[September 2010] Many stations have mascots, even “house pets.” Of course, it is important that they not go into places where … erm … they should not go, lest they assume room temperature. But, just try telling that to a cat!
I was either a party or a witness to some fairly auspicious WDVH moments – some of them hilarious, others not so much fun – but still vital to the legacy of the station. One such moment was the untimely passing of Diddums, the Station Cat.
Sunday Morning Going Down
It was on a Sunday morning in late 1978. I was on my third stint at “The Ranch” and was, by that time, Program Director. The late Kelly (Godwin) Wynn and I were engaged, and she was working part time at the station. Since she had not yet passed the Element 9 for Broadcast Endorsement, Kelly was, under the FCC Rules of the day, not permitted to read the transmitter meters and sign the log.
I was more than happy to take care of the operator duties – those Sunday mornings gave me the opportunity to work on music and any number of other administrative tasks.
On this particular Sunday, the usually well-behaved Diddums was simply running amok. I do not know what had gotten into him but, at one point, he climbed into the back of the big, antique green radio in the front lobby. I fished him out, and he slinked off into more mischief.
About ten minutes passed and then, as I was typing away, the on-air monitor housed in the green radio went dead.
I heard noise coming from the radio, but no signal. So, I got up and dashed across the lobby, and could see Kelly through the plate glass window – gesticulating and cursing, not knowing what was going on. I stuck my head into the control room and asked if the program was still “on.”
When Kelly answered “yes,” I instinctively hit the “Plate” lever on “Big Mac,” our Main transmitter. As I tapped that lever, I heard a familiar, yet uncharacteristically plaintive “meow.”
That was not a good sign.
The Station Comes Back
My heart began to sink as I fired up the then new RCA Ampliphase Transmitter and switched the router over, getting us back on the air as soon as possible.
I just knew that poor Diddums still was somewhere within the high-voltage maw of that beast we called Big Mac – and that I had to begin the grim search. Kelly was crying and generally freaking out, and I was quite upset myself. But I collected myself enough to shut down what I thought was the main breaker to the stately old Gates transmitter.
I began to tentatively open a seemingly endless series of compartment doors, when finally I saw those two little, grey feet – the worse for wear having touched a big, copper strap resting on a ceramic insulator. I instinctively reached for the discharge rod to try and drain any charged capacitors before retrieving the kitty. My payback was a huge spark.
Something told me to try again – and again there were more fireworks. A third touch, another fireball. I told myself that the $200 a week I was earning definitely was not worth enough to meet Diddums on the “other side.” This was a job for “The Old Man.”
Thus, I called our Chief Engineer, George Fogle, and he somehow managed to recover Diddums without getting himself fried.
The following day was awkward indeed. There was a funerary atmosphere throughout the station, for Diddums the cat was as beloved as any of the two-legged critters who had ever darkened the WDVH door.
Kelly always felt that she was to blame for Diddums’ demise, but it was really nobody’s fault – he was simply being a rambunctious cat that day. If there is any blame to be laid, it falls on my shoulders since I was the “operator on duty” and should have kept the door to the transmitter room closed.
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Sean O’Neal never had another cat fry on his watch, but he says he will never forget Diddums. Sean’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org