Monday, November 9, 2015

The Great Northeast Power Blackout. Knew it in a minute.

It was 50 years ago today

At 5:17PM on November 9, 1965 the lights went out all over New England, New York and Ontario. A lot of people suspecred the Russians were behind it. A story in today's Boston Globe says that hardly anyone knew how widespread it was until the next morning.

But I knew within a minute

Because of the radio. My aunt was having a glaucoma procedure done at Mass Eye & Ear (pronounced "the Eye-uh-Knee-uh") and was staying with us. We needed to pick up her prescription. Just after 5 my mother drove to Wellesley Square and parked at a meter in front of Clement Drug. I hopped out of the passenger seat and went in to buy it.

As the pharmacist was in the middle of ringing it up on one of those newfangled Monroe-Sweda registers that had spinning numbers - they replaced the old school National Cash Register ones that actually made the ca-ching sound - the lights went out and the numbers stopped spinning. The pharmacist said, "Ooh. I guess I didn't pay the electric bill" and took out his wallet to make change.

Then we both looked out the window and saw that all of the lights in Wellesley Square were out. "Ooh. Guess it's not just me." Being a polite teenager, I thanked him, walked out and hopped in the passenger seat of my mother's car.

What's the first thing a teenager in 1965 would do getting into a car? Turn on the radio. Our 1960 red Ford Galaxie 500 had, like most cars at the time, an AM radio with 5 buttons. The middle one was set to my favorite station, WBZ, "W-Beatle-Z, The Boss Sound of Boss-Town" and the first thing I heard was Jefferson Kaye saying that due to the power outage in Boston they were operating on an emergency generator. So this goes all the way into town.

My second favorite station was WMEX, 1510, The Home of the Good Guys. Being a radio nut even then, I guessed that Wimmex was too cheap to have an emergency generator, so I hit the 5th button and I was right. WMEX was off the air. AM radio bounces off the ionosphere, so in a situation like this an adjacent channel would come in. Which is what happened. WKBW, 1520 in Buffalo, came in clearly. Right away I heard the announcer, Dan Neavreth, say that because of the power outage across the city of Buffalo they were operating on an emergency generator. All of this happened in less than a minute.

It lasted until mid-morning

No power all night, no power when we woke up. But school wasn't canceled. With no power they had no way to cancel it. Power finally came back on around 10:30AM.

And for years to come people would ask...

where were you when the lights went out? But it's hard to beat my knew-it-in-a-minute story...thanks to the radio.

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