My last post mentioned Neil Goldstein and his role in breaking the news of John Lennon’s murder.
Neil was a no-show at the recent WABC-TV Eyewitness News 40th anniversary party, but of course he’s got a demanding career. Sunday night would have been a “school night” for him, and he’s in Detroit.
Still, I couldn’t help but remember a couple of anecdotes about Neil, both involving two-way radios.
Today, if you need to have a private conversation with a crew in the field, you use a cell phone. Most stations still have two-way radios, but way-back-when if you needed to talk to a crew your only choices were radio (which could be monitored by anyone with a scanner) or land lines (telephones). Here are two quick two-way stories.
“GO SUCK AN EGG”
WABC had licenses for three radio frequencies. Two were listed in all those scanner directories—the kind you buy at Radio Shack. The third was little-used and almost unknown. We kept it that way. We used it once or twice a week, tops. We didn’t want “scanner freaks” (or our competitors) accidentally landing on it and eavesdropping on us. It was our ace in the hole. If you absolutely had to contact a crew in the field with confidential information and had to do it now, there was one channel you could use with little chance that someone else was listening in.
Neil Goldstein sometimes put it to—ahem!—interesting use. Entertaining use.
I had a scanner at home, and used to listen in the evenings just to keep tabs on “The City That Never Sleeps.” At WABC we had a code phrase that would tell field crews to switch over to the backup channel: “Go Suck an Egg.”
One night I heard Neil tell Mobile 11, “Hey go suck an egg.” A few seconds later, on the backup frequency: “Mobile 11, where are you guys?” “We’re taking lunch at Broadway and 42nd.” “OK, switch back to the regular frequency and stand by for some fun.”
Back to the main WABC frequency: “MOBILE 11, MOBILE 11, EMERGENCY!!! REPORT OF A POLICE OFFICER SHOT!!! BROADWAY AND 42ND!!! REPEAT—REPORT OF A POLICE OFFICER DOWN!!!! GET THERE NOW!!!!” And about five minutes later—still on the main frequency: “Mobile 11, anything to that last call?” “Uh, no, Neil—just us here—although every TV and radio station in town just roared up with a screech of tires.”
“WELCOME TO OUR NEW LISTENERS”
Another time The Village Voice published an article on how fascinating it could be to listen to the police scanners; listing the key police, fire and emergency frequencies in the five boroughs, and one media outlet—you guessed it, the WABC main mobile radio frequency.
That night, at home, I heard Neil’s voice—although it wasn’t Neil’s real voice: it was his deep, TV-game-show-announcer-“Johnny-tell-him-what-he’s-won” voice.
“Good evening. This is Neil Goldstein on the news assignment desk at WABC’s Eyewitness News. I’d just like to welcome all our new listeners tonight and give you a rundown on some of the stories we’re working on for Eyewitness News at 11:00 with Tom Snyder and Kaity Tong . . .”