Hot times in Wisconsin

November 8, 2003

I got this tale of old-timey newspaper technology from Rich Eggleston, who works for the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities.


In the age before computer prices came so far down that even the AP could afford to buy them in quantity, the AP’s Madison bureau always got hand-me-downs from Milwaukee, which may have gotten hand-me-downs from somewhere else, for all I know.

The Madison bureau had three very early terminals, the predecessors to the model then-correspondent Art Srb is pictured sitting at here:

Those very early terminals, which used vacuum tubes instead of computer chips, replaced the big black teletype machines that went ker-clack ker-clack, ker-clack, spitting out 66 words a minute.

To elaborate on the story on that web page: The two terminals in the bureau at Madison Newspapers Inc. worked fine, because the building was air-conditioned. But the one at the State Capitol Press Room didn’t work very well in summer months because at the time, the Capitol wasn’t air-conditioned. The press room was (and still is after being consigned to the basement for a year or two during remodeling) located in the southwest corner on the second floor of the building (which is really the third floor — why do politicians even try to conceal the height of the building where they work?) and once the afternoon sun started shining in, the old Hendrix terminal would overheat. What you were typing would remain in the terminal’s meager memory but it would disappear from the screen. Art Srb turned fans on the machine to delay the inevitable transformation of his stories to jibberish, but they would disappear and he would swear and we’d be out of business until late afternoon, at least as far as statehouse news was concerned.

Maybe that was a good thing. The shiny new PCs the AP and other news organizations now use ship a lot more words to newspapers and broadcast stations, but maybe those screens are inaccurately portraying what is really just jibberish anyway.

The air-conditioning of our Capitol also has been blamed for lengthening midsummer state budget debates and turning state legislating into more of a full-time occupation, both of which have negative consequences for the media and the public.

Oh well, that’s progress.


As always, you can use the comments feature to add your favorite newsroom technology/horror stories.

One Response to Hot times in Wisconsin

  1. Wayne on November 8, 2003 at 5:19 pm

    My first paper, almost a quarter-century ago, had Hendrix VDTs. This was an immediate improvement over the big black AP teletype machines mentioned if only because the AP machines caused hearing loss in those seated near and working with them.
    The best feature of our Hendrix “system” was that when its main disk drive would go out, it sent this message to all users’ screens:
    “Disk 0 is dead.”
    This led to awful impersonations of “Saturday Night Fever” characters keeling over.