Sunday, February 22, 2015

Do you remember weird things that happened at work!

No matter what business one is in, things happen at work that stick out in our memories. Some are scary and some are funny but they all are unforgettable.

It was late at night and I was working the all night show at WCOS in Columbia. There I was, playing the top of the pops and the cream of the crop to all the cool cats and hot kitties when all of a sudden I was cut off in the middle of a word by a loud BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! What the heck! I thought as I quickly scanned the audio board in front of me for the source of the annoying sound. It was then that I noticed that the VU meter that measured everything that was going to the transmitter was not registering the noise. About that time I recognized the sound as the one used by telephone technicians to trace down cables in a bundle. The station’s sound was carried from the studio to the transmitter by telephone cables. Some lonely lineman working in the middle of the night had obviously placed his test set across the pair of cables that we used. I quickly called the local toll test office and within a couple of minutes they reached the lineman and he corrected the error. A couple of years later, Glenn Campbell released “Wichita Lineman.” I can tell you that I dedicated that song once or twice to the “Midnight Lineman!”

The station had a pretty hard and fast rule not to allow anyone in the studio, especially at night. The night watchman who manned the desk at the Cornell Arms Apartment where WCOS was located knew that rule and for the most part, enforced it well. But one night around 2 AM, I heard a knock at the door that connected the studio wing of the station with the public hallway. I thought it was a little strange that the guard had let someone up. When I answered the door, there was a thin guy in blue jeans and boots who looked vaguely familiar. The record was about to end so I took a chance and let him in so I could get the next song on the air. He quietly took a seat in a chair in the back of the studio. He seemed to know when he could talk and when to be quiet. When I turned to speak with him I realized that I knew him. It was Jimmie Rodgers, not the country singer but Jimmie F. Rodgers, who had all those great hits in the late 50s like "Honeycomb" and "Kisses Sweeter than Wine." He was passing through town and could not sleep so he walked from his hotel down the street to pass some time with the local DJ. Fortunately I had a couple of his songs around so I got to play them on the air while he was there. We had a great time talking about the business for a couple of hours. I never put him on the air for fear of incurring the wrath of my program director. I had been working there for only a few months. I regret to this day not putting the conversation we had on the air. Jimmie is still alive today. Who knows, maybe I will have a chance to do an interview with him.

A few years later, I was what was called “chief engineer” at WIS Radio. I still filled in on weekends from time to time by doing air shifts. I had just completed an afternoon show on a cold Saturday and was about to drive home at sundown, after turning the air chair over to one of our part timers. The last thing I had to do was to switch the antennas from the non directional daytime pattern to the three tower night time pattern. It was pretty easy to do. It required the push of a button and then performing a set of meter readings to make sure the pattern had switched successfully. I had done it hundreds of times with no problem. But this one Saturday, something was dreadfully wrong. The meter readings were all askew. A quick calculation in my mind told me that we were putting a strong signal out in a direction we were supposed to be putting into a “null” to protect another radio station out that way. I had a short time to troubleshoot before I would have had to take the station off the air. So I put us back on the daytime pattern and inspected the components (coils and capacitors) in the phasor. They appeared normal, so I grabbed a flashlight and walked out to the tower field to inspect the similar elements in the tuning houses at the base of each tower. When I opened the door to the northwest tower house, I was assaulted by a terrible stench. Shining the light in, I saw the body of a 6 foot long water moccasin draped through the coils and over a capacitor. Grabbing a nearby stick, I removed the snake from the equipment, walked back to the studio building and reset the antennas back to the night pattern. Everything was fine then.

AM transmitters of that day had a built in delay circuit that prevents the operator from putting the transmitter on the air before the tubes had a chance to warm up. One stormy day we had a momentary power interruption that knocked us off the air. I was at my desk in front of the transmitter so I instinctually leaned back and flipped the “plate switch” to get us back up. It was only when the transmitter failed to restart that I remembered the 30 second delay and started a countdown in my head. It was the middle of the day so I was inundated by everyone from the general manager to the brand new part time announcer telling me that we were off the air. This is where the imp in me had its way. As my internal countdown approached zero, I slowly rose out of my chair, turned to the transmitter, raised my arms and said in the deepest voice I could muster, “HEAL!” Sure enough, almost like magic, the delay circuit closed the contactors and the transmitter came back to life as if rising from the dead. The general manager just smiled and walked away shaking his head, but the new part time announcer gave me a wide berth for a week.

While working at SC ETV a decade later, some of us from the studio staff were asked to help the transmitter engineers repair some equipment after a violent electrical storm. While the other guys were working on the TV transmitter, I took on the responsibility of repairing the cable for the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) receiver. It had been blown off the receiver by a lightning strike from the storm. I found a new connector and began cutting back the plastic cover of the cable to find the end of the wires inside. I cut back a couple of inches, no wire, a couple more and still no wire. Finally after going back almost 2 feet I found the end of the wires inside. After reconnecting the antenna to the receiver and making sure that it was working, we got curious as to where all that wire went. We searched the entire floor of the cinder block transmitter building and found nothing. It was then that we noticed a hole in a cinder block 20 feet away that was about the same size as the missing connector. Sure enough, with a flashlight and a pair of needle nosed pliers, we pulled the connector and 2 feet of inner conductor wires out of that hole. I was sure glad no one was in the transmitter building during that storm, it occurred during the early morning when the station was off the air.

Now none of these stories talk about the practical jokes we played on each other back in those days. Let it be known that Mike Rast, our long suffering news announcer at WCOS deserves a special place in radio heaven for all the things we did to him here on earth. Here’s a cheer to Ya, Mike, you deserve it. Oh MY!

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