First-Hand:Radio, TV, and Life in War and Peace

Submitted by Rowland Medler

The war intervened and I took two moonlighting jobs; teaching basic electronics at a local trades college and teaching an electronics course under the Engineering Science and Management War Training Act at what is now the East Tennessee State University.

When my draft number came up, the military drafted me, the teacher, although my students had been deferred for the thirty-nine week course. In disgust I volunteered to the Navy and promptly flunked the physical exam due to an old hernia suffered in the cotton mill. The draft board was standing on the depot platform when the train returned me home. I was promptly hustled off screaming and kicking to Chattanooga to be inducted.

Due to unconventional answers regarding questions and demands for swearing allegiance to anyone wearing a tin sign on his collar, I was classified as a conscientious objector. I was now hustled off to medical basic training in Little Rock, Arkansas. I couldn't then and still can't pitch a sore thumb. However, I still did go through five battle zones in the Pacific as a Private First Class (P.F.C.) in reprisal for my stubborn attitude. That was long before it was popular to conscientiously object to war, but in the same circumstances, I'd do it again.

However, this wasn't as bleak an assignment as it could have been. It seems the military had ways of talking out of both sides of their mouths. I was put on temporary duty to the Signal Corps and assigned to a group setting up signal supply depots all up the chain of Pacific Islands.

Since this was considered combat duty, they shuffled my papers to a Special Services outfit. I turned out, as a P.F.C., to be in charge of depot and repair shop facilities staffed by those up through full Colonel. During "spare time," I built the first of a chain of broadcast stations in the islands from battle fatigue junk. This grew into the Armed Forces Radio Service. Upon Japanese capitulation, I applied for rescindment of the Commanding Officer status and made five advancements in rank in three days. This was also an infraction of Army S.O.P (Standard Operating Procedure).

The guideline for these papers suggests we include our biggest goof. Mine is easy to define. On return from the Army, I opted not to accept GI Bill education. I was so violently sick of the military I didn't want to ever see another insignia, much less sign my name to papers containing Army logo.

In retrospect that was a mistake, but in the same circumstances I'd do it again. And the outcome was good in the long run. It let me pick up my job where I left off and even better, at thirty-three years old, marry the girl of my dreams and start my family. Forty-one years later, I wouldn't swap my happy home and three beautiful daughters for all the GI Bills on earth. However, it's a pity that both courses weren't possible simultaneously.

And the station continued to grow. We soon went into TV and the pains of that emerging technology. Man, what a hassle! But through the years of falling towers, managerial threats of bankruptcy, and moves to higher mountain top locations, the station thrived and was recently sold for probably a hundred times the original investment plus the regular profits.

On the resignation of my mentor, the Chief Engineer of WJHL/AM/FM/TV, O.K. Garland, I inherited his job. I learned much about his reasons for resignation and, after twenty years with that corporation, decided to follow his footsteps in 1958. An opening came at the University of Florida for the beginning of a new so called "educational" TV station. I applied and went there at a considerable cut in pay as their first transmitter engineer. What I thought would be some slowdown wasn't. In a few years, while Communications Engineer of this outfit, I had my first heart attack. Thank God it wasn't permanently fatal. It became the most relevant lesson in my life, i.e. what is important and what isn't!

However, I very soon drifted back into the habits of doing what isn't important instead of, as Engineering Manager, delegating the authority and labor to those I considered least competent than myself. I goofed again and under the same circumstances would probably do it all over. I requested a demotion to Communications Engineer.

But our guidelines request a note of our greatest accomplishment. Well, our local consultant, Bill Kessler, gave me the news that there was a e5 KW TV transmitter available for the asking at WBBM in Chicago. (They had moved from the American National Bank Building over to the swank new site in the John Hancock Building.) I bit. And I worked.

I was given a week's leave to go on this small errand with the provision I make up forty hours of shift time in repayment. Actually that was a bargain, since I was regularly working sixty hours of shift time per week in addition to the office and administrative duties of the "managership." We took down thirteen tons of that old water cooled rig from the thirty-ninth floor in passenger type elevators and had it hauled to Gainesville, Florida.

The transmitter had been through two Chicago winters in an unheated area and the water cooling system had several freeze cracks. It was on channel 2 and we were channel 5. General Electric said it wasn't possible, not to mention practical, to note the channel in the field. So, complete with trusty hacksaw and torch I did it.

My budget for the project was zero. It came out of pocket or from whatever I could scrounge in material and labor from campus cohorts. On completion of the installation, I reported to the General Manager that we were ready for Proof of Performance inspection and was refused the use of a consultant engineer. So I did it myself and did the needed FCC paper work for licensing. So help me, I didn't cheat. The rig passed with flying colors and in living color, too. Thus, WUFT was for the first time a full power, 100 KW TV station.

My only comment from the General Manager was, "Rollo, a university has no business with a full power TV station." While I consider this the climax of my accomplishments, under the same circumstances I probably would NOT do it again. Or, at the very least, I would insist on repayment for my Chicago hotel bill. I might also insist that the university wheels override our manager's refusal to write WBBM's management a letter of acceptance and thanks so they could obtain a tax deduction.

So, in 1980, after twenty-two years with WUFT, four assignments and relinquishments as "Engineering Manager," with never being given the authority to manage anything, I became eligible for early retirement. I jumped at the life saving opportunity. Under the same circumstances, I'd probably do it again. The past eight years have been the best of my life.

Our suggested agendas for these treatises doesn't include a request for advice to our younger followers. So, in my typical contrary manner I'll give advice anyhow. It's simple: Get that piece of paper! A college degree, in the eyes of a prospective employer, is worth a lifetime of hard experience. You'll stumble into the experience as you muddle along. But it's doubtful you'll stumble into the degree.

In my case, the difference, over the years, has probably amounted to half a million dollars. You may, like me, end up with a clear conscience and an internal feeling of great accomplishment; however, it won't show to anybody except those with persistence enough to read reports like this one.