a gong is retired

Posted by on Dec 12, 2009 in audio, gongs, history, site history, wikiGong | One Comment

…in which we bid farewell to the former WNIU transmitter tower.

Well, it happened just a few months after we captured it. Northern Illinois University’s Kishwaukee Hall was demolished in the early fall, and with it the old WNIU tower, whose singing cables we mic’ed on July 20, 2009.

Had I been less intent on getting the Schertler connected to the cables without being apprehended by campus police—unlikely, sure, but hark back to younger days and imagine the state my friends and I might have been in when we first listened to those cables with naked ears—I might have paid a bit more attention to the yellow Caution signs warning people away from Kish Hall itself. They foretold a nearer doom than I imagined; given that the building had been pretty much of a hand-me-down shoe already by the 1980’s, I might be forgiven for not taking the signs too seriously.

Had I been a bit more prescient—or stayed better connected with my former college pals, some of whom reside in DeKalb to this day—I might have thought to take a copyright-free photo of the tower while it still stood. A pic of the Schertler’s first field test would have been great, too. But I didn’t think to solicit any help—I have since determined assays really do gain a dimension or two with just one additional participant—because I was focused solely on the audio component, and thought a one-man operation appropriate to the scale of the exercise.

And had I been in town for another reason—a less sombre occasion or one that led less toward introspection—some fewer ephemera might have slipped away. But on July 20 we were gathered in DeKalb to pay respects to our dear friend Harry Castle — composer, teacher, provocateur, co-conspirator and boon companion — and I just didn’t think to ask anyone I knew at the reception to run find a snaphot to email to me afterwards. It just didn’t seem important at the time.

That said, I owe Harry a debt for exhorting us all to get off our collective ass and do something. News of his death in June catalyzed my determination to get wikiGong up and running. And it suggests another criterion towards the definition of a gong: like all real things, it has one underlying pulse, one great “beat” that encompasses all the others: it has duration, a life, a span. It passes.

[Update 2020-04-20: Below is a port of the original wiki article. The actual soundwalk predated this website.]

WNIU radio tower

The DeKalb, IL WNIU radio tower support stays had a distinctive sci-fi ray gun sound when plucked. We returned to sample these in 2009 after nineteen years and to see whether the sound was as cool as remembered from college days. Maybe less variety, that was the only real disappointment.

The tower, decommissioned in 1988, stood for two more decades before being demolished along with adjacent Kishwaukee Hall in late 2009, just a few months after our final visit. We hadn’t the foresight to take a camera along and so missed the opportunity for a photo reconnoiter; we’ll always have a vague question about where precisely the photos were taken.

The former WNIU radio mast site in 2010
The WNIU radio mast site in 2010 looking southwest from the street toward where Kishwaukee Hall once stood and the tower stays were once anchored.

Sights and sounds

July 20, 2009

The cables that kept the tower upright were arranged as three sets of five, each set anchored to a “deadman” set deep in the ground. All samples were taken from a single location at one of these anchors. This was hot, late July day with—as so often at midday in the Midwest—absolutely no wind whatsoever; so the cables were plucked and struck to stimulate sound. The five samples are of different length cables, but end up nearly indistinguishable except for the time the plucked impulse takes to travel up and back over the wire.

The trusty Sony PCM-D50 was used with the Schertler DYN-E-SET pickup. All files recorded in 96 kHz 24-bit .wav format prior to conversion to MP3.

File WNIU Radio 01 at freesound.org

File WNIU Radio 02 at freesound.org

File WNIU Radio 03 at freesound.org

File WNIU Radio 04 at freesound.org

File WNIU Radio 05 at freesound.org

Radio mast installation
The WNIU transmitter tower base looked something like this through the latter third of the 20th Century.
Radio station building
The tower and backside of Kishwaukee Hall looked something like this.

Creative Commons License
All audio files on this page now licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License 2011, 2020 D A Ayer.

Photos this page ©2010 E X Rator. Used with permission.

1 Comment

  1. Terrible twos | gongBlog

    […] to Harry Castle, who helped talk this whole thing into motion and then moved on; I like to re-read A gong is retired. And this year will be the tenth remembering Pete Ayer, my father, who went out doing what he loved […]