Friday, December 30, 2016

History Watch: “Curse You Red Baron”

History Watch:
“Curse You Red Baron”
It was December of 1969.  The nation, tired from a turbulent decade of the sixties, was ready to move on to a new era that would hopefully bring renewed energy and peace.  The 1960’s gave us campus protests, free love, drugs and rock and roll, not to mention the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and of course, Vietnam.
In the police world, advancements in technology were starting to happen.  The county police departments were talking about using a repeater system for their car radios to improve reception.  During this time, patrol cars still had the old 100 watt radios made of tubes and transistors and many of the departments in the county shared the same frequency.
Changes had already been made with the teletype system.  The old RC-28 teletype machine, that printed at a rate of 75 words a minute and that had been in the San Rafael Police Department for many years, had just been replaced by a new system called CLETS.  This machine printed at an impressive rate of 100 words a minute and it was easier to send messages out.  All you had to do was type out a message on the machine and it would cut holes in a paper tape.  You could type the message at your convenience and when ready to send, you just ran the paper tape through it and away it went, kind of like a player piano.  Everything in those days was printed on paper as there were no computers then.
As we all know, when a police agency gets a new toy everyone wants to use it and sometimes not for the purpose for which it was intended.  In late December of 1969, someone with a good deal of talent created a teletype that was a cartoon of Snoopy Cursing the Red Baron and wishing everyone a happy 1970.  The teletype got sent around a few departments in Marin and the Bay Area, which was very nice, however it took the CLETS machine about 40 minutes to print out the entire cartoon.
When the cartoon first came in on the SRPD machine, one of our enterprising cadets duplicated the cartoon cutting the image on a paper tape.  It was time consuming, yet worth the effort.  It is said that the tape ran from the dispatch room (where it still is today) down the hall and out into the parking lot. 
On New Year’s Eve, 1969, that enterprising cadet thought it would be a good idea to send out a friendly Happy New Year greeting to all of the police agencies in Marin.  The cadet loaded the tape in the machine and sent it out.  But there was one problem; the message was accidently sent out nationwide to every police agency, shutting down the entire law enforcement teletype network for 40 minutes as machines across the nation went to work typing out the special greeting.
There was an inquiry, however in those days such acts were more forgiving.  San Rafael Police Chief Joseph Brusatori said it best by stating, “I know you didn’t do it, just don’t do it again!”
Attached is a photo of that famous teletype that shut down the teletype system throughout the nation on December 31, 1969.
Happy New Year Everyone!
Copyright 2016 Harry Barbier – All Rights Reserved
Teletype  1970