Zapped

I reached inside the Western electric to adjust the coil I had placed in the final stage to replace the silver plated transmission line resonator that had been there. The next thing I knew I was lying among some empty nitrogen cylinders in the corner about six feet away, a metallic taste in my mouth. My head hurt. Apparently the convulsion of the electric shock had thrown me against the cylinders in such a way that my head struck first.

The Western Electric was still on the air. Its final stage tube glowed almost as brightly as an incandescent bulb. It was hissing. The phone, a dial unit mounted on the side of an equipment rack, was ringing. I got up and answered. “This is … at WBZ”, the voice said loudly. “What the Hell are you doing over there? You’re all over the band!”

I shut the Western Electric down quickly and switched back to the Visual. How long had WBCN been off the air? Or were we off the air? I only knew that I had nearly pulled a Mitch Hastings. 134 people had died in that one. Mitch’s little radio had emitted spurious radiation right next to the FM broadcast band, spilling over just enough into the frequencies reserved for aerial navigation. My experiments were at a power level 100,000 times higher, all over the band, three miles from Logan Airport. But I did not cause the disaster of July 31, 1973. I could not have. It was more than two years later. Thank God for the reassurance provided by Wikipedia. Give Wikipedia money. I do. And remember the courage of Leopold Chouinard.

The transmitter room atop the John Hancock Building; spring, 1971. Scanned from the Panatomic-X 35mm negative. I wished I had used a higher speed film. Camera motion blurs the details of the equipment, including the tube-type exciter in the left equipment rack. Copyright 1971, 2010 William J. Spurlin

I headed back to the studio. My friend Maxanne Sartori was there, broadcasting serenely amidst her incense and herbs. I needed to talk to her. Had she noticed what had happened? I would have to apologize. As I hurried down the sidewalk to 312 Stuart Street I looked over my shoulder more than once at the black steel skeleton of the new John Hancock Tower. Its steel bones were rising. We didn’t have much time. Soon our signal would be shadowed to the West.

In the dingy lobby of 312 Stuart Strreet I debated taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Somebody might be smoking pot in the stairwell (Woo-Woo enforced a ban on pot when he was around) and I could grab a quick toke; calm myself. But the elevator came so I just took it to the third floor. Woo-Woo was sitting on the corner of Carla’s desk in the reception area as I entered the studio. It was obvious that he knew something was up; just not exactly what. “Have you been reading the meters?” he asked me, looking at me closely. I was supposed to read the transmitter meters five days a week. This was the main part of my job. My predecessor had been fired for not reading the meters. “Yes,” I lied. “I’ve been reading the meters”.

2 comments

  1. Disregard previous. It seems files.wordpress.com had some virus infected files and was being blocked… However, I am interested if you have any other Hancock transmitter pictures.

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