Saturday, January 29, 2011

Challenger - 25 Years Ago

25 years ago, news anchor Bob Walker and I sat in a small studio at the ABC Radio News facility at 125 West End Avenue just of 66th Street in New York City. I was engineering Bob's coverage of a now routine Space Shuttle launch. Our only companion was a color TV tuned to NASA select and the voice of Vic Ratner from the Cape. It was to be a quick optional drop-in broadcast only if stations wanted to take it.

Bob and I looked across the studio glass from each other while watching the NASA feed shaking our heads. As NASA rotated from one camera position to another, we saw nothing but huge icicles and frost. We agreed the launch would never go up and we would be off the air in minutes. We were dumbfounded when we heard the launch would continue as scheduled.

Up it went and then it suddenly disappeared into the sky. Just a plume of smoke was seen. No one knew what to say. Bob covered brilliantly with grace as he and Vic described the debris falling slowly from the sky. As we sat stunned, NASA's feed had gone mute. After what felt like ten minutes, a lone NASA voice came on and said 'We have had an event.'

For the next six hours, Bob and I created headline news. Bob anchored, on-the-fly, a live news event featuring commentary from remotes from all over the world. I felt as if we were doing election night coverage. We had so many correspondents calling in. I remember running out of mix-minus positions on the Ward-Beck console so each correspondent could report while hearing everyone else but themselves.

Just after dinner time, another engineer, Charlie Rapp, relieved me off the console. I remember still hearing Bob Walker continue on the air during my drive home. There was good reason he was a pivotal anchor for the ABC Information Network. Walker really knew his business and how to put on a show. Bob, and the massive team of seasoned ABC correspondents, created classic radio that afternoon. How they could create detailed pictures with their voices! This was radio at its best!

After 25 years, I still wince and feel cold when I think of that day. I was proud to be a small part of this historic broadcast. May we remember and honor the Challenger crew today. May they rest in peace.

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