HARTFORD RADIO HISTORY
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WTIC-TV Engineering 1984

The information below was provided by Charles Fitch, WTIC-TV's first Chief Engineer.  Scroll down for pictures.

Memory is a strange thing.

By Charles S. Fitch, P.E.

 

(written originally on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of WTIC-TV)

 

I can remember the day I got out of the military as if it were ten minute ago. When I walked out of the separation building into the clear El Paso sunlight, the feeling of rebirth was all over me.  I can recall exactly the location and shape of every cloud, every person who got out with me and every beautiful smile. Somehow or other we had survived the Viet Nam conflict and our whole lives were ahead of us.

 

Little did I know that my being spared was so that 13 years later I could arrive in Hartford to direct some very expensive engineering and construction as well as to create another personal vivid memory.

 

Today, Sunday the 17th (’89), I know exactly where I was, what I did and what happened five years ago to change the shape of the Hartford TV dial forever.

 

I first met Arnold Chase who was and is the principle driving force behind the station in early October 83.  At that time the whole project was very embryonic with the most tangible asset being the construction permit from the FCC that allowed the station to get started.  Nothing had been built.

 

He quickly convinced me that this was the grand project I had been born to do and two weeks later my wife, two daughters and myself had come from Philadelphia to begin.

 

On my starting day a meeting was scheduled about 15 minutes after I walked in the door and it was the first of so many that I was soon known by the staff as “Mr. Meeting”.

 

Construction would begin soon enough culminating with the last wire being connected 20 minutes before sign-on festivities.

 

My job was essentially divided in half.

 

The first half was to direct traffic and make sure that all of the extraordinary talent and energy possessed by the gifted people who worked on the station was used in the right place and order.

 

The second half was to make engineering and ergometric decisions.  These would be made one after another, each dovetailing into what had been decided before until the complexity of things was mind-boggling.  My day book records 5700 separate determinations ranging from whether there would be a speaker in the bathroom off the engineering areas with station sound on it so that one could tell if the station was still on the air while taking a break . . . to the color of the cinder block on the transmitter building . . . to the capacity of the diesel tanks . . . to how many miles of cable should be ordered . . . to how thick the gold should be on the contact surfaces of all the connections.

 

WTIC GEE WHIZ LIST

 

First TV station in American build from the ground up for stereo audio.

 

At the time it was the nation’s most powerful TV station and is still the largest combined TV RF generator on line in the country.

 

The station used the first omni directional waveguide UHF antenna. .. at these power levels a new design antenna was needed to operate with some level of confidence.

 

The transmitter was also the first build explicitly for stereo and the new technologies included second language broadcast.  A beta site double cavity diplexer was part of this installation.

 

Since the transmitter is actually two separate transmitters operating in parallel and there is a standby antenna at 650 feet in addition to the main at 1350 feet, there was two of everything from the beginning to the end of the system including a complete back up air conditioning system at the studio.

 

There is 1.5 Megawatts of standby diesel generators with nearly a three day supply of diesel fuel on hand so that the station can operate through three days of power failure.

 

During testing the station did the first stereo broadcast in New England.

 

The studio has extra heavy reinforced steel floors which are in two areas capable of 350 pounds per square foot.  This is to support the concentrated weight of 10s of thousands of hours of programming stored on video tape and film.

 

To preserve this programming “the vaults” are stabilized at 74 degrees F and 60% relative humidity.

 

 

 

People have asked me what magic the 17th of September had that it was chosen as premier day.  Aside from the fact that it is Arnold’s wedding anniversary and my mother’s birthday, this was the first date we had a possibility of being ready AND the ballroom at the Parkview Hilton was available.  Many limiting factors were at force here and we were literally caught between a saga, a klystron, a president and a ballroom.

 

A saga because the exclusive run contract on “Centennial”, which was our

 special opening programming special, expired in late September, a klystron(s) because the limited production of our special output tubes in the transmitter made it doubtful we would get them in time, a president because his schedule brought him to New England for only a few days and a ballroom because it would need the whole staff of the hotel and there ware severe scheduling penalties in this area.

 

Technically this opening show was a big deal and too big for a fledgling TV station to try as its initial gambit.

 

My mother once told me “…when in doubt, hire out” and we did.  ESPN provided their BIG (make that immense) six camera NFL TV van and crew and they treated our gala like a superbowl game less the slo-mo.

 

What a shindig . . . the Hartford Symphony in one of their rare appearances as a house band, President Carter, Eddie Albert as MC (who single handedly gave the station four alternate sets of call letters) and a cast of thousands, literally, were there.

 

The plan called for the continuous running of 20 minute promotion tape during the day that punched up our programming and a forthcoming 7 pm “live gala grand opening event”.

 

Now the TV audience only knows about any station from what it sees and hears on their TV sets. To make sure this thing came off with the minimum of mistakes and so we wouldn’t get too much egg on our face, everyone of my staff was stationed where they could do the most good in case of disaster.

 

Every TV station in the country has a master control room (MCR) which is the final funnel and switch point for everything that goes on the air.  WTIC is no exception.  However in 1984 we had build the most automated control room imaginable and literally one person could control everything in the station from this consolidated nerve center.

 

Dave Coleman was MCR operator that night because three months ahead of time he had asked if he could have the position on WTIC’s inauguration evening.  He told me he wanted to be able to tell his grand kids about it.  I loved that line since Dave hadn’t even met anyone he remotely wanted to marry at his old age of 24.

 

The MCR was also my command location.

 

Joe D’Adesse (now with the engineering management at Channel 8) was in charge of the telecine/tape room (the second requisite position) only because he asked me 5 minutes too late for the MCR slot.

 

The programming department manager, Dave Ehrlick, took care of the show from the ESPN van.  They gave us a video (picture) signal and the first stereo audio from a live broadcast of any consequence in Hartford.  This ran through the hotel on a cable to the fifth floor where our little portable TV microwave relay transmitter was aimed out of a hotel room window.

 

This unit had arrived by air express late the day before (stereo ones were still kind of rare) and had been tested in the adjacent room just aimed at the window towards the roof of One Commercial Center.  The president’s Secret Service people who arrived on the 17th needed that room so they gave us the one next to it.

 

From the new room my people told me it didn’t work and there was no signal at One Commercial where our microwave input was located.

 

In case the microwave didn’t arrive or other problems developed as contingency we had 5000 feet of cable to hang on phone and light poles from the hotel back to the studio.  We had just enough time to do it.

 

However, based on a similar experience a few years earlier, I asked them to open the window and try again.  This would require the hotel staff to remove the window case.  They did and it worked.  Neither Superman’s vision nor microwave likes to go through lead tint.

 

Microwaves obey optical principles so the microwave transmit and receive antennas have to be aimed carefully at each other.  Up on the roof of One Commercial I had Eric Pile standing by to make sure that the receive antenna of the microwave was kept aligned in the breezes that blow across the city continually at the level of 28 floors.

 

Based on some wild hair raising events doing live TV in Philadelphia I had learned the hard way that any picture is always better than no picture.  To avoid that dreaded possibility up on that very same roof I had Bob Lucket (again now with channel 8) up there with a camera to get us big shots of the city as we went through September twilight as well as to provide us an establishment shot of the Parkview Hotel to make the transition to that location.

 

We could also use this shot to cover if the whole thing fell apart since we had audio from the remote available on the regular telephone (God bless SNET).  We would run the big shot and the phone if need be.

 

About 30 minutes before air time during one of the few moments the phone was not used in MCR Bob called in and asked us how we loved all of the beautiful pictures he was sending us. 

 

We hadn’t seen any pictures and assumed Bob had shut down to conserve batteries.

 

I went down to the terminal room, which is like the great central exchange of all the signals in the station, to check what was going on. His pictures weren’t there either.

 

As we built the station every wire connected was highlighted on its related blueprint in red.  The drawing for the terminal room was all red except for this little bitty twenty foot run of video cable form where the signal from Bob arrived in the room from the roof and where it entered the big switching system.

 

Much of this high tech equipment was late arriving from the beginning and so my people began filling their open time by making “spare” cables of every type and gender.  So here I was in my tuxedo (my wife, Maryann, and I were going to the Parkview dinner after the show) fishing a run of this “spare” cable down in the computer floor between the two points.

 

Voile!! Once connected it worked and Bob’s pictures proved that Hartford is truly a beautiful city.

 

One of the first pieces to be made was last to go in. The station was truly complete 20 minutes before air.

 

I wondered back down the hall to the crowded MCR and joined my wife and most of my people that weren’t going to the gala.  Many of these individuals would work all night (and many more nights) to get the programming and the station ready for the days that followed or would sign back on at 5 the next morning for WTIC’s first complete regular day of broadcast.

 

The promo tape ended a bit early and we sat on a glorious static shot of the city from Bob waiting for exactly 7 pm which finally came and Dave gave the push button command to play the station identification on air to begin it all.

 

It didn’t happen.

 

One of the $250,000  tape machines that played back commercials and short program elements had decided on its own to disconnect itself from MCR.  The thing only has 85,000 transistors in it and on occasion would do funny things.

 

Everyone was so excited that our moment of glory had arrived that Dave couldn’t get anyone’s attention to put it into “remote mode” again.  I was on the other side of the room asking the manufacturer’s engineers at the transmitter site to add some more sync and couldn’t get through the crowd.

 

The launch of our 12 million dollar station had to wait for Dave to dash into the next room to push a button.

 

Then suddenly it was those blue skys of El Paso all over again.

 

Gone was the preoccupation with system concerns.  In general my whole life had been an apprentiship for this job and my work over the last months had brought me to this moment.

 

All of us had come to the culmination of one man’s dream, the end product of so many wonderful talented peoples’ efforts. In this elegant elaborate studio plant new television was beginning and out there on a mountain the nation’s largest and most powerful transmitter plant was sending it out to three states.

 

It was the real station on the real air going into real homes of millions of people who were watching the start of something that hadn’t happened in Hartford for at least 27 years …

 

The birth, the beginning of a new and extraordinary TV station.

 

Five years is an eternity in Broadcasting and during that time many more hard working special people have put their stamp of excellence on this station.  My original staff is all dispersed now and almost without exception has gone on to make their individual imprint on the industry.

 

WTIC-TV has fulfilled its promise and it is a station Hartford can be proud of . . . truly one of America’s great independents and a constant credit to all of us that had a part in its renaissance.


Transmitter building under construction on Rattlesnake Mountain.


Tower sections arriving.


Tower stub being set in place.


Channel 61's antenna arriving.


External radiators for the two giant generators.


220,000 watts of UHF power!


Rear of transmitters.


Master Control - 1984


Terminal Room.


Looking down at the studio.

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