Sunday, February 03, 2008

It was 30 years ago...

Blizzards have always been a big part of my radio career, and my first one came 30 years ago this week: The Blizzard of '78.

It started overnight and I was the morning newsman at WFGL in Fitchburg, Massachusetts -- my hometown. I couldn't drive without getting stuck, so I bundled up and walked to work, about 4 miles away.

We were on the air, thank goodness and as the sun came up, news started to spread just how serious this was. It was, basically, a winter hurricane. The coast seemed to be taking the worst of it, but our city was pretty much paralyzed.

Winds of about 70 m.p.h. had driven the snow up against our three-story building. So after finishing a sportscast, I grabbed a long mic cord and -- live -- jumped out the window into a huge drift two stories below. Fun stuff.

Power outages started cropping up but, mercifully, we stayed on the air. Only one other person made it into the studio that day, so we just kept things on the air as best we could, with the help of one lonely engineer in the transmitter shack atop Alpine Hill.

I started a talk show at 9 a.m. and kept going. The other guy made a few calls for me to line up guests. I heard Steve Allen was in Worcester, so we tracked him down. I didn't actually expect to get him but we did and I had nothing to say, so the interview went something like this:

Q: Steve Allen?
A: Yes.
Q: Bob Collins up in Fitchburg
A: Steve Allen in the snow.

And that was about as good as it got. Of all the things Steve Allen did in his lifetime, I couldn't think of much other than a couple of voiceovers for some local banks he did. Embarrassing.

All of the other radio stations -- there were two other competitors -- went off the air as their power went out. But we stayed on.

I talked to my former friend, John Carpilio, who worked at WHEB in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and had driven along the Route 1A in Hampton Beach and described the destruction he saw. We talked to the mayor and the usual suspects. Cars were abandoned on all major highways; nothing was moving, and Gov. Mike Dukakis called out the National Guard. Dukakis got high marks for his performance, and deserved it.

Around 4 p.m., the lights started flickering, and then went out. Our broadcast day was done. So I walked home.

Almost six feet of snow fell and it would be more than a week before we were allowed back on the streets.

Worth reading:
Hampton, New Hampshire stories and pictures of the storm

1 comment:

California Girl said...

Really enjoyed this as I live in NH and have been listening to stories about the Great Blizzard of '78 for over a week. Wow. Everybody who lived through it sure doesn't want to forget it. Right now, we're having as much snow as I've ever seen and it just keeps coming. Must be wonderful to work for MPR. Garrison Keillor is my hero and my three best girlfriends are all blonde Lutherans from various places in MN. Go figure. (They live in California now)