More cold type tales

October 8, 2003

I’m amassing people’s favorite stories of the transition from hot type to cold type back in the mid- to late ’70s. (Here’s the first item). Here’s one sent along by John McClelland of the journalism faculty at Roosevelt University in Chicago:

The computer was almost literally hand-cranked one day about 1980 at the
Pine Bluff (Ark.) Commercial, 25,000 p.m.

The usually reliable computer system crashed big-time. The AP slow wire
started spilling out of a dusty old tele-type-setter rig, a paper-tape
puncher. Someone with foresight had left it connected.

As a result, we had enough wire copy on perforated tape to dump straight
into the system’s photo-composer and fill a paper somehow — except for
display type and a few urgent local stories. Yes, back then it was a
family-owned paper that really cared about, gosh, local news.

In the shop’s relic closet was an old TTS keyboard for punching paper tape
by hand.

Conversion to cold type had let the company buy most of the old-time
hot-metal compositors into early retirement, so that day we had a bunch of
youngsters in the shop. Only two people in the entire building had ever even
touched a TTS keyboard. The shop boss set the tricky headlines and captions,
and the city editor punched tape for hours to set a few thousand words of
local news. Talk about sore wrists and fingers!

If you have similar tales, please send them along. Or ask some of the oldtimers on your desk and send theirs along.

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