Thanks to Dave Montgomery for this comment. If you enjoy reading this blog, please contribute. Over 40 people daily visit this blog. Comments are rare. I can't even get a simple yes or no vote. So, please contribute. As you can see from the comment below a comment from INSIDE Cuba sparked this memory which needs to be perserved. I have heard a lot of stories of the KAAY transmitter, but I have never heard this one. Thanks again Dave.
Apropos nothing, the Cuban missile crisis comment helped me remember a day in the life of a KAAY Engineer.
Arkansas Power and Light had been asked to replace the three big pole-mounted transformers at the back of the KAAY transmitter building in Wrightsville. This would among other things help our raw AC input power consumption by providing more stable regulated AC to the transmitter inputs. Our 50kw RCA transmitter used about 135kw of raw AC input to produce its 50kw output.
AP and L showed up early one summer morning with a big truck and began the process of removing the old transformers from the poles, then they set some new stronger poles and began mounting the new larger transformers. When they were hoisting the third transformer into place, well, that’s when the accident happened.
First, though, I must digress and make the tie-in with the Cuban missile crisis.
KAAY transmitter had a monster generator set behind the building. It was HUGE and fed by an underground propane tank. The AP&L truck was parked over the spot in the ground where the propane tank was located. Felix used to tell me stories of how long the transmitter would run at full output power on that propane tank – days stretching into weeks! The underground tank was eventually replaced with an above ground tank nearby, but the underground tank was never removed from its resting spot, next to the generator set. Felix said the generator would power the transmitter during a national emergency and KAAY was designated one of the “Conelrad” stations because of its clear channel status. The generator set would also be useful in case a national emergency such as the Cuban Missile Crisis would cause the country to plunge into war. We would have power when others did not.
(KAAY also had a fallout shelter in the transmitter building, with a food and water supply - - did you know that?)
Now, back to the action: When the transformer fell off of the boom arm of the A P and L truck, it also fell through the overhead AC main line coming into the property – 14,000 volts! The main power line broke and fell across the top of the A P and L truck, and the 14,000 V electric charge on the truck’s wheels and chassis arced across the tires and caused the tires to catch fire. Eventually the diesel tanks on the truck caught fire and burned the truck to the ground.
In the meantime, the now broken AC main line was draped across the barbed wire fence surrounding the transmitter property, causing the wire fence to be charged with the same 14,000 volts! Several small grass fires broke out. All the A P and L workers were trapped inside the fence and could not leave because the fence was still electrified. One of the A P and L supervisors called the fire department by radio, and the fire trucks came, but would not put out the fire until power was removed from the broken AC main line – at the substation about 10 miles from the scene.
You can imagine the feeling when we crossed the railroad tracks at Wrightsville, and off in the distance all we could see was a huge pillar of thick black smoke coming from our transmitter building! It put a very real lump in our throats! At the time of the fire, the transmitter was running on the big generator set’s power, since all the commercial power had been methodically removed for replacement of the transformers.
The generator set’s radiator cooling fan blew “away” from its huge cabinet, so it blew some of the smoke and flame of the truck fire away from the building. Nonetheless the truck was in full blaze only a few scant feet from the back of the transmitter building. We were very concerned about the truck fire, sitting right on top of the underground propane storage tank and so close to our running – locomotive sized generator set. It could have been much worse than it was! If our generator set caught fire, it would put us off the air, and we would have a much worse situation to deal with.
There were some comical overtones to the story – one of the AP and L supervisors hopped into his pickup when the fire started, and raced around the grassy side of the building and promptly got stuck to the axles in our very soft side-yard.
There was one man on the boom truck when the accident happened. When the boom truck tires caught fire he was able to jump free from the truck’s boom operator position to the ground. In the incident no one was injured except the truck which literally burned to the ground, and KAAY listeners never lost a moment of air time!
We finally went home after dark, and the property was still swarming with A P and L supervisors and insurance investigators snapping pictures and asking a lot of questions. Somewhere in a shoe box I still have some pictures of this “day in the life”.