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HARDTACK and HARD TIMES: The Challenger Explosion, Jan. 28,1986.

January 28th, 2014 4:37 pm by Ned Jilton

I remember what I was doing and where I was the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded because of a unique circumstance.


I was working at the Elizabethton Star at the time and I was watching the technician from the wire service getting ready to take out the old UPI teletype machine and replace it with a new high speed printer model which could also send stories to a computer.


This was when newspapers were beginning to transition to computers. At the time we were typing stories on computers and storing them on big 6” floppy disks to be printed out in the back. There was a switch on the back of the keyboard that you could flip to make the sound of a typewriter if you wanted.


As the technician reached down and flipped the switch to turn off the old teletype machine the bell begin to ring. The ringing bell was notice of a highest priority story such as a president being shot or the nation attacked, things like that. I had never heard the bell ring.


I jumped up and asked the man to turn the machine back on. “The bell probably rang because I flipped the switch” said the technician, “It’s probably nothing.” But he turned the machine back on any way.


After a few seconds the teletype clattered back to life and slowly, very slowly, typed out the message THE…SPACE…SHUTTLE…CHALLENGER…HAS…EXPLODED……


We were an afternoon paper and the presses were about to roll. I ran to the editor to tell her what had just happened. While she was sorting out what was going on and what was to be done I ran to the pressroom and told them to “stop the presses”. They of course looked at me like I was an idiot and proceeded to start the run. Then the publisher came in and the presses stopped.


We had the story on the streets that afternoon while Johnson City, a morning paper, had to wait almost 24 hours to get the story out. Of course we were all watching the whole thing on TV while the presses were running with our story.


The only thing I regret is that I didn’t grab the copy from the teletype. It was the last story that that teletype printed out. I wonder if anybody there saved it?




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