I have often heard or read this Hunter S. Thompson piece misquoted as “The Radio business is uglier than most things…” After a bit of research, I found this directly from his book called Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (New York: Summit Books, 1988):
The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.
Phew, thank God I don’t work in TV, that must be really bad.
Once upon a time, usually during a license renewal period, a radio station listener might hear the following on the air:
On May 15, 2001, Radio Station KZZZ (FM) was granted a license by the Federal Communication Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until December 1, 2005. Our license will expire December 1, 2005. We must file for license renewal with the FCC by August 1, 2005. When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection during our regular business hours. It contains information concerning this station’s performance during the last four years. Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the FCC by November 1, 2005. Further information concerning the FCC’s broadcast license renewal process is a available at the KZZZ offices, located at 555 Main Street in Smallville, or may be obtained from the Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C. 20554.
So what does “Granted to serve the public interest mean?” Perhaps having a news department, or sponsoring a debate in the local mayor’s race, perhaps a Sunday morning church service. Maybe some High School football or even broadcasting emergency information such as tornado warnings or a flood warning.
How about broadcasting a flood warning to your listeners that are taking part in a station promotion? How about if said station promotion happens to be taking place in a flood plain, and warnings issued several hours before the promotion is scheduled? No? You can’t make this stuff up, no one would believe you:
A Clear Channel station in Grand Rapids, MI threw its annual B93 Concert Bash on June 20 in nearby Ionia by the Grand Rapids River, apparently oblivious to flash flood warnings issued by the National Weather Service.
No, nothing bad can come of this right? right? Of course the inevitable happend. The river overflowed it’s banks, causing concert goers to flee for their lives and flooding the parking area submerging their cars. Naturally, Clear Channel will pay those who had their cars towed out of the mud right. Nope, you listeners are on your own, tough shit.
Then there is the now infamous Minot train derailing. For those not familar, a train carring anhydrous ammonia derailed and spilled it’s contents. When local officials attempted to activate EAS, they couldn’t. They then attempted to call the LP-1 station on the phone to get the information out, nobody was home. Clear Channel placed the blame squarely on the local law enforecement agencies stating that they had not installed their EAS equipement properly and had changed frequencies on their radio link without notifying the radio station. Perhaps, but it seems there is more than enough blame to share. Were station employees proactive with the local government officials? I can’t say, but they should have been. EAS is a team effort.
Not to pile onto Clear Channel too much, Cumulus seems to encourage their listeners to head out doors, enjoy the good weather. During a tornado warning. Nice.
By this, It would appear that the public is interested in fleeing for their lives, having their cars flooded, all the while wondering what is going on.
No matter how hard people try, nothing can replace radio’s role in alerting the public. Mass e-mail systems, Blackberries, and other internet based systems will fail when the power goes out and kills the supporting ethernet infrastructure. Cellphones, PCS devices, I-phones become unreliable during emergencies because the TELCO system that supports them gets clogged with traffic. Many cellphone towers do not have backup generators. During the events of 9/11/2001, I experienced first hand the difficulties trying to use the wired telephone network due to congestion. Since the HDTV rollout, cable companies have become the backbone for the distribution of TV signals. Coaxial based cable systems rely on booster amplifiers every mile or two to keep the signal strengths usable. Those amplifiers need power from the utility grid. Not to mention, most TVs cannot run on batteries and lack portability.
Almost everyone owns a battery powered portable radio. When the shit hits the fan, they will turn it on. What will they hear?
So where is the official outrage? Why has not the big radio CEO’s, public trustees each, been dragged before congress to explain themselves?
Several years ago while cleaning out different AM transmitter site, I found a bunch of files about this accident in the trash bin. It seems that some engineer had moved a file cabinet during the great consolidation of the 1990’s to the wrong transmitter site. In any case, I rescued the file and for your reading pleasure, have scanned the following documents:
Retel WPTR north and center towers struck three hundred foot level 0930 morning 16 September by American Airlines Convair. Damage inspected afternoon 16 September by representative Zane Construction and afternoon 17 September by engineer Ideco tower used in array. Both report slight damage to center tower requiring straightening above 300 foot level. North tower has two legs bent result of wing passing through tower 18 inches above top guys at bolt intersection. Tower above bent and twisted but all right unless subject to high east wind. Impact sheered north beacon clevises and shattered glass. Replacement ordered and beacon restoration expected early next week. Measurements of directional pattern afternoon 16 September show pattern unchanged and mulls, base currents and loop currents within tolerances except center loop current which reads ten percent low. Indications are center pickup loop has been jarred and pattern unaffected. FCC representative Turnbull who arrived noon Wednesday concurred. No time lost. Operating at full power
George Wetmore, Assistant Genl Mgr, Radio Station WPTR
This is the statement of the transmitter engineer on duty at the time of the crash.
I, Robert S. Henry engineer for Patroon Broadcasting Co. would like to make this statement concerning the collision of an American Airlines Plane with our transmitting towers.
On Wednesday morning September 16, 1953 I was on duty alone at the WPTR transmitter when at approximately 9:30 A.M. a low flying plane was heard overhead. The carrier trip circuit which protects the transmitting apparatus from sudden overloads at the antenna almost instantly actuated and a low sound of explosion followed about 3 seconds later. I ran to the back door of the transmitter in time to see what proved later to be aluminum sheets fluttering down through the fog. I estimate the ceiling at the time to have been approximately 75 feet and not sharply defined. The centre (sic) tower of our three tower array swayed violently for approximately for approximately (sic) 1 minute. At the time I knew a plane had hit the tower but it was above the ceiling and invisable to me. I called W. R. David and George Wetmore and the incident was reported to the Albany airport.
Back in these days, the studios were located at the Hendrick Hudson Hotel in Troy, the transmitter site was manned by a licensed transmitter engineer when ever the station was on the air.
What is amazing is that the IDECO towers remained standing after being struck by Convair 240, a pretty good sized aircraft.
American Airlines’ Flight 723 was a scheduled flight between Boston, and Chicago, with intermediate stops among which were Hartford (BDL), and Albany (ALB). The CV-240 arrived at Bradley Field at 06:57. Weather at the next stop, Albany, at this time was below the company’s landing minimums, but was forecast to improve to within limits by the time the flight arrived there. Departure from Bradley Field was made at 07:14. Because of poor visibility at Albany, several aircraft were in a holding pattern. The special Albany weather report issued at 07:50 indicated thin obscurement, ceiling estimated 4,000, overcast, fog, visibility 3/4 miles. Two aircraft left the holding pattern, attempted to land, but both executed a missed approach procedure. A third airplane landed at 08:16 following an instrument approach to runway 19. Immediately following this landing, Flight 723 was cleared to make an instrument approach to runway 19. Three minutes later the flight advised the tower that its approach was being abandoned because the aircraft’s flaps could not be lowered.
At 08:30 Albany Tower reported:”All aircraft holding Albany. It now appears to be pretty good for a contact approach from the west. It looks much better than to the north.” Flight 723 was then cleared for a contact approach to runway 10. On finals for runway 10, the Convair descended too low. The right wing of the aircraft struck the center tower of three radio towers at a point 308 feet above the ground. The left wing then struck the east tower. Seven feet of the outer panel of the right wing including the right aileron and control mechanism from the center hinge outboard together with 15 feet of the left outer wing panel and aileron separated from the aircraft at this time. Following the collision with the towers, ground impact occurred a distance of 1,590 feet beyond the tower last struck. First ground contact was made simultaneously by the nose and the left wing with the aircraft partially inverted.
The weather reported at the time of the accident was thin scattered clouds at, 500 feet, ceiling estimated 4500 feet, broken clouds, visibility 1-1/2 miles, fog.
PROBABLE CAUSE: “During the execution of a contact approach, and while manoeuvring for alignment with the runway to be used, descent was made to an altitude below obstructions partially obscured by fog in a local area of restricted visibility.”
The above reports notes that the aircraft traveled 1590 feet and struck the ground partially inverted. I do not know what the flaps up landing speed of a Convair CV-240 is but the cruising speed is 280 MPH. It would be safe to say the aircraft was traveling in the 120 to 130 MPH range or about 220 feet per second. At that speed, it was likely airborne for about 7 seconds after it hit the tower. Enough time to look out the window, realize what was happening and say “Oh, Shit!”
IDECO stood for the Internation Derrick Company, they build cranes, derricks and bridges as well as radio towers. Apparently they made pretty good stuff because those same towers are still standing today.
Not that checking the tower lights would have averted disaster in this case, it appears to be pilot error compounded by bad weather that caused this incident. But there have been more recent aircraft/radio tower accidents, some of which have involved possible faulty tower lights. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.
Ever since the new morning show guy started about six months ago, my work bench chair has been frequently migrating into the air studio. I don’t mind sharing, as long as things are put back where they came. I requested that the ever so cool, to hip to care DJ return it after use, which was ignored.
On my last trip to the hardware store, I made a purchase:
Behold, a length of 5/16 chain and two master combination locks. Now, every time I go to sit in my work bench chair, it is there.