On November 9, 1965, shortly after 5PM, New York City began experiencing the ominous signs of an impending blackout due to a gradual loss of available electricity. The cause of the failure was the setting of a protective relay on one of the transmission lines near Niagara Falls. The safety relay had been misprogrammed, and it did what it had been asked to do: to disconnect under the loads it perceived. Instantly, the power that was flowing on the tripped line transferred to the other lines, causing them to become overloaded. On a particularly cold November evening, power demands for heating, lighting, and cooking were pushing the electrical system to near its peak capacity. 

During the gradual soon-to-be massive failure, pop music disc jockey Dan Ingram was broadcasting on 77 WABC. He began to notice that the record he was spinning–‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’–was noticeably slowing down. The ever-quick Ingram noted afterward that the song was being performed in the ‘key of R’ and pushed ahead with his show even though further and ever more extreme equipment failure continued to bog his broadcast down. Ingram was one of the quickest and wittiest of the 60s pop DJs and his smooth and unflappable live coverage of the event is captured in the above incredible air check of the event. It’s said that, once the blackout was in complete effect, Ingram grabbed a box of records, went to some kind of subsidiary station in New Jersey (that had somehow not lost power) and continued to broadcast his show. There are many reasons to doubt this story but I won’t throw cold water on the Ingram legend. I remember my father telling me that he had to climb eight flights to our apartment on West 67th street and that I was hysterical because he was late for dinner. I was one and half years of age at the time and can’t believe that I would have had enough of a sense of time to note such a thing. But a little myth-making around a crisis like a city wide blackout isn’t such a bad thing and may even be part of our ‘processing’ an event which, though it seems harmless now, was probably fraught with potentially lethal scenarios as it unfolded. This was, after all, still the Cold War era and shutting down the electrical grid could well have been the beginning of something much more catastrophic. Indeed, it may prove to be yet….


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