Among several events being commemorated this week, there are two historical events that bring back some personal memories, and two events of comparatively limited significance to the world but of increased importance in my own personal and professional life.
Nixon Resigns – 40 Years Ago
The evening of August 8, 1974, my family was on vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Back then television and telephones were a homebound convenience, and if you wanted to watch TV there, you had to have an antenna atop about a 40 to 60 foot tall tower to pull in signals from Norfolk.
There was no TV or phone in the room at the motel we stayed at, which is not to say that it was a rustic experience. Not in the slightest – the Tower Circle in Buxton was an excellent place to stay, and apparently still is, having enjoyed a resurrection under new ownership after taking a hit from Hurricane Irene in 2011.
In the 70’s the motel office, with comfortable couches and a large old AM radio, had the only phone for guests and was thus the center of communication for those who populated the motel at any given time. I used to sit in the office with a book or magazine and listen to Bob Prince and Nellie King call the Pirates games on KDKA. I don’t care what anyone says – baseball belongs on clear-channel AM radio. This was brought home for me again last year, when enroute to Colorado we picked up the Bucs playing the Cardinals on KMOX.
That particular August evening, the bulk of the motel’s occupants were crammed into the office, listening to WCBS in New York as President Nixon announced he would resign the Presidency the following day. This was more of a foregone conclusion than a surprise to anyone in the room, although some adults were shaking their heads either in disbelief or disgust. The Watergate scandal, and the fallout that continued even after Nixon resigned, continue to resonate to this day wherever political power is misapplied or abused.
In my old newspaper collection, somewhere in an old box next to the stamps and sheet music, is a copy of the Raleigh News and Observer from the next day, with the obligatory big headline. Maybe my son will enjoy it someday.
Reagan Fires Air Traffic Controllers – 33 Years Ago
I was working at the front desk at a hotel near the Pittsburgh airport the day that controllers walked off the job. Chaotic doesn’t begin to describe the effect on the airline industry, and along with it business travelers and the hotels that depended on their business.
The hotel that I worked in had just under 150 rooms, and by the early afternoon of August 3rd over 50 cancellations of reservations had been received, because the air traffic system had been thrust into chaos by the controller strike.
By the end of the evening, those cancellations were offset by travelers stranded in Pittsburgh, which was then a major hub for what was at that time USAir, previously known as Allegheny Airlines. On more than one occasion, a quiet winter holiday was transformed into mass craziness by hundreds of passengers stranded in Pittsburgh by missing connections due to weather or other delays.
In the weeks and months that followed, things seemed to normalize from the result of the actions taken by the controllers and the President, but the airline-related chaos didn’t seem to subside until I left that hotel and went to work at another one in the North Hills. Events and people encountered there led me into a different line of work altogether.
APCO International Conference, Pittsburgh – 20 Years Ago
After venturing full-time into a career in public safety communications, one thing I tried to do was keep up to speed with what continues to be an industry trying to respond to rapid-fire change. This included active membership in the Association of Public Safety (formerly Police) Communications Officials, better known as APCO.
One event that I tried to get to as much as I practically could was APCO’s annual conference, held typically during one of the first two weeks in August. The first conference I attended was in 1986, in Milwaukee. It was definitely a no-frills trip – I took the Greyhound there, stayed in a discount motel out by the airport, and took public transportation into town. The educational experience was invaluable to a neophyte and radio geek.
I managed to attend two more conferences in Baltimore and Boston before the announcement was made that the 1994 conference would be held in Pittsburgh. The Conference Committee was comprised largely of volunteers from the state chapter where the conference was being held.
I volunteered and was assigned to handle Special Activities, which largely consisted of coordinating tour activities for spouses and children of attendees, as well as after-hours events for everyone.
A contract with a tour company had been signed early on, and a menu of tour activities around the Pittsburgh region had been published, including an Pirates night game. Pre-registration was tepid, but interest became brisk for all of the tours when people started to arrive in town.
This was especially true for the baseball game, as it was to be one of the last games of that season before the anticipated strike that eventually canceled out the rest of that year in baseball. Five busloads of attendees went to the August 10 game against the Montreal Expos.
For the entire week of the conference, my days started at 6:00 AM and didn’t end until after Midnight. Accompanying the tour groups during the day, and attending conference events in the evening kept me moving all the time.
It also didn’t leave much time to attend presentations, or peruse all of the lovely new toys in the exhibit hall. One thing that did happen at this conference was the formal establishment of the Common Air Interface for APCO’s Project 25 trunked radio standard.
This standard has shaped the development of state-of -the-art radio networks into the present day, despite not being accepted by everyone in the industry back then. I wrote a more detailed and technical post about this a little over 4 years ago, in case you’re interested in that sort of thing.
I was able to establish positive relationships with many of my peers around the state during that conference. It was my hope at the time to perhaps leverage that into career development opportunities elsewhere. Little did I know that by the following August my career would have developed me right into the Intermountain West.
A No-Hitter – 38 years ago
On August 8, 1976, my family and I attended a Sunday afternoon Pirate game. I decided that I wanted to come back the next day, and bought a ticket before leaving.
The rest is baseball bliss, the end of which you can see here.
Let’s hope that the current edition of the Pirates can be entertaining and competitive for years to come.
Have a great week ahead.