Climbing ABC's 600-Foot TV Tower
in the Dead of Night
My expedient way to test if a new man was suited to our type of work was to take him on a miserable climb up the 600-foot Sutro Tower, not during daylight, but in the dark of night. If a new man could climb this tower in the middle of the night in San Francisco’s wind and fog, he would be able to climb anything.
Here’s a remembrance of two would-be climbers on the Sutro Tower in the steeplejack Hall of Fame, Peter and Paul:
Peter and I arrived at the tower late, well after 2 A.M., which meant to finish our inspection we’d have to climb in double time.
I said, “Peter, are you with me?”
His answer: “Let’s go.”
We ran the tower nonstop to the 500-foot platform where Peter leaned over the rail and upchucked all over the city below!
The night that Paul and I climbed, the tower was shrouded in fog. The fog gives a false sense of security as it wraps itself around you, but still Paul was uncomfortable and tense. First he got a cramp in his left leg. Then he got a cramp in his right leg. It was time to retreat before he got cramps in both legs and I would have to lower him to the ground in tackle. He didn’t show up for work the next day.
The transmitter on Sutro Tower was only off-the-air from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. This tower was so “HOT” that the RF would fry you if the power were “ON.”
Come along with me as I do the FCC quarterly inspection. The grove of 100-foot tall eucalyptus trees at the base of the tower acts as a wind gauge. I pause momentarily to check the amount of sway atop the trees which allows me to determine wind velocity higher on the tower. A misjudgement to climb tonight means I will expend all my energy just hanging on fighting the wind.
I decide to go for it. I leave the security of my horizontal world and enter the insecurity of the vertical world. I free climb with no safety lines 60 stories straight up, catching my breath with only a couple of one-minute rest stops.
It is a unique experience to climb this tower alone at night as I did many times during the 15 years I performed FCC quarterly inspections. On cold, foggy winter nights I used to warm up by wrapping myself, Koala Bear style, around the 3000-watt beacon lights at the top. You never forget the darkness—the fog—the slippery wet tower—the solitude, and the eerie silence as the city sleeps below.
Alone, above the city, atop Sutro in the middle of the night, I felt like I was on top of the world, which I was. I was in control of my life. My office staff was superb and my crew unsurpassed. With my life truly getting better and better, who could have foreseen that my greatest challenges lay ahead?