by Robert Brand
The OTC Paddington terminal had TV facilities right from the early days. The program room (ITC) had colour TV monitors in the new facilities by the time I graduated from the DCA Regional Training School.in 1971. It was there during field training, but the techs tended to keep you away from that area. It was my first time on the evening shift thinking it would be a boringly quiet night when someone explained that there was a TV tuner hidden away in the program room. If there was little activity, the Senior Tech on duty would okay the TV and out came the tuner and a reasonable picture was the result.
The Bruce Boardman, Ben Magee and I were at Paddington at the time and Bob Rawkins was the Station Manager. Bob was not amused by the technical staff watching TV after hours, but to be honest, there was little else to do. Mostly were were there for any peak work loads and emergencies that often required lots of staff. After all there was still a lot of valve technology on the floor with Compac and Seacom valve channel banks and failures were common.
Bob made it his Monday task to find the newly installed TV antenna and rip it out. We made it out duty to hide it as best we could and made the hunt near impossible. Sometimes Bob won and sometimes we won. It was a game and we sort of enjoyed the hiding and the hunt. It was rather difficult to come up with new ways to get the signal down from the roof as the pathways were rather obvious, but we tried hard. One rather success feed was via one of the internal storm water pipes that feed down from the roof. We sealed the entrance to the drain on the roof well and extracted the cable on the first floor with a very good water resilient gland. All was good and we had a winner, stumping Bob for many weeks, until one day…. It seems that the telephone exchange guys on level 3 wanted a feed of the antenna and the storm water pipe passed right through their control room.
One smart technician decided to tap the feed. Instead of a hole which could be sealed easily the nameless tech opened up the square shaped pipe with cuts like a sideways “H” and the 2 sides were peeled back exposing a huge hole in the down pipe. This made access to the TV cable rather easy and the exchange crew happily had TV for the night. Being a weekend and back the next morning they left the hole determined to seal it up the next day. Well as you can probably deduce, there was one almighty thunderstorm that night and the telephone exchange control room got flooded with the roof acting as a collection point. The disaster made it way to the ears of management and a severe rap over the knuckles and another TV cable bit the dust.
We could always rely on Telecom’s Television Operations Centre (TOC) to pass a TV station to us via the video tubes and audio links but we did not like to push the luck so it was not easy to swap channels. The tuner had to return. The hiding and hunting returned. and this time Bruce and Ben found a very devious path through the exhaust vent from the basement diesel generator. To get into this required some work to break through the bricks and into the chimney. One punch eventually produced results but there was a rather nasty sound of falling masonry. The cable was run with little more thought. The TV was great and the cable remained well hidden.
It was during a basement inspection months later that someone discovered a pile of masonry on the floor behind the diesel. The falling bricks punched a hole right through the bottom of the chimney and the result was all over the floor. The mess was cleaned up and patched up and that one lasted for a long time.
At a personal level I was tired of all the drama and loss of service. I was involved heavily with modifications to the TV area of the program room. I automated a lot of the TV and audio services so that they could be operated from the TV and audio control room desk. As such I had some sway. We had only 2 TV tubes in and 2 TV tubes out and TV was becoming harder to manage and impossible with 3 concurrent TV programs running. We effectively had to give up control of the TV signal of any third program. I made the suggestion to the Head Office program group that an off-air monitor would at least allow us to see the program and have some ability to respond.
A week later there in pride of place on the roof was an official TV antenna and in the program room was a new officially condoned off air TV set. Bob Rawkins was horrified that we could have been so brazen as to not even bother hiding the TV set for his Monday morning inspection of the terminal. He was mortified when he learned that it was part of his stations official equipment. The games were over, but the win was satisfying.