Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Great Tower Caper

Struthers High school had the distinction of being the first secondary school in the nation to offer a vocational program in Radio. WKTL-FM went on the air in the late 60's and offered a wide array of programming to the general public. Classic Rock And Roll, Classical, Jazz, Big Band, and even Polka were featured regularly. The Polka Program was hosted by the Wood Shop Teacher.

A lot of Students started out "learning the ropes" at WKTL and went on to careers in Broadcasting. Football and basketball games were broadcast live with the students trying their best to remain neutral and professional while announcing the games. I can recall a couple of occasions while listening, that the kid would about swallow his microphone getting so excited over a particular play. I believe they called it "over-modulation". Listening you would encounter periods of dead silence. A flustered announcer would start spitting out statistics about the game that was a repeat of what he said two minutes ago, just to fill the time.

The kids in the radio program became known as "WKTLers" or "Radio Heads" to the general school population. Another clique to go with the Greasers, Preppies, or Jocks. I guess the majority of the students in radio could be classified as "Geeks" today. I think I remember a few wearing pocket protectors and having taped glasses.

The teacher that got Struthers High started in radio had a background with a major station in Youngstown. I'm not sure where all the money came from to construct the station. It was housed in some old second floor offices in the field house, conveniently located overlooking the Basketball Court. I'm sure some equipment was donated and a huge tower was erected, about 150 feet high, at the corner of the field house. You could see the tower from most places in town if trees weren't in your way.

As I've written before, I grew up in a house across a field from Struthers High School in Ohio. My bedroom was on the second floor of our Cape Cod Style house and from the back window, I had a great view of the school and the field house, which was a huge gymnasium. As a kid I always wondered if the radio tower fell, would it hit our house?

Early one June beautiful Summer day, I awoke and went to the window to catch a breath of the cool morning air. I looked towards the High school and noticed something hanging from the top of the radio tower. Trying my best to wipe the sleep out of my eyes and focus, I realised it was a bed sheet with writing on it. Finally a stiff enough breeze blew the sheet straight without flapping in the wind and I could read it. In big blue letters it simply proclaimed,"HOWDY BLOWS". Howdy happened to be the nickname of our high school Principal. Hmmm...I don't think it was a coincidence.

I immediately sprung into action and started calling every friend that I could think of to come and see this spectacle! I drove over to one of my buddie's house and literally dragged him out of bed to come with me to see a surprise. His mother and four siblings tagged along to witness it, too. I would say there was fifty people at the school by the time we arrived, along with the Fire and Police Departments.

A Beet Red Howdy was there, yelling at the top of his lungs for someone to climb up there and get that sheet down. A large, overweight Patrolman was laughing so hard, tears were running down his face. I also then understood what they meant about Santa's belly jiggling like a bowlful of jelly. This Cop had it shakin'! Howdy was getting madder and redder by the second and I think it dawned on him to try a kinder approach with Struthers' Safety Forces. Finally, a sympathetic Fireman climbed the tower and took the sheet down as the crowd loudly booed his efforts.

No one was ever caught for the "Great Tower Caper" as it became stuff of legend in our community. Not long after my graduation I learned who the culprits were in pulling off the best practical joke that Struthers ever witnessed. I'll never tell, these guys were my heroes!


  1. wow - - hadn't thought about that 'howdy sucks' sheet in years! lol was a good one...we should compare who was the "wood shop teacher" - - don't you remember? i know larry does - they was buddies.....