This past week the country has suffered an early outbreak of tornadoes that harkens of a rough upcoming spring. Tornadoes are relatively scarce here in South Carolina where I live and almost unheard of in Northern Florida where I grew up. But there was a minimal EF-0 tornado touching down a few miles from here yesterday morning. All the focus on the weather got me to thinking about how weather has affected my broadcasting career over the years.
During my first year in commercial radio, I would occasionally have to walk from my apartment to the station in sleet or freezing rain, but once ensconced in the warm safe confines of the studio, the extent of it was warning my audience about the “freezy skid stuff” a line that I shamelessly stole from April Black, the DJ I replaced when she left the station. Later on, on snowy days, instead of making the trip out to the remote location at a local drive in restaurant, I would do my evening show from the master control room in the station. So weather was pretty much a spectator sport for me. Little did I know how much that was going to change.
But, when I moved over to the engineering and technical side in television in the early 70s, weather was more in my face. I will never forget back when I was young and immortal, climbing an ice covered tower 350 feet up into a sleet-filled sky to adjust the microwave receiver so we could broadcast a basketball game. That tower is shown here in warmer weather. I had white knuckles after that adventure and I can tell you it was not the cold weather that caused them. A few years later, we had one of the biggest snows in the history of the city, and I found myself making the trip downtown nightly in my VW “Karmann-Ghia” with a shovel thrown in the back seat. I was assigned to work overnight so that we could be sure that we had the staff to get the station on the air each morning during a period when most of the station’s staff could not get there. During that time, I produced and directed some early morning shows with no one in the station but me and the anchor man from the news department. We locked the cameras down so he could not move too much.
The day we received our first mini-camera and portable tape recorders a tornado hit the 5 Points area of Columbia in the early evening. It was too late to get a film crew out to take pictures of the damage, get the film developed and edited in time for the late newscast. Undaunted, another engineer and I loaded the brand new equipment into the station’s utility van and drove around shooting footage of the damage. We wound up airing some of that footage that night by focusing a studio camera on a monitor and playing back the raw footage on the monitor. We had to do that because we had not wired the tape recorders into the master control yet. Later in the evening, I got a call from the engineer from the radio station where I used to work. He was off the air, it seems that the tornado lifted his tower off its base and set it on the ground next to it, which was enough to release the guy wires from their stabilizing hold and the tower came down in a big spiral surrounding the base. Early the next day, once we had light, we got to work and strung up a long wire antenna between two telephone poles and got the AM station back on the air. It took one more day to mount a spare FM antenna on one of the telephone poles and get that station back up.
I was back in radio in the late 70s, and during another snow storm, the roads were a mess and few of the station staff could get in. Once I made sure that the station’s technical facilities were OK and stable, I was pressed into service as a traffic reporter. I drove around town that morning during rush hour, finding and reporting on the stalled cars, dangerous intersections and wrecks. Again in the evening, it was back on the roads, again the roving reporter, covering the madness and mayhem that is a southern city’s road system with a covering of a few inches of snow and ice.
So now, we are in the spring of another year and stormy weather looms around. For the first time in years I have several radio stations relying on my engineering partner and me to keep them on the air. So I have one eye on the radar and one eye on the web based remote control for the stations. The technology has changed a lot, but the feeling of “here we go again” is as old and primal as it ever has been. Oh MY!