Reliable, No-Nonsense Audio Expertise since 1990
Reliable, No-Nonsense Audio Expertise since 1990








(Almost) Stranded in South Dakota

My first paying live sound gig was mixing front-of-house for a heavy metal cover band based in the Twin Cities area. They were booked for a two-week gig at a hotel bar in Gillette, Wyoming, during Christmas 1989 and New Year’s 1990, and their regular sound engineer couldn’t make it.

To get out there, the six of us caravanned in the bass player’s rustbucket 1978 Plymouth Volare 4-door, and the band’s 1970 Ford F600 20’ truck. The truck - an ex U-Haul - had a bad alternator, so whenever we stopped for gas we had to swap batteries between the two vehicles. (The Plymouth - which the bass player kept in perfect mechanical condition - was able to idle without the battery. We just had to remember to NEVER cut the ignition!) These stops happened often, since the truck got 5 miles per gallon on a 30 gallon tank.

The plan was to drive through the night, arrive in Gillette with time to spare, and get the truck repaired. Things were going smoothly (but slowly) until we had to stop for gas in western South Dakota at around 5:45 AM on a Sunday. The only gas station we found was closed (with no hours or emergency number posted), and it was bitterly cold - probably single digits. At that point all six of us huddled in the Plymouth (which had plenty of fuel) with the heat cranked, and waited for a miracle. (I remember someone in the band asking, “Now what do we do?” The bass player answered, “Dude, we’re bummin’!”)

The gas station opened up at 6:00 AM.

Bowled Over

During college, while working at a university student union building, I had to throw together a sound system for a late night party in the recreation hall, which had a bowling alley, pool tables and pinball games. For this particular shindig, they brought in a DJ, and wanted him heard all over the hall - which meant my department had to come up with additional “racks and stacks” to supplement the DJ’s meager gear. Some of our PA had to be placed in the aisles between the bowling lanes in order to achieve the coverage they wanted. Cables had to be routed down the aisles and around the pin lifting machinery in the back. Since we didn’t have much speaker cable, I had to drop amps behind the speakers and run long XLR and Edison AC cables to each speaker position. I was in for a long night.

This event was scheduled to start at 2 AM, and even though access to the recreation hall wasn’t a problem, we were so busy with other functions around the building that I couldn’t start setting up until around 11:30 PM or so. And I was by myself - nobody else in my department was able to work that late.

When 2 AM came around, I was still frantically setting up as fast as I could, considering that I was hamstrung by having to untangle numerous 100’ cables that hadn’t been wrapped properly. It was while I was cabling up the bowling alley speakers that the event planners decided to start the party, regardless of whether or not I was ready. I spent another harrowing half hour or so dodging bowling balls and ducking under pin lifters running full tilt while stringing the last few cables. (I still wonder how the bowlers reacted to my presence in the middle of the bowling lanes…)

Rained Out

In the mid Nineties I had to supply a PA for a Tiger Woods golf event at one of Chicago's South Shore parks. We were almost totally set up and ready to go, and then it rained - REALY hard. The event got cancelled; as far as I know, Tiger Woods never even showed up. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the generator vendor misled us about how much gas we'd need, so the genny died shortly before the storm came. Not expecting the cancellation, I sent somebody to get more gas. Once the genny was re-fueled we had a really hard time starting it, and it ran very roughly - but that didn't matter after we started frantically striking everything in the heavy downpour.

When almost everything was on the truck, the producer came and asked for his CD back. It was still in the CD player, and since the genny was still on the ground, we tried to get it going so we could extricate the disc. The genny wouldn't start at all this time, and we were too soaked and exhausted to attempt tearing open the player, so one of my crew walked to the clubhouse and found an outlet.

Eventually we made it back to the shop. It turned out that the genny had been fed diesel - NOT gas! Apparently somebody at the Chicago Park District maintenance shed was keeping fuels in unmarked containers and couldn't tell diesel from gas...nice work!


Shortly after I started at UIC Pavilion, we had just acquired a new scoreboard and basketball shotclock system, and were hosting a televised basketball game on a Sunday. Right before the game was to start, the shotclocks went dark on us. Turned out the problem was a data splitter (really just a 1-in 4-out distribution amp) that fed signal to both clocks. The sign company who installed this system had not issued us a spare splitter, and could not be reached. I had no choice but to attempt a repair on the fly.

The splitter had a built-in power supply, which was a separate circuit board, and a quick voltmeter check showed it was dead. When I saw +5VDC on the PC board, I realized this was a simple enough kluge: Get an old but working desktop computer and tap into the +5VDC rail off its power supply. So I found a donor computer in a storage closet, disembowled it, wire-nutted everything together, and voila – the shotclocks lit up! To this day I wonder how many spectators saw the hapless computer sitting by the scoreboard operator with its guts hanging out, and wondered what the heck it was for…







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Last updated 11/3/2014

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