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RIP Jay Crawford, A Radio Engineer's Engineer

Mike Martini

You don't know the name Jay Crawford, but he was the guy who kept some of your favorite radio stations on the air -- WEBN, WVXU, WOBO, WAIF, WMOH, WSCH, regional K-LOVE stations, and he resolved engineering emergencies for dozens of other stations.

He was, in the words of friends and coworkers, "brilliant…ingenious…. a broadcaster's dream… an engineer's engineer… pure gold…. resourceful…. the most capable and knowledgeable transmitter engineer I have ever known… (who) "could miraculously repair anything… with a homemade device that solved the 'unsolvable problem."

Services will be after visitation 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sardinia Church of Christ, 7130 Bachman Road, Sardinia, OH 45171.

Crawford was legendary in the radio industry for his old school ability to fix any problem at a radio station. "He knew everyone in the broadcast industry, especially in Cincinnati, but his name and reputation extended well beyond the reaches of (Cincinnati radio signals)," says Don Danko, chief engineer at Cincinnati Public Radio for WVXU and WGUC.

I'm going to let his friends tell you about Jay:

JIM KING, FORMER WVXU-FM GENERAL MANAGER: "Jay was an engineer’s engineer. In my nearly 60 years of experience in radio… as God is my witness, there was no more competent and dedicated engineer than Jay. Even if a station was not one of his employers, other engineers in the area knew of his excellence and would regularly call Jay with problems they couldn’t solve.  Sometimes Jay could diagnose the problem (over the phone, no less).  Other times, on his own dime, he would drive to their locations and work with them to solve the problem… to help a fellow engineer."

MIKE MARTINI, WMKV-FM, formerly of WVXU: "I was trying to count all of the stations he helped.  Of course, WEBN and WVXU, but all seven of the WVXU repeaters over the years from northern Michigan to Crawfordsville, IN, to Mt Gilead, OH.  He also was transmitter engineer for WSCH-FM in Lawrenceburg, WAIF, WMOH AM and FM, WCNW-AM in Fairfield, and many regional K-Love stations. He spent the last year rebuilding WOBO’s studios.

"I’m sure the roster of Jay’s stations is much longer.  Jay helped a lot of small stations -- mom and pop places -- who couldn’t afford a full time engineer.  And I know he never charged them what he could have.  He’d drive down to the hills of central Kentucky or in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana, in the middle of a snowstorm to get some little AM back on the air. We were so spoiled to have him at (old) WVXU. He could rebuild anything." 

Credit Jay Gilbert
Jay Gilbert's multiple headphone jack box built by Jay Crawford.

JAY GILBERT, WOFX-FM: "Sometime in the 1980s I needed a multiple headphone box (at WEBN-FM), just something to allow a single headphone output to feed two. An hour later, Jay gave me this handmade (box with four headphone jacks). Typical. When you needed two of something, Jay gave you four. I still use this box almost every day… He could not only miraculously repair anything, but if requested to create a device to solve a problem, he'd deliver something that solved the problem plus several others you didn't realize existed."

JIM KING: "My first professional association with Jay came in 1976 when I first took over the reins of Xavier’s (then) 10 watt FM station, WVXU….  With WEBN’s blessing, we hired Jay on a contractor basis to help us with those technical things I couldn’t handle.  Jay came to WVXU more and more often as we began to grow, particularly from 10 to 6,400, to 10,000 to 26,000 watts.  Many, many a night and day the two of us worked side by side at Channel 9’s transmitter plant in Mt. Auburn building a new transmitter room from scratch.

"Jay could handle everything from installing air conditioners, complete AC power wiring, transmitter installation and repair, diagnosis, remote control…anything.  I learned a lifetime’s worth of engineering experience at the hands of Jay Crawford.  He was tireless and relentless in his pursuit of a 'perfect' installation."

CRAIG KOPP, former WEBN-FM newsman: "Early in the evolution of the WEBN fireworks, Rick Bird and I started doing live report reports during the day -- from spots around Newport, on the Serpentine Wall on the Cincinnati side -- even from boats on the river. But we were just using early generation cell phones -- the big kind that actually had handsets. We would just pass the handset to the person we were interviewing for their answers. I asked Jay if we could wire a microphone jack to the phone somehow and the next day he walked in with one of the cell phones. He had drilled into the handset, wired an RCA plug into the hole and, Voila!, we could plug a microphone into that. Worked great. Later, Jay would come up with a mini-Marti transmitter unit mounted on a backpack making remote broadcasts state of the art."

MARK MAGISTRELLI, WMKV-FM, formerly WVXU: "Jay was a remarkable engineer who combined practicality with a 'never say die' spirit. I approached him numerous times over 30 years with often outlandish requests. He'd patiently explain why something couldn't be done - then materialize in the studio a week later with a homemade device that solved the 'unsolvable' problem - and also performed at a higher level than you imagined possible."

Credit Mark TIpton
Jay Crawford at a remote when Xavier University opearate WVXU-FM.

JIM KING: "Once WVXU was up to its maximum 26,000 watts of transmitter power, we began to create the X-Star Radio network starting with Chillicothe.  Again, Jay and I worked side by side at absolutely every new station we either purchased or built…. Since our network of stations was connected by satellite uplinks from Cincinnati, along with local staffs and studios in each location we had, Jay became an expert in satellite dish installations and remote control via satellite.  Jay personally designed what is still today a unique remote control switching system that managed to control 8 different functions using only one satellite channel.  This vastly reduced our operating costs."

DON DANKO, CINCINNATI PUBLIC RADIO, WVXU, WGUC: "He knew everyone in the broadcast industry, especially in Cincinnati but his name and reputation extended well beyond the reaches of our corner of paradise. … He got called to transmitter sites three and four states away to troubleshoot a transmitter that hadn’t been working for months. The local engineer just couldn’t find the issue. Most of those trips involved only one day to troubleshoot and fix the transmitter.

"Even after he left CPR, we kept him on our call list. On multiple occasions over the years, I would be called into the transmitter site for an issue and to my surprise he would be walking in the door minutes after me. When asked, he simply said he heard us off the air or got a call from the remote control equipment and thought he would see if he could help. Day of week or time of day didn’t matter. He would show up at 2 a.m. or on a Sunday afternoon. Keep in mind he had already left CPR, and was working for others, and he lived 45 minutes away from downtown."

TOM SANDMAN, formerly WEBN-FM, WRRM-FM, WMKV-FM: "Jay was responsible for engineering the remodeled/rebirth of WMKV-FM, and coaxing its transmitter to optimum performance. I had the privilege of working with Jay at WEBN and WMKV.  No one did more with 410 watts than Jay Crawford on 89.3, thanks to Jay's engineering expertise."

JIM KING: "It was more common than not, with 8 stations (at our maximum) to monitor, for Jay to receive a remote control alert that something was wrong at one station or another.  It didn’t matter.  At 3 a.m., Jay would load up his van, let me know where he was going, and drive all night and morning to arrive in Michigan, Indiana, or some place in Ohio.  While Jay was gone, I generally monitored our local plant and if I needed help, Jay could talk me through it on the phone and often did."

MARK TIPTON, formerly of WVXU: "Besides totally building the original WVXU plant, he also engineered the live show set-up and recording of all the 'Riders Radio Theater' shows from the Emery and various remote locations as far away as Michigan. I spent many, many hours with Jay on those productions, and he surmounted many obstacles to the completion of those shows. He once came to our house to completely redo a jukebox chassis, and as recently as a few years ago, gave us invaluable advice when we were restoring our Zenith console here in California. He could fix things even by phone."

DON DANKO: "Jay came to work here when CPR purchased WVXU. The bulk of his responsibilities were keeping the three repeater stations in Ohio and four in Michigan on the air. They required monthly visits. The furthest one was at the bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

"Jay was an extremely kind person. He had a great sense of humor and an unbelievable work ethic. A self-taught engineer he was always looking to learn new things. He was the most capable and knowledgeable transmitter engineer I have ever known…. He built a lot of interface and equipment himself. Electronic design and building was a hobby, and he was really good at it. We still have what we call 'Crawford' boxes performing various functions around the station. Some date back to Jay’s days at Xavier 15-20 years ago."

JIM KING: "Jay designed and produced two printed circuit board designs for what we call 'distribution amplifiers' and 'microphone preamps.'  His design used 'off the shelf' components that were easily and cheaply available from Radio Shack. Jay would produce the boards, and I would install, solder, and test all of the components.  Over our lifetimes together we jointly produced, probably, in excess of 400 boards, at minimum.  The boards never had a failure rate – ever -- which is far more than can be said for commercially available products.  Each of his boards cost roughly $30 to make.  Comparable commercial boards (lower quality, by far and at least 5-7 times the price) cost over $250."

MIKE MARTINI: "He was brilliant…The equipment he built himself was better than the stuff you could buy from the commercial manufacturers.  When you looked at the racks at WEBN and old WVXU, you could tell Jay’s home built distribution amplifiers—they lasted forever!"

TOM SANDMAN: "At 'EBN, Jay handmade, hand-wired, hand-soldered and hand-repaired virtually every piece of equipment we used.  The audio boards were Gates or Harris equipment for us!  Jay also created my first cross-phase patch cord, which allowed us to remove the vocals from songs, so we could create parody versions.  He was a sweet guy and a soft-spoken natural genius at radio engineering."

CRAIG KOPP: "Jay never met a challenge he didn't like and I think he knew that he was an integral part of the WEBN team in those days. A good engineer is a broadcaster's dream. A good engineer who understands how to use that knowledge to create radio is pure gold. That was Jay Crawford."

JIM KING: "The Cincinnati area (in fact, the regional Tristate area) has lost its best radio engineer and many stations, I’m certain, are now scrambling to find a 'go-to' person who can replace Jay.  But, they know -- and I know -- that this is an impossible task.  He was unique and I do not use that word lightly and with qualifiers.  I shall never see or know the likes of him again.  Thanks Jay!"

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.