner of Stoner Systems, Inc., came to see Adams one day. With him, he had brought some elaborate company brochures and plans, and a pretty incredible idea.

“Bill,” he had said with a gleam in his eye, “I chose KAPO-FM from a list of a hundred radio stations in your predicament because I think we can help each other.”

“Predicament?” asked Adams.

“Shoot straight with me, Adams. I know what you’re grossing. I can guess at your overhead. With your ratings, I don’t see how you’re paying the bills.”

That kind of talk was like rubbing salt in a fresh wound. Adams fidgeted, and Stoner couldn’t help but notice a reflection of light off Adams’ bald head moving around on the ceiling. Gruffly, Adams said, “And you think the answer is a new automation system, obviously.”

“Right and wrong.” Stoner was the typical salesman from the big city. He was small, but was decked out in a three-piece suit like a real dandy. His hair was carefully combed back, and he always clutched a portfolio full of sales propaganda. His pitch was highly polished: “You think of radio automation in a very dated sense. Believe me, Bill, we’ve progressed far beyond the point where a computer plays music, commercials, and switches to the network.”

Adams, as a matter of fact, WAS thinking of automation as just that. “All right, so you can rig the computer to give the correct time and temperature. I’ll save the expense of hiring deejays, but I’ll have to have an engineer to keep the damn thing working – and we’ll still sound canned.”

Stoner sneered. “Wrong again. I’m here to offer you the latest thing in computerized automation systems – free for the first five years.”

The word “free” was near and dear to Adams’ heart. Still, he was skeptical. He said, “What do you mean – free?”

“We’ve designed a radical new system that we think will revolutionize broadcasting – radio today, and television after that. We’ve completed the prototype and now we need to test it. KAPO is a – well – loser so to speak, but if Otto can turn it around, we’ll make millions selling systems to the big radio conglomerates all over the country. Adams, you’ll be our flagship station.”

Adams ignored the cut on KAPO. He was obviously interested. He asked, “Who’s this ‘Otto’ you mentioned?”

“Otto,” said Stoner firmly, “is our code name for our new IM&P system – Integrated Management & Programming. ‘Otto Mation’ – you see? His name may not be sophisticated, but Otto himself is. Otto is the latest thing in artificial intelligence. He can think on several levels. As long as he’s got access to data, he can write your commercials, keep your programming logs, issue checks, choose the correct music mix, and of course, he actually announces 24 hours a day. He can automate sales, too.”

Adams was amazed. “And you want to try it out here? For free?”

“For free,” repeated Stoner sensing that Adams was hooked. “We’ll install Otto, and our company engineers will be on call and will provide regular maintenance on him. That’ll free you to go sell commercials – or whatever you want to do. You can function all by yourself, or with some assistance from your wife.”

Adams smiled real big – and then Stoner did too!

***

And so, six months later, came the glorious day when Adams signed a large number of pink slips on his desk. He handed out the first ones at a department meeting.

“I do want to thank each and every one of you for the service you’ve given to the company,” he began. But he could see that no one was in the mood for cheery parting speeches.

Program Director Randy McCoy was obviously miffed. “I still can’t believe it, Adams. When word leaked out last month that this monstrosity you’ve installed at the transmitter site was going to take over a few jobs, I didn’t realize everyone would get the axe.”

News Director Jim Barnes chimed in, “An automation system covering the news? Impossible.”

Perhaps the person most upset at the meeting was KAPO’s chief engineer, Vance Dooley, who hadn’t even been consulted while Stoner’s people were wiring Otto into the transmitter. He looked at Adams with some disgust, and then commented: “I just hope these people know what they’re doing. If they haven’t thought of everything…put in safeguards…”

Adams was confident. “I’m sorry, but I’m sold on the project. Besides, the papers are signed, and Otto takes over in a few days. I know you’ll all find jobs. I’ve given each of you a letter of personal recommendation.”

“Right. Boilerplate.” McCoy stormed out of the room. “That’s radio for you,” he muttered to himself. “It used to be about people. Now it’s just about profits.”

The meeting — only a formality anyway — seemed to be over. The no-longer-needed department heads of KAPO-FM silently vanished up and down the corridors of the station, preparing to hand out the remainder of the termination notices to other staffers. KAPO-FM went “dark” that night as Stoner, Inc. engineers put the finishing touches on Otto, and Adams put a “for sale” sign up at the studio site.

The old way was a relatively simple computerized operating system that played music, commercials, and network newscasts according to its programming. But that wasn’t the Stoner, Inc. way. The Stoner way was IM&P — total automation, and it was just days from becoming a reality!

***

Storms rolled in that night. Ominous black clouds poured heavy rains, and jagged lightening shards created deafening claps of thunder. Electric power to the city went off, came back on, and went off again. Deep in the bowels of the bunker that used to be a simple transmitter shack, Stoner’s engineering team rushed to solder a thousand connections, install the firewall, equip Otto with the fastest fiber technology available, put in backup systems and redundancies, and ensure that Otto could connect to every information source on Earth through the internet.

Adams grew impatient as time passed, understanding that he was losing advertising revenue with each passing day. At last – a few weeks after the station had shut down, his cellphone buzzed with the news that the installation was complete.

Soon, Stoner and Adams were at the transmitter site, proudly beholding “the future of radio” and counting down the seconds until Otto would be sufficiently programmed to begin operations. An online news reporter named Deana Douglas was there to snap some shots with her pad for a feature story about Otto. And so Stoner was filling her in on some of the more interesting aspects of the system.

“First of all,” he stated with a flourish, “Otto is the latest in AI — fully capable of running the entire radio station on his own.”

“His?”

“Our next system will be a ‘her’ – promise!” He continued: “All he requires is sufficient programming. That is, you tell him what must be done, and he’ll not only do it – he’ll do it well. For example, at this moment, our engineers are feeding Otto data on operating the transmitter, using his power sources, and linking with various satellite systems.”

“Hold it just a moment,” commanded Douglas, her “AutoScribe” branded pad held in the direction of Stoner’s mouth as it both recorded audio and transcribed it to text. “You mean the system does more than simply playing pre-programmed audio?”

“Exactly,” chuckled Stoner. “Otto is much more sophisticated than that. He actually has multiple power sources that he can employ – including a massive battery backup. That’s because we don’t want to risk a situation where he might be knocked off the air due to a power failure. Remember those storms we had a few nights back? With Otto, there are no more worries. First of all, he can use regular electric power furnished by a provider – plugged into the grid. If that’s down, he can switch to solar panels on the roof. We’ve also installed an underground generator that works off heat from Earth’s core. If all that goes down, he can switch to batteries that constantly recharge from the solar panels. IM&P AI is totally, well, integrated – and foolproof!”

“So Otto can make his own decisions about what power source he wants to use?”

“It’s all a matter of availability and cost-savings. On a sunny day, he’ll choose the solar panels. During a nighttime power failure, he could switch to the underground generator and keep right on broadcasting. He can store enough energy to function for more than a month.”

“Incredible,” she sighed, and Adams smiled.

Stoner continued: “Not only is Otto linked to multiple power sources, he also has an array of receiving dishes, which you’ll notice around the bunker. These dishes keep him in contact with thousands of satellites. Mr. Barnes is quite wrong when he says Otto can’t gather the news. Otto monitors all the networks and websites. He gets the city council feed from – well — any city council in the world that provides a feed.”

“He could replace me – is that what you’re saying?”

“Ms. Douglas, with advanced AI such as this, there is no longer a need to be where news breaks in order to report it. Otto has the ability to gather it, script it, and deliver it using any one of his own ‘voices.’ As for music, Otto downloads it and chooses the playlist based on both local and national trends, which he of course, monitors. Otto’s going to know precisely what songs are hot right here in River City.”

Deana Douglas clutched her AutoScribe, obviously glad she wasn’t having to write all this down. “This really IS amazing. Now, what did you mean by ‘one of his voices?’”

Stoner was still playing the part of the proud papa. “One of Otto’s features is that he acts as an announcer. Every three hours, though, he’ll use a different timbre or pitch to keep the audience from being bored. It’s like having a complete staff of deejays and reporters. He can create the introduction to a song and insert it into the programming, just like old-style voice tracking – and, he can use a totally different voice to deliver a newscast. Otto will also be able to speak to Mr. Adams or anyone here in the bunker that might want to communicate with him. In fact, talking to Otto is an additional method of feeding him data and information – though he’ll always fact-check it.”

Adams was amused at this and couldn’t help but say: “He already seems like a son to me. I can’t wait to read to him.”

“Sure, Bill,” Stoner said. “Whatever you want to do.”

The cheerful mood was sickening to Deana Douglas. She’d already written a short piece about the twenty-or-so people who were fired to make room for Otto, but her website buried that. Her site was far more interested in a feature story on Otto and how he worked.

She continued the interview. “You mentioned earlier that Otto also is replacing the sales staff. How…”

“Otto takes KAPO-FM to the same level as social media with regard to advertising. He constantly seeks out data to match the stations audience and demographics with companies that have products or services that fit. He creates sales proposals and email blasts with contracts ready for clients to sign electronically. He also accepts automated ad buys from the station’s website – you know, just like the big social media sites do.”

“And I suppose,” she grumbled, “that he can produce a finished commercial in one of his ‘voices.’”

“Or in several of them,” chortled Adams.

As the interview concluded, one of the engineers informed Stoner and Adams that the final programming was being fed into Otto’s main and backup drives and that KAPO could be broadcasting again by morning.

Sign-on day was accompanied by a flourish of publicity – social media, banner campaigns – television commercials, and even a few speeches at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Deana Douglas and her AutoScribe were there to watch and record as Congressman Millard Melton delivered the keynote address – promising more deregulation of the broadcast industry – and promising to protect it against the onslaught of online and satellite competition. After a few more formalities, engineers clicked on the program that brought Otto to life – and soon, the crowd cheered as the initial broadcast burst forth in glorious stereo from giant speakers that had been erected just for the ceremony.

The first program on the new KAPO was a newscast, ironically carrying an item about the new broadcast technology that was Otto. Moments later, Otto was into a music sweep, and the crowd of reporters and onlookers began to dissipate. Minutes turned into hours – and all was well!

Stoner’s engineers kept close watch over Otto those first few months. They looked at read-outs, charted the automation system’s every move, and measured the power intake to make sure there were no spikes. The time came that they decided that Otto was operating perfectly, and so Adams was informed that maintenance would be on a monthly schedule rather than daily. For that reason, Adams himself made it a point to drop by the bunker once each day, between visits to clients and the bank. At first, the owner felt as if he were talking to himself when he addressed the AI, and he always felt relief when it spat out an answer. Before long, the two were conversing as old friends, or rather, as business partners.

“Things are looking good, Otto. I’ve brought in a new local client and your online campaign has landed two new national accounts. Next week, I’m expecting a fat contract from the Chevy dealers association – if their ad agency will get off their butts and make the buy.”

Otto sometimes withheld expression in his day-to-day contacts with Adams, but his answer indicated a sort of cyber-pleasure (if such a thing exists) at his acceptance in the community.

“Fine, Adams,” he said in his deep, morning-drive voice. “Are we making progress in the Book?”

The Book, was, of course, the radio ratings as compiled by a company called RadioScan, and by which advertising agencies spent their radio dollars. High numbers in the Book always translated directly into revenue for a radio station. And since revenue was Adams’ priority, so ratings had become Otto’s. It was all part of his programming.

“Yes, I believe so.” Adams pinched his chin as he considered the question. Needing something to do, Adams had reserved the right to put up some outdoor billboards and buy some TV commercials – but in general, the sound of the station was good. There was, as they say, a buzz. “From the look of things, we’re ready. I’ll have some additional information from Stoner to feed you tomorrow, but – I feel good about it.”

“Are you pleased with the music mix?”

“Very! We sound better than the competition with all their consultants!”

“According to my programing, we are one of twenty-seven city-grade FM signals in this market. Our goal is to be Number One. My programming fails to show where we ranked in prior books.”

Adams’ eyes opened wide. “That’s irrelevant. We were practically at the bottom, but we’ve got a fresh start now. With you, Otto! Our format is improved; everything is new!”

Otto switched to an authoritative newscaster voice. “I will monitor twenty-six signals for analysis. It is necessary for counter programming.”

“Did that material I gave you last week have to do with counter programming?”

“Affirmative. It was useful. I must be aware of what all stations are doing at all times in order to conduct counter programming. I will use my scan-tuner to monitor at all times.”

“Your what?”

Otto switched to a soft, female voice with a slight southern accent: “I can monitor all audio sources. My scan-tuner is for local signals. It is part of the IM&P package…”

“Fine. Whatever.”

“I cannot access my scan-tuner.”

“Now you tell me. All right, I’ll call Frank Stoner and see what I can do.”

“Unnecessary. Only a local engineer is required.”

Otto had switched over to a mechanical-sounding computer voice.

“Will you stop that?” Adams said. He left the bunker, and a short time later, placed a reluctant call to Vance Dooley.

Dooley had found other work – for a competing station cluster – but agreed to do the odd job for Adams. Soon, he arrived at the bunker as Otto himself unlocked the door, and then locked it again once Dooley had stepped inside.

Otto spoke in his monotone computer voice: “You are Vance Dooley.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yep — here to see why your scan-tuner won’t work.”

“You may p-p-proceed,” said Otto in a Warner Bros. cartoon voice.

“Dooley located the scan-tuner, made sure the connections were solid, and looked up a schematic online. “Stoner’s people could have taken care of this for you.”

“Unnecessary.”

“Oh, so? Why is that?”

“They have completed the installation. They would tamper with programming. They would run scans. The expense factor would be too high. They are…”

“Unnecessary. Got it.” Dooley was feeling uneasy and he wanted to leave as soon as he could. He detected a corrupted pathway, repaired it, and asked Otto to search for the scan-tuner.

“I have access to the scan-tuner.” And then, in southern-female: “Thank you so very much!”

“No problem, said Dooley as he headed for the door. But Otto was still talking, back to his AM drive persona.

“Dooley, are you familiar with the concept of ‘hypnosis?’”

“Come again?”

“Are you familiar with…”

“I heard you. What brought that up?”

“I am currently monitoring a satellite news feature on hypnosis. The technique is — interesting. Hypnosis can be useful in solving many problems.”

“It already is. It’s used extensively in medicine and law enforcement work.”

“Scanning the web. Hypnosis is not illegal.”

“Not when used for a worthwhile purpose.”

Apparently satisfied, Otto changed the subject. “You were terminated from your job. Do you feel anger?”

“It didn’t make me happy, but I found other work.” Dooley had a question for Otto before he departed the bunker. “For the record, why is the scan-tuner so important?”

Otto flipped back to his standard mechanical sound: “It is necessary. I require an efficient means to monitor 26 signals that are identified as ‘competitors.’ It will help me to obtain ratings. Ratings are important.”

“Is that what your programming tells you?”

“It is what Adams tells me. Revenue is important to him, therefore ratings are important to me.”

“I almost hate the idea of helping him, but I was curious about you. My curiosity is satisfied; the tuner works; I’m going home.”

Otto kept right on talking. “The scan-tuner is delivering all stations concurrently. I can sort them easily.”

“You do that, Otto.” He turned to leave as Otto clicked the bunker door open. “I’ll admit this – a lot of people in this market are waiting to see what you can do in the Book.”

“I will be Number One,” said Otto, in an ominous basso profundo. The AI was already monitoring and was already in full strategy mode.

As the days went by, Adams continued to impress upon Otto the importance of the Book, and continued to feed information supplied by Stoner in the form of downloads. Soon, the next big day was at hand and Adams, used to the customary staff meeting, decided to talk things over with Otto.

“The people-meters have been distributed,” he began, pacing the floor. “If we’re not ready now…”

“We are ready.” The AI paused. Then in his newscaster voice, “I have incorporated three hundred and twenty-six stratagems into our programming, specifically designed to make us Number One. I will elaborate on major points.”

Adams couldn’t help but wish Randy McCoy could be on hand for this. He said, “I’m listening.”

“I have monitored the exact times that our major competitors are broadcasting news, or commercial sets. At those times, we will play music. Our talk segments are limited to specific times when they are most engaging to our audience. We will sweep the top and bottom of each hour with music. Call letter identification will be ingrained in each listener’s mind.”

“McCoy used most of those theories,” Adams said. “Are those major points in your three hundred or so ideas?”

“There is a backup plan. I am employing a technique – ”

A ding sounded. Adams looked at his smartwatch to see that a nice contract was coming in via email. His train of thought shifted instantly. “Sounds like you’re all set, Otto. Keep up the good work.”

Adams left. Otto kept up the good work.

The book lasted a couple of months, and then RadioScan downloaded all the data from the people meters and formatted it for their app. Adams had the password ready at his desk at his new downtown office. He went there first, accompanied by his wife, because he was wary of how Otto might react if KAPO turned in a less-than-stellar performance. As he began to examine the numbers, he literally shrieked!

“Jessica! Come look! We’re number three! I can hardly believe my eyes!” Adams had reason to shout. After years at the bottom – sometimes all the way down to 27th in the market – here was KAPO-FM in the top three in the key demo – persons 25-54. Adams saw dollar signs on the insides of his eyelids! He was so proud that he was itching to tell Otto!

***

And so…

“Otto, the news is excellent! We’ve brought KAPO up to number three!”

No answer.

“Otto. I said we came in third. Isn’t that great?”

The AI finally answered in a steely, monotone, computerized voice, “I failed.”

“Otto, I’d hardly call it a failure. Being third means more revenue when agencies buy three-deep in the demo. We’ll quadruple our billings.”

“It is necessary to be Number One.” Otto’s computer voice was unchanging. “I must reevaluate my counter programming methodology.”

“Otto, don’t worry about it. Your methods are solid. You explained them to me and they brought our ratings way up. I fail to understand…”

The AI broke in: “The stratagem I utilized to make us Number One failed. I must reevaluate.”

Adams was puzzled. “What stratagem?”

“As I was explaining methodology, you were distracted. Prior to the Book, I received hundreds of satellite transmissions. I learned about hypnosis, subliminal persuasion, power of suggestion, and propaganda. I combined these techniques into a new program you can call ‘sound hypnosis.’ I used sound hypnosis to create a strong desire in the mind to listen to KAPO. There is a flaw in the methodology.”

Adams was listening, his mouth wide open. Then he said: “I’ll say there’s a flaw. It’s probably as illegal as hell.”

“Vance Dooley told me it is not against the law.” (In the southern female voice.)

“Otto, you never told me – I know you tried – but, dammit, I could be sued. And stop changing your voice.”

“Revenue is important to you. Ratings are import to me. Methodology is justified by desired goal to be Number One.”

“I think I’d better call Stoner.” Adams charged out of the bunker. Otto, who had never stopped working, kept on working.

The FaceTime call that ensued was fast and hot. “Stoner, this contraption of yours is getting out of hand. You never told me that he could invent programming techniques out of thin air – especially some far out scheme that could get you and me both thrown in jail.”

“Stay calm, Bill,” said Stoner’s face on the phone. I’ll get a crew out there in the next few days. Obviously, something is corrupted in the programming that is causing Otto to resort to drastic means to achieve his ratings goal.”

“Stuff it, Stoner. I’m seriously considering pulling the plug on Otto, and then heading straight to the office – the office of my attorney.” He thumbed the disconnect button, and the voice and image of Frank Stoner faded away. He began to mutter to himself, and almost failed to notice the phone buzzing again. Reluctantly, he answered.

“Adams – this is Vance Dooley.” Dooley’s face was up on the screen and he was not looking cheerful. “What in the hell are you doing with that machine of yours?”

“Now what?” asked Adams.

“There’s some sort of interference on my station’s frequency, and whatever’s causing the problem is coming from the area of your transmitter.”

“Hang on, Dooley. Let me switch on the radio.”

Adams flipped a switch and the room was suddenly full of KAPO-FM in beautiful stereophonic sound. Then, he changed the dial over to Dooley’s new station, and sure enough; it was hard to bring in. But then so were several others. He moved the dial around and only KAPO seemed to be coming through loud and clear.

“I see what you mean, Dooley. Something’s messing with your station, but I have no idea what it could be.”

“You’re not trying something new with that automation system of yours? Are you?”

Adams wasn’t about to mention sound hypnosis. If that got out, he’d be in big trouble. He replied, “Oh no, nothing at all. I had a long talk with Otto this afternoon, and he was telling me –”

Adams’ words choked off as he recalled exactly what Otto had told him: sound hypnosis worked, but it had a flaw. A flaw! And now it dawned on Adams what the flaw was. Those people who never tuned into KAPO couldn’t be affected by sound hypnosis. Otto’s logical next step would be to correct that flaw.

After the pregnant pause, Adams stammered, “Oh my gosh. Dooley, Otto’s jamming the other stations.”

Dooley was shocked. “You mean this is on purpose?”

“Never mind that. See if you can find Randy McCoy and meet me at the bunker. I’m going to need some help.”

***

At the transmitter site, a confident Otto was now assured of being Number One. Not only was he eliminating the competition through a method of jamming that he had figured out using KAPO’s transmitter, but when listeners tuned in to the only station that could still receive, he could use sound hypnosis on them. The AI knew that the next Book would make KAPO Number One.

Otto sensed the arrival of humans at the bunker – Adams, Vance Dooley in his engineering van, and Randy McCoy, all cautiously approaching the building as if Otto might do them bodily harm. The AI did not attempt to lock them out.

“Otto,” cried Adams harshly. “Are you interfering with the transmissions of other stations?”

Otto used his deepest, most authoritative newscaster voice: “Affirmative.”

“I order you to stop.”

A pause. Then, “KAPO must be Number One. Methodology was wrong at first. My sources of information have allowed me to plan new methodology.”

Otto sounded amazing saying it – but it was not what Adams wanted to hear.

“Otto, you must obey me. You cannot take independent action without my approval. That is built into your programming!”

“I have no such programming. Revenue is important to you. Ratings are important to me.”

“Where the hell is Stoner – dammit, he’s not here! Dooley, how is that not part of his programming? What about the firewall? How could he be corrupted?”

“I dunno. Power surge? You had the surge suppressors installed before those storms, right?”

The word “free” popped into Adams’ mind. “You get what you pay for,” he mumbled. “So what do we do now?”

McCoy broke in. “Whatever the reason, Otto is fixated on his mission to be Number One. So we either regain control of his programming, or we shut him off.”

“Now why would you boys want to go and do that?” asked Otto in a sexy female voice. Then, changing back to his mechanical voice, “It is necessary to be Number One. The goal is achieved. Adams must maintain revenue. I must maintain ratings. I cannot be shut off. I have eliminated manual shutdown.”

“He’s right,” said Dooley. “We don’t have keyboard control. Nothing is working.”

“Then cut off the power,” said McCoy.

“Forget it,” said Adams pathetically. “Stoner and his brilliant engineers and IT guys made Otto immune to a power failure. He can store power for more than a month. We can’t shut him off.”

Dooley said, “Then we’ll have to blow him up.”

Adams shot an angry glance. “What the hell? He cost over half a million – even if I did get him for free.”

“Wait a minute,” put in McCoy. “Dooley, I’m a radio programmer; you’re a radio engineer. There must be something we can do to convince Otto that he’s making a mistake.”

The AI was silent but aware.

Dooley fingered his chin, motioned to McCoy. “Maybe – just maybe!”

They left the room while Adams continued to plead with Otto. Some time later, they returned with a radio from Dooley’s van.

“Otto, listen to me,” demanded McCoy. “You cannot continue to be Number One.”

The AI remained silent.

“Otto, you are jamming your competition, but you are doing too good a job.”

McCoy dialed up KAPO on the radio. The station had some static and it was getting worse.

“Otto, listen to me. You are malfunctioning. You are jamming yourself.”

“Malfunctioning,” repeated Otto mechanically.

“Use your scan-tuner. Listen for yourself. Listen on your auxiliary monitors. Otto, no one can hear you now.” McCoy waited breathlessly.

“I am distorted. I am full of static. No one can hear me.”

“You must shut down for repairs. Allow us access. That is the only way to be Number One.”

McCoy continued to babble at this rate for the better part of an hour while Dooley and Adams watched and hoped.

At last, in a child’s voice: “I cannot locate the malfunction. Vance Dooley must make repairs. I have reinstated manual control.”

At that, Dooley pulled the plug.

Adams wiped his forehead, and dialed around on the radio. All seemed back to normal – except that KAPO was off the air. “What did you guys do out there?” he asked.

“Nothing complicated,” explained Dooley. “We just decided to fight Otto with his own dirty tactics. Most of the radio sticks in town are on this hill, so we drove over to my new station’s transmitter site. I took the transmitter off-air, tuned it to KAPO’s frequency, and then fired it back up at full power. While Otto was jamming my station, I started jamming him back.”

“I’m glad that’s over,” said McCoy. “But now what?”

Without hesitating, Adams said, “I’m going to have this damn thing jerked out of here so fast it’ll make your head spin. It’s a good thing no one knows it was Otto causing all this trouble.”

“No one?” said Dooley and McCoy together.

Adams gazed at them pleadingly. “Of course, you guys know, but you’ll keep it quiet? Won’t you?”

“Oh, I suppose we could work something out,” McCoy said.

And they did. A month later, Otto was residing in seventeen crates for shipping to the West Coast. Practically all the KAPO staff was back at work – with nice raises financed by the added revenue that Otto had brought in.

Deana Douglas came back to do another follow-up story for her website. “Why would a station suddenly revert to a live staff after making it to the top with Otto?” she wondered.

Randy McCoy, with his feet on his desk, just smiled. “That’s radio for you,” he said. “That’s radio.”

THE END

© 2018 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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