Broadcasters Cope With Columbus Day Storm forums forums History Broadcasters Cope With Columbus Day Storm

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    In 2002 which was the 40th anniversary of the Columbus Day Storm, I presented on pdxradio information culled from The Oregonian & Journal newspapers during the period of time the storm was covered. Since then I’ve collected more broadcast information and have added to the overview of damage which is covered in the first to paragraphs. Thought enough time had past for a review.


    On Friday afternoon October 12, 1962 Oregon, Washington & Northern California were hit by one of the most violent windstorms in regional history. Dubbed The Columbus Day Storm, Typhoon Freda lashed the region with gusts over 100 MPH with sustained winds of 80 MPH. The Morrison Bridge recorded a wind gust of 116 MPH. Now categorized as a Extratropical Cyclone, it was reported in papers at the time as a Hurricane. From newspaper accounts 26 people lost their lives. This account has since been adjusted to 46.

    Newspapers reported damage estimated at $170 Million. That figure was adjusted years later to $200 Million. Wikipedia reported in 2002 dollars, regional damage would be $3 to $5 Billion today. “In Northwest Oregon the entire power distribution system had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Some locations did not have power restored for several weeks.”(wikipedia). Five days after the windstorm 100,000 people in the Northwest were still without power. 10,000 in Portland alone. (1960 Portland census: 372,676. Metro area: 821,897).

    Some broadcasters were temporarily knocked off the air at times. Most were power problems or line to tower failures. A few broadcasters had extensive damage.


    KPOJ AM/FM lost much of its equipment at Mt. Scott. (9700 S.E. Eastview Dr.). One of its AM towers had fallen with the other left partially standing. KPOJ-FM’s tower had also fallen. The FM station would not return to the air until February 9, 1963. The new RCA antenna would be slightly lower that the original.

    KWJJ AM lost one of its towers at Smith Lake (4350 N. Suttle Rd.) along with a portion of its transmitter building. KWJJ would continue operating until a replacement tower was erected.

    KOIN AM lost its east tower at Sylvan. (5516 S.W. Barnes Rd.). KOIN would continue operating using its west tower until a replacement was erected.

    KISN AM lost one of its towers at Smith Lake and continued operating until a replacement tower was erected.


    KGW-TV lost its tower at Skyline. (299 N.W. Skyline Blvd.). KBZY Salem loaned Channel 8 a 120 foot spare which originally could have been the old KOCO Salem tower. KTNT-TV Tacoma loaned KGW-TV an antenna. Channel 8 returned to the air on Tuesday night after being off the air for 4 days. On January 28, 1963 KGW-TV replaced the temporary tower with a new structure.

    KATU had no generator at the time. K2 was just 7 months old with its tower in a remote area of Clark County on Livingston Mtn. (7 miles N.E. of Camas). K2 was also an Independent station with ABC on KPTV. Fisher Blend Stations announced in The Oregonian if power wasn’t restored by Tuesday they would buy a generator.


    “Fisher Blend Stations . . .”

    Actually, the name was Fisher’s Blend Station, Inc.


    Thanks KQ4. I’ve made the correction on the master.

    I’ve got a general Columbus Day Storm thread going on at facebook and thought I’d bring over the radio related ones:

    Dave Bell was in Aberdeen, WA to broadcast the Kelso football game. Crawled across the open roof and down the hatch in the stands just in time to see the press box fly off and score a field goal at the north end of the stadium! KLOG was off the air for two weeks.

    Roger W. Morgan was in Albany at KRKT. I’ll never forget watching a tin roof blow right down main street in Albany. Amazing!!


    Craig, my warped sense of humor is trying to keep up here…did the team score a field goal here, or did the actual press box cross the goal post? 🙂

    Regardless, I was extremely young during this storm, just turned three, but I swear I have memories of it. For some reason my Seattle family was visiting Portland, (perhaps for a Husky-UO or OSU game…would have to check the historical record on that, as many college games were played in Portland during this era). I do remember no power in our friends almost brand-new suburban Beaverton neighborhood (remember this was ’62), and beyond that my memory blurs.

    But what a rare and historical storm, later described as the remnants of a Pacific hurricane (or typhoon as they are known in the Pacific!)


    Just got this E-Mail from Roger Hart and I E-Mailed him back for his ok to post:


    What a day! Although working at KEX, I was a KLIQ studios in Oaks Park, borrowing some albums for a Sock Hop dance to be held at Willamette University.

    Needless to say, I never made it. When the wind got bad enough, someone asked to use my car [heavy] to anchor a tall antenna on the roof. They tied the rope halfway up. The bottom half stayed, the top half doubled over.

    Pieces of corrugated roofing started flying around, one sheet just missing KLIQ GM, Don Hedges who’d gone outside. And my oh my, did many of those Mighty Oaks fall. It was chaos, and I think that no one went anywhere that night. Too many trees down.

    Thanks Craig, for the momentous reminders of our past, and somehow how small we are in the big picture.



    Contacted “Tiger” Tom Murphy to see if he had any The Columbus Day Storm stories. Here’s what he had to say:


    Hello Craig:

    I do have a little bit from KISN on the day of the Columbus Day Storm. For some reason I was at the station early that afternoon. Mike Phillips was doing the Afternoon Show having come back to Portland from KJR in Seattle. He would return to KJR shortly. I remember the sky getting kind of weird, sort of yellowish, and I said to Mike, “Something’s Happening Here.” Imagine my surprise when my line showed up in the Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 hit.

    It wasn’t long before all hell broke loose and it also wasn’t long before we lost power. The wind was really shaking the studio windows but none of them broke which surprised me.

    Steve Brown happened to be in town. He had driven out from Omaha which was very unusual. In what was probably not a real smart move, Steve decided “we” should get out there and see what was going on. So, Mike, myself and Steve got into his BIG ’62 Cadillac Convertible and headed out.

    The wind was really blowing and it was shaking Steve’s “Caddy” pretty good and that car had to weigh almost as much as a Kenworth. We saw lots of broken windows and we drove by a restaurant supply company, whose windows had blown out and there were pots, pans and big kettles rolling around in the street. Mike said we should grab a couple of them since you never know when you might need a 10 or 15 gallon kettle.

    After a lengthy discussion, lasting at least 5 seconds, it was decided we’d let this once in a lifetime opportunity pass. In retrospect, I think this was an early example of Mike’s “thinking out of the box” which would serve him well in later years as a exceptional Program Director.

    We continued driving around for quite a while and were really shocked by the blown out windows, uprooted trees,downed power lines, which we dodged and the general mayhem. We also listened to Wes Lynch on KGW, who was doing an outstanding job anchoring KGW’s coverage. Of course they were able to stay on the air with power from their generator. Other stations might have been on the air but we happened to listen to KGW.

    Byron Swanson, KISN’s Chief Engineer, was finally able to locate a generator to take to the transmitter which had no power. Unfortunately the generator apparently didn’t generate exactly 60 cycles but rather slightly more which made the turntables run too fast so records sounded funny. Don’t remember if it affected the cart machines, too. Too many cycles was the problem which was the explanation I got from Bryon and Bill Howlett. Speaking of Bill, he was at the transmitter through the storm and we all marveled, especially Bill, considering how rickety the building was, that is didn’t collapse. However, it didn’t.

    It occurred to me that later on some radio stations began speeding up their turntables slightly to either make the records sound sharper or end quicker to get to the commercials sooner or whatever. That whole concept began by accident, with KISN, thanks to the Columbus Day Storm and a “flawed” generator.

    “Tiger” Tom


    Quck memory of the Columbus Day Storm. I was 9 years old and living in Milwaukie, Oregon, listening to KISN on the car radio while eating McDonalds in the car. We noticed the wind picking up. Then the Golden Arches blew over in front of our car, and my mother decided this was no ordinary storm. So we drove home, but on the way witnessed roofs blowing off, trees down, power lines down and snaking in the street. Once home, there was no power. We went to the basement with a transistor radio to listen to KEX and newsman Jim Howe, who was giving advisories about the storm. Amazingly, while there were downed trees and destruction all around us, my haystack in the back yard, which was stood on end for archery practice, remained standing the next morning.


    In case someone missed this from a few months ago:

    Archive #7


    If you grew up in Oregon after the Columbus Day storm, that meant you had to listen to endless stories about the storm which got more and more outlandish as the years went by. I heard about hundreds of deaths, neighborhoods flattened, lakes drained of their contents leaving nothing but flopping fish, planes swatted out of the sky like toys, cattle found dead miles from their fields, etc. etc.

    My favorite: one man in Medford told me a mother lost her baby when it was blown out of her arms into the sky, never to be seen again. 😯

    Bill Cooper

    I remember former KEX news director Jim Howe telling me that he was up in the station helicopter early on in the storm. He says they tried to land but the wind was blowing so hard they couldn’t slow down the rotor on the chopper. They ended up landing on the PSU campus using a building as a wind block.

    I was in second grade living at NE 19th and Fremont. I remember driving up Fremont to my grandmother’s house on 50th to make sure she was ok. Coming home there were telephone poles that had snapped off at the base and were swinging by the wires. It was like running a gauntlet going home!!!


    Another tale from the Hillsboro airport, a traffic reporter was caught up in the storm, but the pilot managed to land the plane, but with *negative* ground speed…backwards down the runway. 😯 Is that even possible?


    I was in the 8th grade at Ockley Green when the storm hit. If I had lived one block farther up the street, I would have been in the Kenton district–and gotten two days off, instead of one.


    I can second what Tiger Tom Murphy wrote. But I seem to recall the yellowish sky from a couple days earlier.


    I was 11 years old in 1962. I lived near Puyallup, Wa in a town called Sumner. The wind storm wasnt as bad up there, of course. But it was violent in spots, certainly out on the coast in Aberdeen Wa ! And the space needle recorded gusts to 90 mph at the top according to KING TV . That didnt compare to gusts in the West Hills of Portland reported near 140 mph !!!! They evacuated the space needle…including the KIRO studios ( think it was KIRO up there then ) because people were getting ‘ seasick’from the swaying…and there were some safety concerns too.

    That Friday afternoon my Mother said that she felt ‘too muggy’ and that the sky was funny looking, I got this from her right after school let out at 3 pm…Then I was out doing my paper route as usual and it was hot out for October and I had to take off my coat, it felt like summertime !! Overcast and muggy..I got home about 5 or a little after and my Grandfather had called from Tacoma to my Dad at the bank and told him this storm was coming up from Oregon and the KING-TV had just reported that KGW-TV lost their transmitter tower…!! And he was going on an on about how low the barometric pressure was getting to be…He was raised in Iowa in the late 19th century and around tornados and the like and he was concerned about the low barometric pressures…

    MY dad also managed the town theater in Summner on the weekends and Wed Nites. He called the owners to decide whether or not to cancel the show for that Friday nite or not. The owners told him to ‘ go on with the show ‘…LULZ !! So he did and WE DID , as I and my bros. got in for free being the kids of the manager…( nepotism goes a long way )…The show stared at 7 and we watched TV of the storm before the show..then we walked to the theater, sat down and within a half hour the lights went out , and came back on and went out again…that was a long feature !!! They canceled the second show altogether…Walking home , lots of branches off the trees, a few trees down around town…but all in all certainly not as bad as N.W Oregon…

    In Tacoma , on the hilltop , Wrights park lost a whole bunch of old growth trees…it took the city a long time to clean all that up !! The wind up there was a lot stronger than in the Puyallup valley.


    Craig..remmber Columbus Day 1962 very well. As bill Cooper mentioned I was flying traffic in helicopter in afternoon. We took off from Swan Island and headed up Willamette toward Lake Oswego. As we got over Ross Island the pilot looked at me and “something is wrong”: I asked what and he said look at air speed indicator, it showed 75 mph, and we were going backwards!! We returned to Swan Island and could not land due to gusty winds. When we got close to ground on one pass the pilot told me to jump ,which i did. He roared off and finally was able to land behind a large building on Swan Islands.

    As i returned to station (SW 5th and Lincoln) I saw roof tear off old Hamilton Hotel (where fed courthouse now stands on sw 3rd) also saw trees coming down in park across from county court house.

    When i got to station studio power was out , but tmx had generator. We had a visiting engineer from Golden West in Los angeles with us and he had a rental car. They rigged up two lites in the studio using the car down in the parking garage to keep us on the air. We worked that way for a couple of days as i remember. We had phone service and made calls to emergency folks to get info. Our general manager lived in Dunthorpe and he and his family moved to Hilton Hotel for three weeks before they got power back! I was told at one point 95% of electric power in valley was out. Only exceptions being downtown Portland and downtown Salem which had underground services. Another thing I remember was everywhere you went for weeks you could hear chain saws as folks cut up downed trees.

    What a day…and a great day for the radio industry to provide a badly needed service. Jim Howe

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