Thursday, January 28, 2016


It's been 30 years since the space shuttle Challenger exploded a minute after take off.  30 years have passed quickly.  There are some things I vividly remember about that day.  Others, not so much.

I was working at WARM, handling one of the best positions ever in this market-- radio street reporter.  I spent almost my entire day on the road, filing reports on several different stories a day.  It kept me hopping, and it was great fun.

The day began at the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.  I do not remember the story that brought me there.  Whatever it was, it wasn't happening yet.  I was sitting in the little media office, at the back of what used to be the commissioners' meeting room, shooting the bull with WNEP photographer Jan Votapka, who would later become one of my co workers.  Jan left WNEP several years ago.  We've lost touch.  Jan, if you're reading this, drop me a line.  I hope you are doing well.  you are missed.

Suddenly, WNEP's Wilkes-Barre reporter at the time, Mark Davis, burst in to the room and said "Jan, get your camera, the shuttle just blew up."  I started thinking "Where?  On the courthouse lawn?"  Back in the day, jurors assembled in a little area between the south entrance to the courthouse and the rotunda.  There was a big TV to help potential jurors kill the time.  Courthouse employees often wandered in to watch a little TV.  Mark wanted Jan to get video of people watching the tragedy unfold on TV.

As for the story that brought us all to the courthouse, I don't know if it ever took place.  If I covered it, or if I blew it off.  I jumped in to my news car and high tailed it back to the WARM newsroom in Avoca.  One of the afternoon anchors, Gordon Weise, called in sick.  I'd have to anchor some afternoon broadcasts, and co-anchor our 5 PM news hour.  It was mid morning, so there was still time to do some things.

After that, it was a trip to Sears in the Viewmont Mall, where I interviewed people watching wall-to-wall TV coverage.

When I returned to the station, there was an interview with Rep. Paul Kanjorski via telephone.  I got his thoughts on what had happened.  We also spent a little time discussing the future of space flight, whether it was time to let unmanned missions take the lead in America's space program.

We slammed together a really good NewsHour, which would up being shortened because of an address by President Reagan.  My shift ended at 6.  We handed off to the night reporter, and I was on my way home.

It was a short and light dinner.  Food and those awful images didn't mix.

I was five years old when three astronauts were killed on the launch pad aboard Apollo 1.  I have no memory of that.  Challenger was my first space tragedy.  Successful flights had become routine.  We took them for granted.  January 28, 1986 was the day it all changed.