GETTING THE JOB (1976)
After being laid off from WRC / NBC in Washington D.C., I started looking around for another job. I was indeed unemployed. I even went down to the Employment Office and applied for unemployment insurance. I was surprised that they would pay me for being out of work.
I actually wanted to go back to NBC as I knew a bunch of people there and they all wanted me to work there.
I eventually heard that they needed some help at PBS. At that time, I didn't know anyone there, but Mike Galvin, the supervisor of the construction department at NBC had given me a glorious recommendation. I went there and applied.
The construction department at PBS was run by Pat Clinch. Pat was a big man. He was friendly and acted like he really wanted me to join the team. PBS at that time was given a bunch of government money to build up the network side of things. Unlike NBC, PBS was not allowed to generate any programming, just distribute it.
My tour there for my interview was amazing. It was located in the basement of the postal services building in Washington D.C.. There, deep in the bowls of this government building in L'Enfant Plaza, they had set up the newest video tape facility I had ever seen. On top of all that, they had the largest number of 2" video tape machines I had ever seen as well. At least a dozen Ampex AVR-1 VTRs lined the walls of the tech center.
BUILDING THE FIRST TELEVISON SATELLITE NETWORK
Our job was going to be to install the interconnect system for remote control, a routing switcher, the base stations and computerized control rooms. Unlike the other network control room and distribution systems of the day, it was about 1976, PBS was taking a new approach.
Typically a network system would feed the phone company a signal and the phone company would feed it to all the affiliates. The system was a huge "round robin". It would pass through various of our affiliates and even eventually get back to us. At NBC I became familiar with this type of system, but I knew it was the technology of the time. We always knew just where the system was broken, because that affiliate would have no signal to feed on down the pipe. I was always amazed to see the send and return busses on our router at NBC. The signal didn't look half bad.
When the signal needed to be delayed for other time zones, there were feed points around the network that would record the signal and play it back an hour, two or even three hours later. This was expensive and troublesome. PBS had a better idea.
PBS, being the new network on the block, had started establishing the same delay center and telco hookups that the other networks had. This was essential as the network needs of the publicly owned system were growing like crazy.
Since it was possible to buy satellite channels easily now, someone came up with the idea of leasing four dedicated channels and feeding them all from a central point. It was felt that they would save a ton of money and that the technology was now in place to automate the entire system. This would mean that each time zone would be re-fed on a different channel. The luxury of the whole thing was that anyone could receive any of the four channels, making it possible for local stations to take any one of the four feeds they felt would best serve their local market. A PBS Link about the satellite.
So, the problem was, design a distribution system that could feed all four transponders from L'Enfant Plaza.
The microprocessor had just come out. The 8008 was alive and well at PBS. At that time, there was barely any mini computers, let alone microcomputers. The personnel computer was not even heard of.
PBS had a computer center full of DEC PDP-1160 and a PCP-1170. All were accessible by many of the people at PBS by 9600 baud terminal. All programming and Liberia stuff was to be done on these systems.
Shortly after I started at PBS, the TRS-80 and the IMSAI 8008 computers came out. Little software was available, but the engineers at PBS saw this as a wonderful way to make a state of the art facility that would be upgradeable and flexible.
So, I took the job. I needed to work, but I really didn't want to work in the construction department. The guy head of operations, didn't have an opening at that time, but he told me I would be considered as soon as one came up.
When I first started, there was hardly anyone else in the department, though we expected to hire several others. There were, however, two part time military guys. These guys would come in on Saturdays and help wire things. I was the first full time tech.
Within a year, the construction department was in full operation. Doug Hall had come to PBS from a station in Virginia. Larry Jessup came from operations and the rest came from various "non-technical" jobs mostly outside of broadcasting.
THE GREEN AND BLUE TEAMS
In order for us to organize, Pat set up two teams, the Green Team and the Blue Team. I was the Green Team leader and Larry was the Blue Team Leader. Pat felt that we would compete in some fashion that would be beneficial to the company.
Pat Clinch's was a dedicated Amway salesman and bought many of Amway motivational and sales philosophies to our organization. He would even try to sell us soap from time to time. I actually liked the laundry soap, it was low cost and concentrated. I liked most things that were little and went a long way. Mostly the rest of the guys would avoid Amway conversations with Pat. I guess they didn't know good laundry soap when they saw it.
PBS was patterned technically after CBS. Dan Wells, the president of the technical division, was from CBS and he brought this book with him that had everything in it. Between Dan Wells and Pat was Bob McCormick also came from CBS. Quickly, I learned the ways of CBS. Most of these ways I liked. Things like rack installations, power distribution, sync distribution, multi-conductor cable configurations, etc. The only thing I didn't like was the fact that many of these rules didn't work so well with the newer equipment. But that was OK, I still learned allot from Pat, Bob, and some of the other guys.
PITCHLESS THREADED ROD
This is a story that I have told so many times that some would believe that it was the only thing that ever happened to me while at PBS
Our shop helper was sort of a wise guy. I really don't remember his name. The technical operation of PBS was interconnected by large aluminum cable ladder. The cable ladder was hung from the ceiling from 3/8 inch threaded rod. As a result, we were in need of a large number of 3 foot pieces of threaded rod.
Cutting threaded rod was a bit of a trick. If you screwed it up, it was difficult to install the nuts that were required to hang the rod, and attach the cable ladder. To help with this problem, it was our policy to screw a couple of nuts on the rod, clamp the nuts in a vice, cut the rod with a hacksaw, then unscrew the nuts, which would straighten out the "bunged" up threads.
The shop helper was standing in the shop one day, attempting to screw a nut on a 6 foot piece of 3/8" threaded rod. I walked by a few times. Each time I did, he was still there with the same rod. Finally I stopped him and inquired what the difficulty was. He said:
"I can't get a nut on this rod!!!"
Of course, I as a senior tech, could show him a thing or two. So I took the rod from him and attemped to screw on the nut myself. I tried and tried. The nut would not go on.
Upon examination, we discovered that there was no pitch to this rod. It was purchased in a bundle with many other rods that were normal. Just this one, was "pitchless". What do I mean by "pitchless"? I mean that each thread just went around the rod and was connected to itself on the other side. Now, have you ever heard of such a thing? None of us had. As a matter of fact, it made us all wonder how threaded rod was manufactured. We always assumed that it was threaded using a die like a bolt. This rod was proof that that was not the technique. None of us could ever decide how this piece of rod was made.
I have told this story many times, and nobody I have told it to can explain how threaded rod is made.
I would love to hear from you if you think you can answer this 18 year old question.
HOLDING THE ROPE
While thinking of the shop helper, I remember another short story. The technical part of PBS was located in P2 in the basement of the Postal Services building. There was a long hall that ran the length of the building. One day while walking the length of the floor, I walked by the tape library. There I saw our shop tech holding a rope that went up into the cable ladder hanging from the ceiling. The cable ladder ran parallel with the hall way through various other areas. I was going to the lunch room which was at the far end of the building. As I walked I wondered why the helper was holding the rope so tight. Down the hall I expected to see some other activity like people attaching wires to the rope that would then be pulled down the ladder. I saw nothing. Finally I got into the lunch room. There sitting, having a break, was the entire remainder of the shop staff. I laughed and asked what the helper was doing. Then they all started to laugh. I was then taken to the last room in the hall. There they had tied the rope to something and told him to "hold it tight", then they all went on break. So, there he stood…..
I always think about the parking at PBS when people that work for me complain about parking problems. Basically, we had a few spaces in the garage level of the United States Postal Services Building, in which PBS was a tenant on the 10th floor and P2 levels. Most of us had to park about a mile away. This was not too bad for those that came to work at regular hours, 9 to 5, but for those of us in D&I (design and implementation), our boss, Pat Clinch, wanted to drive in later, say 10:00 or so. Pat said it was because he didn't want to drive in traffic. We all thought it was because he had Amway deliveries to make in the morning. The bottom line was, Pat had parking in the building and we all didn't. There was a shuttle from 7:30 to 8:30 or so, and one eight hours later. Because of our late hours, we had to walk.
Now remember, this is Washington D.C. D.C. had nice weather two times a year; about two weeks in the fall and about two weeks in the spring. Eastern shore people used to always say they liked the change of seasons. I used to say that they only liked the change of seasons because they always wanted the current season to change.
This walk from the lower parking lot was typically awful. It was up a long hill, across a bridge that crossed a fairly large river, across L'Enfant Plaza, show your ID at the front door of the Postal Services Building, take an elevator to the P2 level, and you were finally there. You were either frozen, drinched with sweat or soaking wet because of the rain. I HATED IT.
Some of us, in the evening, would ride down the hill in the shuttle and bring a car up to give the rest of us rides to the parking lot later when we would get off. By then there was usually a space opened up.
As I moved up the ranks, I got my own parking space in the garage and I became the one that helped shuttle the other guys back and forth to the lower lot. If anyone reads this and remembers what we called that lot, write to me at <email@example.com>.
The Coveted Parking Permit
I remember one winter day, it was bitterly cold. I was walking across that bridge. The river was frozen below, the wind was blowing strong, and I was not really dressed for extended time in arctic weather. When I was in the middle of that bridge, I was shivering until my teeth were chattering. It was the coldest I can ever remember being. I was not sure how much colder a human could take it, but I knew I was close to that point. I looked down to the ice below on the river and thought that I could just jump and end it all. I would't be cold any longer. Anyway, I didn't jump.
This was the closest I ever came in my life to suicide. I am not sure
how serious I was even to this day. Sounds stupid, I know, but I WAS REALLY
COLD. Therefore, another reason to move back to California, which I did
a few months later.
I only have a few pictures of two of our "temporary" control rooms.
Click Here for the PBS Photo Album
Click Here To See The PBS Home Page
If you are one of the original "PBSers" and have some other historical pictures, I would love to include them here !
Write To Me !!
PBS Construction Department (1976-1979)
SOME OF THE OTHER GUYS
TOPICS I WILL GET INTO LATER
Larry Jessup (Still at PBS
The Wild Man (Still at PBS)
Keith Elsworth (Still at PBS)
The Shop Assistant
THE GUN !
Dialing into the computer system.
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