The thought of this day brings great happiness, and yet causes my stomach to tighten up at the same time.
Today is the 30th anniversary of The Great Implosion. A handful of buildings on Lackawanna Avenue in downtown Scranton were blown up for what would become the Mall at Steamtown.
To refresh your memory, it was a big deal. Huge. After years of talking and fighting, the downtown mall was finally becoming a reality. Some buildings were already torn down and it was time to get rid of the rest in one fell swoop.
I was working "down the street" at the time. My assignment was to do a series of stories during the run up to the implosion.
Then, the big day arrived. It was a Sunday morning, and it was also the beginning of daylight saving time. That meant the early crew call was even earlier. It was cold and it was breezy and I arrived at the station much earlier than scheduled. Blame it on nerves. Full time television employment started in September of the year before, and this was one of my very first "major" assignments. I made sure my notes and scripts were in order, and I grabbed the portable tv monitor I liked best, before anyone else could get their hands on it, and took it to my remote location.
Not only was my station broadcasting the implosion live, we were doing an hour long show leading up to the actual blast. The station preempted "CBS News Sunday Morning," so you knew this had to be enormous. Charles Kuralt took a back seat for the day. I was scheduled to be a very small part of the broadcast. Open the show, close the show, and introduce a couple of pre taped "packages" on downtown Scranton history, and how the actual implosion would work.
And, dear readers, that's when the wheels came off.
We had three live locations downtown. I was set up on one of the upper floors of what was then the First Eastern Bank building at Lackawanna and North Washington. I had a great view, and the photos you see on today's page are mine. One of the other live locations was at Steamtown. I don't recall exactly where the other one was, but I think it was on the far end of Lackawanna Avenue, near the state office building. Our helicopter was in the air. We had several unmanned cameras ready, including one on top of one of the buildings that was to be imploded.
The people in charge of the implosion wanted our Lackawanna Avenue studio cleared out. We explained it couldn't be done. There had to be people inside to keep the station on the air. There was a compromise. A few people could remain, but they had to stay far away from the huge windows facing Lackawanna Avenue. An aside: we positioned a seismograph in the studio to measure the effect of all that falling masonry. It barely blipped. It made fears that the impact would send Scranton falling into the abandoned mines an even bigger joke.
Part one: two of our three live locations failed because of technical problems, so my tiny part of the broadcast became the majority. In fact, it was the only part.
Part two: some of the thousands who came to watch got too close. It took a while to herd them back, and the implosion was delayed.
Add up one and two, and yours truly had to talk for 20 straight minutes. The broadcast's producer was afraid to fill time with commercials, fearing the implosion would take place while we were away.
I got really lucky that day. Because I had done many of the stories leading up to implosion day, I knew enough to ramble on, and chew up the clock, as we say in the TV biz. All the information was in my back pocket, ready to be pulled out in case of an emergency, and this clearly was an emergency.
Plus, I had two guardian angels with me in the bank building that morning. One was chief photographer Jim Keenan. He kept getting different video shots out of the bank window. When I ran out of steam, a different picture would come up and I would have something new to describe. JR Azaravitch was behind the controls of a portable switcher, and he also helped by punching up different views of the implosion area.
My earlier instructions from station management was to shut up when I heard the warning siren. I wish I could adequately describe the feeling of relief when those sirens finally went off, followed by the booms, and then the massive cloud of dust that traveled east on Lackawanna Avenue, eventually enveloping my bank office in darkness.
And then, it was over. It was a mixture of exuberance for keeping the balls in the air when things were falling apart around me, and exhaustion for yapping for so long. I was never so relieved when I saw those credits start to roll.
Management was happy. I was happy. I wouldn't call it a stellar performance, but it worked. Team effort.
The station sold VHS copies of the broadcast, and yes, I paid for mine. There were no freebies, in spite of helping save that Sunday morning broadcast. The money want to a local charity for the homeless, and I was honored to be selected to present the check at a dinner.
I cannot walk through or drive through downtown without thinking of that morning, 30 years ago.