January 28, 1986 (30 years ago on the day of this post) is a day I will never forget. I was almost 19 years old, interested in becoming a radio broadcaster, and in the early part of the second of two semesters at the then-New England School of Broadcasting (NESB) in Bangor, Maine. What was, at the time, a 1-year radio and TV broadcasting program has turned into a 4-year + juggernaut of a communications program with the New England School of Communications (NESCom).
I was working part-time in the mornings at the McDonald’s about a mile from Husson College in Bangor (my class was the first one situated at Husson; NESCom and Husson College have since merged into Husson University), when Joe, one of my classmates, walked in for his traditional 3 Quarter Pounders (I still don’t know how the hell he did that), and told me that the NASA space shuttle Challenger had blown up. I told him to stop kidding around, but it was no joke.
Not long after that, I made my way back to Husson, and everyone was glued to the TV. And remember – this is 1986, so it was NBC, CBS, ABC and CNN and that was pretty much it – no internet or other 24-hour cable news outlets to switch to.
Our classes were held at night, and the primary thing we did that night was to compare the coverage each of the 3 major networks had of the disaster. Over and over and over again. I was sick to my stomach. I’ll never get that image out of my head as long as I live. This was the first big, non-family tragic event of my lifetime and it hit me. I wasn’t born when JFK died, and I was 34 when 9/11 happened.
During the 2 semesters at NESB from September 1985 through May 1986, our on-air training took place at the mighty WHSN, also located at Husson. (FUN SIDE NOTE: our General Manager at WHSN was the future and wildly popular Sgt. Tim Cotton of the Bangor Police Department. Have you heard about their equally popular Facebook page? Its success is most likely because of Tim, er, Sgt. Cotton).
The ol’ memory might be a bit hazy (an understatement in itself), but I believe our on-air training / internship at NESB was comprised of one weekly DJ shift at WHSN (playing adult contemporary music – more on that experience another time; these days they proudly tout themselves as “Bangor’s Rock Alternative”), and one weekly morning news shift, where we would be responsible for collecting and reading the news, sports and weather for the DJ who was on the air that morning (again, keep in mind this was a good 10 years before the internet started becoming a big deal).
The one weekday morning I didn’t work at McDonald’s was the day of the week I was responsible for the morning news (from 10:00am-noon?) at WHSN. My news shift happened to fall on the morning following the Challenger disaster. It was the hardest newscast I ever had to do, and it was my most difficult moment in radio until the broadcast of the STUCK IN THE 80s 9/11 show, STUCK IN ATROCITIES, 15 years later (more on that another time, too).
A couple of years after the disaster, in 1988, the wonderful alt-punk Leeds, England band, The Mekons, released their seventh studio album, SO GOOD IT HURTS (an album true to its name). I didn’t get into The Mekons until WAY LATER than I should have, but once I did, there was no turning back. I’m still learning about them.
Today’s “song of the day” comes from SO GOOD IT HURTS – “Ghosts Of American Astronauts.”
This lush and gorgeous track concentrates more on John Glenn and Apollo 11, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the Challenger disaster, but it made me think about it – and those seven astronauts, including Boston native and New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe – today…