35 Years Ago This Week: The 1977 NYC Blackout

On July 9, 2012 by Will Hermes

When the power goes out in New York City, all bets are off.

I’ve lived through 3 major blackouts here. The first, in 1965, I was certain I had personally caused. This was because I’d fiddled with the rabbit ears antennae on the top of our black & white TV when my dad had expressly told me never to touch them. I was four.

The most recent, in 2003, was uncomfortably hot, and occurred after I’d made the unfortunate decision to park my car in one of those vertical garages (in Murray Hill near the old SPIN offices, where I worked at the time) that relied on electric elevators to move the vehicles. I got the car back 24 hours later, but had made the best of it, staying up all night with friends on the roof of their illegal Stuy Town sublet. (RIP – the apartment, I mean.)

Yet the strangest and most intense one was on July 13, 1977. I write about it in Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, and this Friday marks the blackout’s 35th anniversary.

I’ll be posting excerpts from that section of the book during the course of the week. To begin, a flashback on the radio broadcasts, which were the main information source during the course of things.

Here’s an aircheck from WABC Music Radio 770 AM:

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And here’s an excerpt from the book:

Battery-powered radios were the only information source, and people gathered around them. WNEW-FM came back on the air around eleven. Scott Muni had walked from the station’s studios on Fifth Avenue was broadcasting from the station’s transmitter site in the Empire State Building. “I have a small microphone here, and, uh, a small turntable,” he said, in the same consoling, foghorn baritone that talked down the gun-toting, hostage-taking Deadhead Ray “Cat” Olsen on the air two years earlier. “Just a little set-up where we are able to talk to yuh and tell yuh we are back on the air after many hours of absence. Not due to anything else other than another historical event for New York City that’ll be written about and talked about and motion pictures made about. Albums. And no doubt there’ll be a song—someone right now is writing the song, or already has written it.”

“If you would like,” he added, “I think it might be a nice idea to tell some of your friends, since we are sort of a family, if you would talk to your friends, give ‘em a call, since telephones are working, and say ‘WNEW is back on the air.’”

When the lights went out, the disruption was a testament to just how much was going on in New York City at night. At Ceasar’s Retreat in midtown, porn star Annie Sprinkle was in the middle of a blow-job-for-hire. At CBGBs, The Shirts were on a bill with the Romantics; Hilly cancelled the show, so guitarist Artie Lamonica and bassist Bob Rapiocco hung around and drank his beer by candlelight. The cast of Beatlemania led a singalong with acoustic guitars up at the Winter Garden in Times Square; a harpist for the Canadian Ballet plucked out the notes to “Dancing In The Dark” up at the Met. On the side blocks off Christopher Street, naked men in workboots fucked against parked cars.

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