The Cheat Sheet: Radio With A Vision

cheat-sheet-logo2by Flip Michaels

Let us imagine a man who stays in his production studio all day. While there, he has a feeling of security. There is no necessity to interact with sales, programming or traffic...except the usual. Day in, day out: write-voice-produce, write-voice-produce. The whole world outside goes on...without him. He's alive, but not very. He's breathing, but not really living. Then one day he looks out and sees a production person experiencing a moment of emotional intensity. It is so interesting, so captivating that he forgets about all his fears. Instead, he unlocks the door of vision, goes out to the other, and for that liberating moment, experiences another world. He breathes a new and fresh air. The light and sun fall on him for the first time in a very long time. And he knows something. The life in him has expanded. He now has a vision. All from the experience of another.

This Cheat Sheet's answers also come from the experiences of others. One stimulating story by Tom Anthony, Production Director of WFOG/WJQI in Norfolk, Virginia:

Dear Flip,

Your recent series on the history of radio was well done and incited me to travel back to my most formative experience with live broadcasting. Although it would still be a few years before I entered the broadcast field, the way I perceived the power of live radio changed forever on April 11, 1970.

That was the day I witnessed the Apollo 13 spacecraft launched from less than twenty miles away...just two launches and a few months after Neil Armstrong first set his footprints on the moon. In America, this was still a really big deal.

That morning my sainted mother seemed just as adventurous as I was. From our home in central Florida we pointed the old Impala in the direction of Cocoa Beach. For at least a half hour beforehand we were listening to the launch countdown live on the radio. Everybody was.

When the announcer on the radio gave us a two minute warning, we pulled off onto a bridge shoulder. We were on the Merritt Island Causeway, a bridge linking the island with the mainland. I'll never forget that. My mother didn't even wait until we were off the bridge. She just pulled off to the side and stopped the car. She wasn't the only one. There were dozens of cars on the bridge shoulder, on the road shoulder, and parked off to the side at water's edge. Cars were lined up for miles, and they all had their radios on. They were tuned to different stations, but they all emitted the monotone voice of Mission Control giving a calm description of the greatest vision a boy could hope to see.

It felt like we were about to meet Rod Serling. All the radios from hundreds of years around, all at various volume levels and distances, all echoing that voice. Slow motion steps across the highway to the concrete guard rail. "Tee minus one." Said the voice. From everywhere.

Off in the distance helicopters the size of gnats circled an itty-bitty stick standing in a rustic east Florida marsh. It was really over 360 feet tall, but from that distance you could just make it out. "Tee minus fifteen," said the voice. No one else said a word. They listened and watched.

"Ten...nine...eight...." I couldn't believe I was there. "Seven...six...five...." I could see the rocket ship with my bare eyes. "Four...three...." Radios all over the causeway assured us there was ignition. I couldn't see anything igniting. Not even a wisp of smoke. "Two...one...." The voice swore there was lift off. "We have liftoff," it said. I still could not detect a change. Then I heard a rumble.

In the distance I could just make out a fireball starting to form. Had something gone wrong? No. Not for two more days, we would all learn later. "Hey Mom! There it is! Over there!" Then the ground began to vibrate. A slow and deliberate vibration. Low. Loud. Growing. Not an earthquake, but every man, woman, and child for at least twenty miles around must have felt it. Then the rumble turned into a roar. The roar turned into a low scream. The scream of pressure from those massive engines drowned out all other man-made sounds. Even the excited whooping and hollering of the hundred or so people right around me. The air became absolutely saturated with it. There was a new quality to the air, and it crackled. Imagine the sound of a fire burning in a fireplace amplified a million times. Just impossibly loud. An otherwise empty blue sky was ripped open with a sliver of orange and yellow flame. Near the earth it billowed into thunderstorm-sized clouds of smoke. Near heaven it became a pinpoint of light with the smallest of sticks perched on top. It all gradually faded. The yells of the excited people all around us came into focus. I was simply stunned.

Two days later, an oxygen tank explodes in the Service Module. Navy Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr., and astronaut civilians Fred W. Haise, Jr. and John L. Swigert, Jr. are all okay. Power and life-support systems are so badly damaged that a planned landing on the Moon is canceled. Then, like out of a Hollywood movie, these original Star Trekkers used the descent engine of the Lunar Module to slingshot around the Moon and back to Earth. Gradually, I too, came back to earth. In all these years the feeling never faded. It's what teenage dreams are made of. One hundred radios tuned to the same event and broadcasting live.

Thanks for the radio with a vision, Tom.

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