Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Collapse of the WSM Tower

  


  In September 1950 WSM, Channel 4, became the first television station in Nashville. In 1956 construction began on a new television tower just off of Charlotte Ave. at Dakota & 38th Ave. This was to replace the old 578 ft. tower at Compton & 14th Ave. South where Metro Police Communications center is today. The new tower upon completion would be 1379 ft. tall. In the school year of 1956-57, I was a first grader attending Martha Vaught Elementary just off of White Bridge Rd. We lived within walking distance of the school at Apt. 3, Brookside Ct. Annex. These years were the happiest years of my childhood. There were plenty of kids to play with in the neighborhood and we had great neighbors. This was before most people could afford air conditioning in their homes and neighbors spent a lot of time outdoors getting to know each other while their kids played together.

  Everyday I would look to the southeast and see the WSM tower slowly rising higher and higher toward the sky. Then on 4-Feb-1957, 24 days before my 7th birthday our 1st grade class went on a field trip to the Children's Theater near the old Children's Museum in downtown Nashville. We didn't return to our school until late in the afternoon. I immediately realized that I couldn't see the tower on the horizon. When I got home I knew something was wrong by the look on my mother's face. I told her that I couldn't see the tower anymore and she told me that it had fallen killing 4 construction workers. They were Donald Kinnan, 25 of Tucson Arizona. George Presler 33 of Union City Tn. Ray Maxwell 33 of Jacksonville Florida and Robert Kirshner 30, of California Mo. A fifth man Harold Kirshner 29, was treated for shock because he had just climbed down off the tower minutes before it collapsed.

  The men fell 700 ft. to their death. The tower was made out of a new steel alloy that was supposedly 3 times stronger than regular steel. There was little wind that day and it was unknown why the tower fell. Donald Kinnan was interviewed by the Tennessean a few day's before the accident and he said "I would not drive a race car. Too dangerous. My jobs safe because I know what I'm doing. Besides more people get killed stepping off curbs than in my line of work". The tower fell in a residential neighborhood. The tower fell at 600ft. and a 300ft section skidded down a hill stopping just short of a house. A piece crashed through a house on Lookout Dr. The only casualty in the neighborhood was a dog that was crushed. Television viewer's watching a soap opera called Modern Romances could hear workers screaming for help. Viewers heard an excited voice say "Oh my God, send help. The tower has just fallen down, help quick".

  A few days after the collapse I remember my mother taking us to see the collapsed tower. It was just a heap of twisted metal for hundreds of feet. Beginning later in the year WSM bought 100 acres on a a 680 foot hill behind our house called Knob Hill. At that time we were outside the city limits but WSM wanted enough area that if the tower fell again it would not endanger anyone. The original tower cost 100,000 dollars. The new tower on Knob Hill cost 600,000. The new tower went into service on 25-March-1959, just before we bought our house in Charlotte Park at 6222 Henry Ford Dr. WSM eventually settled a lawsuit valued at 1,000,000 dollars for the families of the four construction workers. In today's dollars that was a lot of money. The first picture is the test pattern that WSM viewers saw before the station signed on the air in the morning and after it went off at night. The second is Jud Collins, a famous WSM announcer in 1950, who worked for channel 4 for over 30 years. The remaining pictures are of the tower before it collapsed and after.





Harold Kirshner being transported to the hospital for shock



Twisted wreckage

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