A First Phone & A Real Estate License Have Something in Common

Real Estate Agent with Bill Cherry, Realtor 0124242

Publicity Photo of Me As
The Host of "American Airlines
Music 'til" Dawn" - WWL-AM

New Orleans. 1958


Many years ago, as a fourteen-year old junior high student, I talked the owner of one of my hometown radio stations into letting me have a weekly, Saturday afternoon program.

I quickly learned that the money in radio was a combination of commercial sales and talent fees.  Being on the air gave you the "star power" you needed to make the sale.

So, I went back to the owner and got him to give me a contract to sell and to sell my talent.  Within about a year, I had a daily program and was making more money than any of the "grown-up" employees at the station.

What came next was a special license.  It was called a First Class Radio-Telephone Engineer's License (referred to as a First Phone). Every station had to have on its staff an employee who had a First Phone, and that guy and only that guy had the authority to repair the equipment and to certify several times a day that everything was operating properly.

Those reports went to the Federal Communications Commission on a regular basis.

My daddy insisted that I get a First Phone because he figured that if I should make radio my career, I'd better have one of those to give me an advantage over most others.

So when I was sixteen, I rode the bus from Galveston to Houston and back every summer weekday for a month or so to the Elkins School of Broadcasting.  There I learned to take the test for the license.  I took it and passed.

A year later, I went to New Orleans as a freshman at Tulane University.  There was a black station, WYOK, advertising in the paper for someone with a First Phone.  I went to see the owner, and I explained to him that I didn't know how to fix anything.  All I knew was the theory, and that's how I got the license.  

He said, "Several of these DJs who work here know how to repair anything in the station.  They learned it in the service, but they aren't formally educated enough to pass the test for the license." I need someone to sign the logs.

So I was hired.  I came by every day and took the readings and signed the log.  And when the station's license came up for renewal, it was my signature that attested that it had operated properly.

He paid me a thousand a month.

What's the point of my story?

How many people go to a similar kind of "school" to learn to pass the licensing test to be a real estate agent, broker, appraiser, inspector, but their practical knowledge is totally insufficient?

I fall over them all of the time here in Dallas. You may, too.

The National Association fo REALTORS has as its sole purpose to make sure members are properly educated, follow state licensing laws, and act ethically.

It has a zillion member-state and area associations under it.

How is it that so many of its members learned to take the state test and the Realtor Code of Ethics test, but very little more?

So let's go back to my First Phone Story.

The FCC realized a few years back that most of those who held the license were like I --  had learned to take the test to get the license, but for all practical purposes were of not much value to the station or the FCC as an overseer of licensing compliance.

So today, in the main, the requirement for a First Phone on the staff of a radio station has gone by the wayside.  The FCC decided it wasn't worth the effort to require proficiency in repairing equipment. It was the easy way out, because there was nothing stopping the commission from testing that part.

Are the state licensing commissions, NAR and local associations ignoring an important facet of their reason for existence?  Or are they just building profit centers for those who run them?


Since 1966


214 503-8563



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Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

Great story.  Thanks for sharing with us and I love the old photo.

May 26, 2017 01:28 PM #1
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