My Best Story

November 30 2016

Senior year of college I was working as a building supervisor at the University Center, a large building with tall tower. You could hear the tower striking out the quarter hour throughout the day, and sometimes a carillon of bells performing a fight song. Everyone on campus knew that this was actually a loudspeaker. And everyone including me and my friend Taylor wanted to get in there and play whatever we wanted.

Taylor had a way of making big statements and promises, and somehow backing them up. One night we got to chatting about the UC tower and its bells. He had promised everyone he knew that he would change that music, but his plan was to go up there with a hacksaw and see what he could do. I said that I had been thinking of the same, but my plan was a bit more researched.

The west stairwell under the tower had a curious locked door at the top which led up into the heart of the tower. I could pop open a keybox without any damage and get a keyring that let us navigate the locked stairwells. But the key to the curious locked door was safely tucked away inside the big vault. Conveniently enough, the combination to this vault was in the Rolodex. Doing some recon, we scurried around the darkened building and made it to the door of interest. Beyond lay the Verdin Singing Tower system, a complicated device full of lights, buttons, LCD screens, locks, and an odd MIDI card. Surely we wouldn't have to deal with all this old proprietary technology. Well, the whole thing was connected to a simple amplifier by an RCA cable. From there it went up a ladder to the loudspeakers above us. With our reconnaissance done and ideas brewing, we safely returned the keys and exited the building to make our plans.

The question was, how do you get a song to play when you want it to? We came up with a simple idea using a technology that was already available: the programmable CD player. The plan was to burn a CD with an hour of silence as track 1 and tracks 2+ as our audio program. We program track 1 to play twelve times from midnight, then our music starts at noon the next day.

The night before we got our various keys and headed up to the closet. The setup was simple. We unplugged the Singing Tower to power the CD player, plugged it into the amp, and right on the dot of midnight I pressed play.

The next morning, it might have been the chill in the air or the anticipation, but I was shivering. Taylor and a bunch of his friends gathered around the building to hear our masterpiece. Noon came and went, and I got a little worried. Had someone noticed the missing hour chimes and went to investigate? Did I mess up the programming? But just then, the first chords of Rolling Stones Paint it Black came floating down from the tower. Taylor had promised everyone he would play this and succeeded. The next two selections were mine: Another Brick in the Wall covered by Class of 99 and Blues Brothers Sweet Home Chicago. That's all the room we had for on the 72 minute CD.

The climax of the day was when on my way up the stairs a smiling girl passed me, shook her head, and said, ""Man, I love this school."" That little bit of unsolicited school pride was the best part of the whole prank.

Chris Thompson
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