Tag Archives: Antenna

WRMC Revived

The WRMC staff in 1960.  Back row: Gary Hoover, Dave Martindale, Ron Wysocki, Pat Parsons & Chris Baker. Middle row: Dave Hulihan, Dave Crowley, Leelaine Rowe, Fred Busk, Frank Sutherland, Conrad Wettergreen, Phil Clickner, Pete Leone. Front row: Joel Pokorny, Lorrie Kittredge, Ed Rothchild, Mike Marcus, Marty Chamberlin, Greg Nagy, Dave Rubenstein, Jeff Entin, Mark Skolnik

The WRMC staff in 1960. Back row: Gary Hoover, Dave Martindale, Ron Wysocki, Pat Parsons & Chris Baker.
Middle row: Dave Hulihan, Dave Crowley, Leelaine Rowe, Fred Busk, Frank Sutherland, Conrad Wettergreen, Phil Clickner & Pete Leone.
Front row: Joel Pokorny, Lorrie Kittredge, Ed Rothchild, Mike Marcus, Marty Chamberlin, Greg Nagy, Dave Rubenstein, Jeff Entin & Mark Skolnik

Over the summer of 1958, the College tore down the Student Union for replacement with a new structure. They built a temporary studio for us in a small building on campus, Recitation Hall, where we continued to produce some programming. Our hearts weren’t in it, though, because we knew that few dorms could receive our signal. Nonetheless we continued to cover out-of-town sports events. Middlebury College was a major power in collegiate hockey and one our strongest competitors was St. Lawrence University in upstate New York.  I was on duty with another staffer at the studio the night of the St. Lawrence game in the fall of 1958. We were anchoring the play-by-play which came over a leased phone line from Canton, New York.   Suddenly the feed from the hockey game went dead. We couldn’t communicate with our reporter at the game; we just had to fumble with every control we could find in the studio and attempt to reach the phone company to check on the integrity of our line.  At this point, the president of Middlebury College, Samuel  S. Stratton walked in.  Just like the others who gathered in the studio to hear the game when they couldn’t receive it at home, he wanted to follow the excitement of one of our most important contests.  I was terrified because I would have to explain the technical problem to him.  Instead of the explosion and summary expulsion that I feared, he said that he understood and might try back later.

After flunking out of college in mid-sophomore year, I spent the spring and summer semesters of 1959 at Boston University as a night student, working during the day.  When I returned to Middlebury in the fall of 1959 as a junior, construction of the new student union building to be called Redfield Proctor Hall was well under way.  Dave Hulihan, a classmate headed for a career in architecture, took me on several tours of the new building after the workmen had gone home for the day.  He pointed out every detail, from the steel studs that had just come into use, to the flexible “Modernfold” doors that separated sections of the dining hall. When we could get into the basement, we visited the new WRMC studios. They occupied the same relative position—the northwest corner—that they had in the old building.   The last time we saw them before completion, the studios were just at the stud stage.

By this time the station had been off the air for over a year.  I don’t remember how we kept this student organization going during this tough period. There was a lot of conflict among staff members, but some strong personalities emerged.  Chief among them was my junior year roommate Ed Rothchild and two women in my class, Lorrie Kittredge and Leelaine Rowe. I had been burned in the infighting and decided to remain on the sidelines for a while until things calmed down. Our spirits lifted when the college showed its commitment to WRMC by building the new studios that Hulihan and I had toured. But new quarters wouldn’t fix the transmitter problem.

Our FCC license restricted the range of our broadcasts to the college campus; any external antenna that could reach all the college buildings would also project our signal into the town of Middlebury, as our predecessors had learned in 1950 when the license was suspended.  Someone in the college administration, or in WRMC’s student leadership, had the good sense to contact John Bowker, Jr., the station’s founder at RCA’s David Sarnoff Labs, in Princeton, New Jersey, where he worked.

Bowker and one of his technicians designed and built a number of small transmitters, one for each college dorm, that would attach to the electrical wiring and carry the radio signal throughout the building but not beyond.  The college covered Bowker’s expenses and provided dedicated telephone lines from the new studios to the electrical panels in the basement of each building.  One weekend in 1960, before the opening  of our new studios,  Bowker and his technician came up to Middlebury to install the new transmitters, comprising what they called a carrier current system.  I watched the installation in Starr Hall, one of Middlebury’s oldest buildings, where we had to stoop to move about in the cellar.

Back row: Bill Custard, Lorrie Kittredge, Jim Dreves, Mary Hart & Dave Gannett. Front Row: John Wallach, Mike Black, Ed Rothchild, Pete Frame & Pete Leone

Back row: Bill Custard, Lorrie Kittredge, Jim Dreves, Mary Hart & Dave Gannett. Front Row: John Wallach, Mike Black, Ed Rothchild, Pete Frame & Pete Leone

It went quickly. They removed the cover of one of the electrical panels, attached a couple of wires, screwed a bracket for the transmitter onto a wooden board, ran another wire to the telephone jack, and took a reading on a device known as a field strength meter.  They replaced the panel cover and moved on to the next building.

With new studios and a signal that could be received fairly well in each dorm, WRMC prospered. Many talented students joined the staff, while I withdrew to focus on my studies, and on a new set of friends among the psychology students who, like me, were headed for graduate school.  Three days a week   I did a morning newscast and then went upstairs for breakfast in the new Proctor Hall dining room, where, if I was lucky, I would find one of my friends.

Next week: Insomnia


The Rotten Apple Tree

newtons-apple-treeThe tree in the back yard of our house at 20  Circle Street in Marblehead grew small, hard and inedible green apples that never ripened. They just rotted on the tree and fell to the ground.  As far as I could tell at age ten, they served no purpose, at least to human beings. That is, until the night that a storm broke our roof-top TV antenna and my parents summoned the man who had installed it for a replacement. I watched as he climbed the roof with the new antenna and threw the broken one to the ground. Part of it was a steel rod about two feet long which I saved.

I had an idea: if I could skewer a rotten apple on this rod and then whip the rod over my head with maximum force, I might propel the apple high in the air over the neighbor’s rooftops. It would work just like the medieval catapult that I had seen in a movie.  I tried one and it flew in an arcing trajectory over the next house and disappeared from sight. It was easy to suppress a flutter of worry over the possibility of injuring someone. I flung a few more apples over the rooftops and turned to other pursuits. Then, as now, my attention span was short.

My friend Tim lived some distance away and had an open field behind his house where he and other kids played and roamed in packs and sometimes fought  One day he was excited when I arrived at his house to play.  “Harry and some other guys have a fort just behind Harry’s house,”  he said, “There’s an old chicken coop behind my house and we can use it as our fort and we can have wars with them.”  Like Tim, Harry was in my fifth grade class at the Gerry School. We looked at Harry’s fort and Tim’s chicken coop. The distance between them was around a hundred feet. The question of how to do battle at such a distance nagged at me for a couple of days.

We were playing at my house on Circle Street when something in my mind connected. Rotten apples from my tree, skewered with my steel rod and flung in a mortar-like trajectory might just cover the distance.  I explained my idea to Tim.  “How can we get a load of these apples up to your house? It’s almost a mile away,” I asked. “I’ve got an old wagon. Let’s go get it; we can fill it with apples and drag them to my house.”  We returned to Circle Street in about forty-five minutes with a rusting metal express wagon. The wheels seemed wobbly, but it would have to do. We loaded the wagon with the rotten apples which by now had fallen to the ground.

Express wagon

In the street the loaded wagon was very heavy; it took two of us, one pulling the handle and other pushing from behind to move it along. Little bumps in the pavement dislodged apples from the load and we took turns corralling them before they rolled under cars. Curbs were very hard to manage: two of us lifted the front end of the wagon over the curbstone and then swung the back end up. We were perspiring; this business of moving a few rotten apples was much harder than we had thought.

At the corner of Pearl and Elm, about halfway between our two houses, there was another curb to negotiate. We dragged the front wheels down off the curb and one of them broke off.  I tried to lift one end of the disabled cart. It was monstrously heavy. “Shit,” Tim said, “What the Hell do we do now?” “We could carry them the rest of the way to your house.” “No! That’s much too far, Goddammit. Take ‘em back to your house” “No, No, No. To your house!” “No.To Your God Damn House!”

Tim looked around and found what he needed to reinforce his insistence that we return the apples to my house. There was a large pile of fresh, moist dog feces in the street next to the curb, and a sheet of newspaper next to it. With the newspaper to protect his hand, he scooped up the pile of excrement and waved it excitedly in my face.  Here was a side of Tim’s character that I should have expected to encounter. After all, a ten-year old willing to cooperate with me in harebrained schemes like this one, and others, must have had some reserve of latent aggression that was bound to come out.  Mine, I guess, was manifest in my willingness to get into these crazy adventures in the first place. For both of us, baseball just wasn’t enough to engage our depraved imaginations, and we were too afraid of injury to go in for manly sports like wrestling or boxing.

The threat of being smeared with dog poop was immediate and called forth in me a reflexive response. With my own piece of newspaper and an overhand grab I swept most of the reeking supply out of Tim’s hand, and then followed through in a graceful arc to deliver the entire load to Tim’s face. In a second I sized up my handiwork. There was a broad brown streak running from above Tim’s left eyebrow diagonally across his eye, nose and mouth and ending near the right side of his chin. There were a couple of subsidiary streaks parallel to the main one, on other regions of Tim’s face. I guess that I hadn’t taking the time to align my crap-flinging arm to deliver a square up-and-down pattern, and the diagonal blob was the result. Tim’s mouth and eyes were wide-open in shock.

In the next instant, fear took hold, and I ran to escape violent retribution. When I got home my mother was laughing. “I just got off the phone with Tim’s mother,” she said. I avoided him for the next few weeks, but when we got together again he didn’t say a word about it and neither did I.