Friday, June 24, 2011

The Building, Per Dave M.

Seeing the transmitter building brings back so many memories. What a sad thing to see it in disrepair and decay. When it's gone, it's gone, and there's "no coming back", except for the memories. Here are some notes just off the top of my fading memory and bald noggin':

When it was built in the early '50's, FCC regulations required the transmitter be staffed every hour it was on the air. Also, the FCC did not allow remote control of the 50kW's for fear that something in the great cosmic would cause them to run wild and create who-knows-what havoc.

So, when this building was designed, it included a full apartment on the 2nd floor. The thinking was that there was room for at least one engineer to live here, full time.

On the far end of the building (the east end) was where the apartment was, on the second floor, along side the transmitter itself. There was a spacious living room, a fully equipped kitchen and bath, and a private bedroom. I don't remember anyone actually living in the building, although it's possible that someone did prior to the late '60's. Felix lived in his own house west of the transmitter property.

As time marched on, the bedroom (southeast corner, 2nd floor) evolved into a dry storage area. All sorts of second hands and discards began to collect there. Then when the Harris transmitter was brought in (early '80's) the living room (northeast corner, 2nd floor) was sacrificed to make room for the additional equipment.

On the northwest corner of the second floor was the chief engineer's office. It had an angular wall with large picture window that overlooked the main transmitter room. Felix kept a desk there, but it was usually not occupied, as Felix was busy tending the property and other things.

On the southwest corner was a large workshop area the opened out into the rear of the transmitter through one of the interlocked doors in the "cage".

The bottom floor held the blower room and the fallout shelter. The blower room had a filtered fresh air intake, which was used in the warm months. During cold months, the fresh air intake was closed off and air intake was from inside the building, using recirculated warm air. The transmitter provided enough heat to keep the building warm on all but the very coldest days. If the building got too warm on a winter day, we would open a window to regulate temperature inside the building.

The fallout shelter was typical of the '50's - a fully enclosed room with concrete walls, a steel door, and power. During the cold war, barrels of US Government provisions were kept there in case someone needed to stay there during nuclear war.

Out back was the generator set. The generator was powered by propane, and an underground tank** held enough fuel to run the transmitter at full power for about 30 days. The fallout shelter also had a small audio console, a microphone, and telephone lines so that "emergency information" could be broadcast. KAAY was designated as one of the clear channel emergency radio stations that the government would use in the event of a national emergency.

The underground propane tank was eventually replaced with an above-ground propane tank, located near the southwest corner of the building.

The building's front door (second floor, north side) was a double wide doorway. Felix told me that that's how the modulation transformer was brought into the building when the transmitter was being assembled by RCA engineers. In day to day operation, one side was kept locked, and only the other side was used for entry and exit.

On the west end of the building was an inside stairway used to go between upstairs and downstairs. During cool weather this stairwell was also the warm air return to the blower room, and there was usually a nice warm breeze blowing here on a cold winter day.



  1. Thank you, Dave, for reminding me of the glory that was once that building in Wrightsville. 'Course, I don't know whether to smile now or cry some more.

    And would it have been such a bad thing if those 50-gallon transmitters somehow DID run wild back when? I can think of one big ol' RCA that wouldn't have DARED get too far out of line, lest Felix J. McDonald show up with his whoopin' stick.


  2. Hollis W. DuncanJune 24, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    KTHS Chief Engineer Cecil Suitt and his wife Mary lived at the KTHS-KAAY transmitter site in the 1950s. Their bedroom was behind the original equipment racks and now behind the Harris MW-50. Cecil was Chief Engineer of KTHV-TV for many years and retired in the early 1980s. Cecil was a very nice man.

    Cecil makes an appearance in Ray Poindexter's Arkansas Airwaves as a transmitter operator at KTHS in Hot Springs.