What a delight to read Robert R. Kegerreis’ first-person account of his teenage introduction to broadcasting.
His story took me back to my own adolescent misadventures of steeple-related shenanigans at my church.
Built in 1838, the First Presbyterian Church of Titusville, N.J., sits high on the banks of the Delaware River.
In the 1970s, the church purchased an electro-mechanical carillon from the Schulmerich Bell Company of Sellersville, Pa. The system, housed in an equipment rack, consisted of a cart machine tied to a timer. At the appointed times, the cart machine would play secondary tones triggering tiny, piano-like hammers that would strike miniature chimes inside a small chamber mounted above the cart machine. The sound inside the chamber was picked up and amplified into four massive PA horns installed in the steeple.
The sound carried for miles across Mercer County, N.J., and Bucks County, Pa. Every day at noon and 6 p.m., the carillon would fire up and play a couple of popular Christian hymns, depending on what cart happened to be in rotation. The minister and his family lived in the manse next door to the church. My friend Robbie was one of the minister’s sons. As teens, we liked talking about stereo systems of the day, installing FM converters in cars and generally fiddling around with audio equipment.
The carillon system had been up and running for several months when one long summer day we thought it would be clever to explore the irresistible technical prospects of broadcasting something a little more lively than church music.
Geniuses that we thought we were, it didn’t take long to figure out all we had to do was substitute the output of the chimes with another audio source and we’d be up and running.
Robbie sneaked his Teac cassette deck out of the house along with a few cables and adapters. In the back of the rack, we found the input to the carillon’s power amp, pulled the chime cable out and replaced it with the output of the Teac.
As I recall, we popped in a tape of the Doobie Brothers song “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me,” figuring it would be apropos. Respecting the daily routine, we waited until noon for our first broadcast.
At the top of the hour we held our breath while Robbie hit the playback button.
To say it was loud is an understatement. Titusville and the surrounding area was rocking like never before.
Fortunately, no one called the authorities — as was the case in Mr. Kegerreis’ story — and most folks were pretty good-humored about the whole thing. Alas, our foray into steeplecasting was great fun but predictably short-lived.
John Grayson Vermillion, S.D.