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Contributed by: Dave Delage
Contributed on: November 16, 2002

Which blackout(s) did you experience?
1965 (Great Northeast Blackout)

In your own words, tell the story of your experience in the blackout(s). Try to recall specific events and the people, places, and things involved; also include more general reactions, images adn last impressions?
I was a the control engineer during the Blackout and surprisingly as a 23 year old relatively new employee assumed a great deal of responsibility. I suppose I was the most technical person around and, by nature, a take charge kind of guy, but I look back in astonishment at a night that still causes enormous emotions when I think about it.

The following is from an email I sent to www.wdrcobg.com (a nostalgia site dedicated to WDRC, Hartford). It doesn't begin to explain the internal terror that occurred just after the "fix it" reaction and before we knew the real story.


... And, of course, the NorthEast Blackout. Long John was on the air, I was on the board when the FM alarm went off about 5 PM. I spun the FM remote control and got nothing that made any sense, said the heck with it who listens to FM anyway, this is drive time, take care of business. (It turns out that the major AC power feed to New England comes thru Meriden, thus FM failed first). Turned around and resumed working with Long John and looked at him and said, "Are the lights getting dimmer in here?" Looked at the AM Power Meter and over the next 5-10 minutes watched it slowly drop as the power stations between Meriden and Hartford slowly failed trying to supply the overload. Finally, AM too went off the air. Waited a bit for the generator to come on, it didn't. Turns out it was the first cold day of the season and the generator's oil heaters had been disconnected for the summer, so the starter ground down the battery but never started the engine.

I went into the office area and put what office staff we had on the phones, one to a line. The phones worked, they just didn't ring or light up. The staff spent the next half hour, picking up the phone, talking to a listener, putting the phone down, counting all the way up to 1, then picking up the phone and repeating the loop. I used the private line to call a wrecker who came and got the generator going and we went back on the air with our 1 kW backup transmitter. Meanwhile the news guys were calling around and had reasonable info that the problem was a New York and New England one. But we still didn't know if a bomb had dropped!!

Got a call on the private line from Wayne Mulligan who said that, "Springfield has gone on EBS." In those days that was a VERY scary message (i.e.. the BOMB). After all, our teletype had been down as well, so had our "EBS" receiver tuned to WTIC. After 10-15 minutes of frantic trying I finally got thru to the station in Springfield. Their response was, "Well, it's an emergency isn't it." Unfortunately, disembowelment is a difficult thing to accomplish over a phone.

Eventually we went back up to 5 kW, stayed on the air all night instead of going off at 1 AM. Thanks to the news guys and our relationships with WNEW and the Buckley-Jaeger (or allied) stations in St. Louis and California (perhaps elsewhere), we had good information reasonably fast. I remember that someone went out and bought hamburgers (perhaps at Friendly's) and many of those and many of the staff were still around in the morning.

The entire email is at http://www.wdrcobg.com/feedback.html

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
The inevitable 'one step back' after we've taken 2 or more steps forward.

Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
1965 only

Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
I didn't experience 1977, so can't speak to it.

The blackout was significant because it was REAL news as opposed to 'somebody won/sombody lost', 'the stock market is up/the stock market is down', etc. It affected a lot of lives and, at least in 1965, showed how good we could be.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Part of growing up. More gray hairs. More understanding of who I was and who I could be. I nice story to tell my grandkids.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
A sigh of relief, the full scope was a whole lot less than I thought possible.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
In "Normal" power failures I wait for someone else to act (except for reaching for a flash light.)

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't con Edison. Old joke, sorry. Con-Ed is just of bunch of nice people doing the best they can.

Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
No

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
No

How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
No effect / same reliance

This is how the story goes: In November of 1965 the lights went out in New York and crime rates temporarily dropped; there were widespread reports of extraordinary cooperation and trust between strangers caught together in the power failure. In July of 1977, little more than a decade later, the lights went out again in New York. This time, a devastating wave of looting and arson broke out. Does this story ring true to you? Explain why or why not:
A gorgeous, blond woman can walk a block in a bad neighborhood once safely, the shock value protects her. Not twice.

Cite as: Dave Delage, Story #188, The Blackout History Project, 16 November 2002, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/188/>.
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