On this, the 72 anniversary of War of the Worlds

It was early evening when most people were sitting down to enjoy the latest edition of Mercury Theater on the Air on CBS.  After a brief narration by Orson Wells, which is set a year ahead of the actual date, there was a flash forward and brief weather forecast.  It then seemed that the show was not going to be on as Ramon Raquello and is orchestra were performing dance music when the music faded down and the announcer came on the air slightly out of breath:

Ladies and Gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you this special bulletin from the intercontinental radio news…

It was a great piece of theater, too realistic for many, others tuned in late and panic ensued.  People raced out of their houses, went to confession and didn’t pay for gas.  There were reports of long alien ships landing in New Jersey and incinerating crowds with heat rays. Then the black poison gas, oh, the black poison gas.

The day after, New York Times reported that up to 1.2 million people felt they were in grave danger and the world was ending.  It is hard to imagine how they came to that number, especially overnight for printing the next day.

Naturally, those commie federal regulators were having none of it, and the FCC proclaimed that broadcast hoaxes would not be tolerated, even promoligating a rule, 73.1217, stating, in part:

No licensee or permittee of any broadcast station shall broadcast false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe if: (a) The licensee knows this information is false; (b) It is forseeable that broadcast of the information will cause substantial public harm, and (c) Broadcast of the information does in fact directly cause substantial public harm.

There are some radio stations that still broadcast this show every Halloween, with the appropriate disclaimers, of course.  For those that want to hear the War of the Worlds, go to Radio Heard Here.  It is really a great show.

Happy Halloween!

Update:  Occasional reader Sandy sends along this link to the WKBW 1968 version, which was purported to be every bit as real as the 1938 version.  The station was deluged with phone calls.  In fact, legend has it that when the broadcast ended a little after midnight, show producer Jeff Kayne slipped his resignation letter under the General Manager’s door.

WOWO EBS activation

An oldie, but a goodie, February 20, 1971, WOWO gets a EAN via AP teletype and follows procedure:

Back in the days of EBS, there were weekly closed circuit tests via AP and UPI teletype. In the event of a real Emergency Action Notification (EAN) there was a red envelope that contained a set of code words for each month. The test code words were on the outside of the envelope. If a EAN was received, the envelope would be torn open and the actual code words would be matched against the code words in the message. If it were authenticated, then the station would do just what WOWO did right then, send the two tone EBS alert for 25 seconds  and break into programming.

It is amazing that this did not happen more often, especially on a Saturday morning with some a sleepy Airman in Colorado pulling the wrong message tape off the rack at the message center responsible for the whole system.

It has happened more recently when an EAS message was sent to evacuate the entire state of Connecticut.  A EAN was sent in Chicago warning of a national attack when state officials were testing their new system.  I am sure that others have been sent as well.

I suppose the emergency notification has always left something to be desired.

HD Radio equipment, on trade

It has been about a month now, has anyone taken them up on this:

iBiquity Digital and Citadel Media announced a partnership which will enable stations to upgrade to digital while avoiding cash expenditure. Stations will have the opportunity to provide on-air inventory to Citadel Media in exchange for the HD Radio license fee and equipment supplied by Broadcast Electronics, Continental, Harris and Nautel.

I was sure that my former employer, now that I have left the company, would at least look into this.  I know there are many other frugal like minded companies out there that look at trade as being “free.”  Anytime I had a building project, like paving the parking lot or replacing the roof membrane, the first question asked was “Can we trade it?”  I hated dealing with trade.  Often, it would end up as a half paved parking lot and the general manager asking “Gee, what happened?”

I would be surprised if this iBiquity scheme didn’t generate at least some interest in the HD radio holdouts. Has anybody heard anything else on this?

The Pacific Records and Engineering BMXII console

I snapped these pictures at WICC in Bridgeport, CT. It is an older PR&E BMXII console, 26 channels, I believe.

Pacific Recorders BMXII 26
Pacific Recorders and Engineering BMXII 26

These were manufactured starting in 1985, I installed one in 1990. It is a testament to their durability that this one has lasted 23 years.  They were expensive when purchased, and all of them were purchased directly from PR&E, Carlsbad, California.  The beauty of these things is their modularity.  All of the major components are replacable, including the module face inlays.

Penny Giles conductive plastic fader
Penny Giles conductive plastic fader, PRE BMXII console

The faders, Penny and Giles 4000 series, are fully rebuildable.  The part that wears out the most is the nylon bushings that slide along the metal rails.  The contact fingers sometimes also need to be replaced.  These are 10 Kohm conductive plastic linear faders.  P&G does not make these anymore, they have been replaced by the 8000 series, which has a edge connector instead of a wiring harness.  Since the top of the fader is open, it also tends to accumulate dust, dirt and other debris.  The fader board itself should be cleaned off with warm water, light soap may be used if needed.  Do not use alcohol on these because it eats into the conductive plastic and ruins the fader.

PRE BNXII line input module
PR&E BMXII line input module

One of the great things about this console is the fact that all the modules are hot pluggable.  If one needs to be serviced, it can be pulled out of the main frame while the console is on the air and a new module plugged into it’s place.  Only the line output module replacement necessitated taking the station off the air, and then only for a few seconds.  It was a great concept which is now standard in almost every broadcast console.

There were several basic module configurations.  On the input side, line level, mic level and telco were standard console inputs.  There was also a passive remote line select button set.  Out put modules consisted of line level output, control room monitor, and studio monitor modules.

PR&E consoles were top of the line gear, but expensive.  Most radio stations could not afford them and went with less expensive models like Wheatstone, BE, LPB, Autogram, Radio Systems, etc.  The fact that some of these BMXII consoles are approaching 30 years of age and still in service is a testament to their construction.

In the early 1990’s, PR&E began branching out into the lower priced market with their product line.  They produced the Radiomixer and Productionmixer consoles, however, mid market sized radio stations were slow in adopting them because PR&E had the reputation of being expensive.  After all, if you can only afford a Chevrolet, why bother looking at the Mercedes?

WQXR control room
WQXR control room

This is a grainy promotions photo from the early 1990’s showing what I think is the WQXR master control room, nick named “The Bridge.”  I took a tour there around 1993 or so and it was a fantastic facility, of course the New York Times spared no expense.  I really felt like Willie Wonka in the Chocolate factory.

Later in that decade, they changed the name to Pacific Research and Engineering, and the went public.  I think going public was the death knell, soon thereafter they sold the entire product line to Harris Broadcast.  The final non-Harris console was the Airwave, which is a good medium duty modular console, incorporating some of the traditional PR&E designs.  The later consoles stopped routing audio directly through the faders, using voltage controlled amplifiers instead.  This solved some of the channel drop out problems which sometimes occurred in earlier consoles.  The Airwave consoles are much less durable than the BMX series, however, with the advent of voice tracking, perhaps 24/7 durability is not that necessary anymore.

Harris has dropped support of much of the early PR&E line, but there are those that soldier on, buying up parts and rebuilding these things.  Mooretronix has a good selection of BMX and ABX parts.

The WICC/WEBE  installation is about to be refurbed, which means these consoles will be headed out the door.  There are three of them in fair condition.