In case of nuclear attack, WBT is (still) ready to keep broadcasting

The WBT radio fallout shelter, present day.

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by JEREMY MARKOVICH / NBC Charlotte

WCNC.com

Posted on November 21, 2012 at 6:53 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 7 at 10:04 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Let's say something bad happened.  Something really bad.

Your power's out, so there goes your TV. Also, there goes your internet. And your cell phone. And your home phone. So here you are, huddled in your house, not sure what to do or where to go. How do you find out what's going on? Turns out, there's something in Charlotte set up for just such an occasion.

To understand why it’s there, you have to understand what things used to be like.

Back in 1962, the Cuba Missile Crisis was underway, and the U.S. Government felt that it needed to prepare for the worst. So they built something underneath the transmitter building for WBT radio off of Nations Ford Road in Charlotte.

"You are in the 1963 fallout shelter that was built during the Cuban missile crisis,” said WBT chief engineer Jerry Dowd, who took NBC Charlotte on a tour of the place recently. “The theory behind this was, should there be an event, this would be protected and we would be able to broadcast from it.”

The federal government built shelters like the one at WBT at several radio stations across the country. WBT is one of the oldest—and still one of the most powerful. At night, you can hear its 50,000 watt signal up and down the east coast from Cuba to Canada.

"You keep something like this and hope you never need it,” said Dowd. “It's like an insurance policy that you hope you never need.”

This place--surrounded by a lot of concrete, peeling paint, knobs, wires, clocks and reels--doesn't seem real.

“Oh, this is real,” said Dowd before he sat down at the controls. “We would turn this switch on and we would say ‘Hello folks, how are you today?’”

He picked up a stack of records. “We have a Sunday morning church service in case we ever needed one.”

Then, Dowd pulled out a plastic ring and sat it on top of a round cardboard box. “Instant toilet,” he said.

Because if, say, a nuclear attack happened, and you had to tell the world about it, you might have to be down here for a while.

“The plan was 60 to 90 days,” said Dowd. “The theory was that after 30 days the dust would settle and you could go back outside.”

And then, there’s this.

“We were not one of Fidel Castro's friends because we used to do something called Radio Liberty,” said Dowd. “We sent propaganda back to Cuba every evening on WBT during the crisis.”

And, according to Jerry, some of Cuba’s missiles were pointed…at us.

“They would set a little device in the missile that would home in on different radio frequencies. And 1110 in Charlotte was one of the frequencies they were planning on homing in on.”

All of the equipment in the fallout shelter still works. Not that you would use it, though, because the federal government has built something new at the WBT transmitter.

“The new millennium version of the fallout shelter does exist,” said Dowd.

We asked to see it. Dowd replied with one word: No.

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