The Snowstorm School Closings Secret

It didn’t matter which school of “The Twelve” I was attending at the time.  They were all in the Northeast – ten in New York State and two in Massachusetts.  But the moment I woke up and looked out my bedroom window and saw a blanket of white snow on the ground, with more snow falling from the sky… I knew precisely what that meant.

My school could have a snow day.

For me, that meant changing the radio station from what I normally listened to in the 1970’s – WPTR or WTRY or WFLY or WGFM or 3WD – to one of the stations that didn’t normally play Top 40 music.  You know… a station like WGY or WROW or WABY.

And then I sat in my bed and listened… and listened…

For purposes of today’s blog post, I will just reference the Capital District schools.  The radio stations would always read the school closings alphabetically.   There were a few schools that endured a one-hour delay, or a two-hour delay, and then there might be a closing for students but that teachers and staff should still report to work.

And, of course, there were always the three school districts that seemed to close the minute five snowflakes hit the ground.  And you know which ones they were, right, blog readers?

Yep.  It was always Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central Schools… Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central Schools… and Ichabod Crane Central Schools.  Those three.  Always those three.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the school I’m attending to close.  In seventh grade, I attended Christian Brothers Academy, which at that time was still on De La Salle Road in downtown Albany.  Me?  I was living in Colonie.  If CBA didn’t close by at least 7:00 a.m., I had to catch the CDTA and ride down Central Avenue, while the bus stopped at what seemed like 200 bus stops along the way.  And on at least one or two occasions that year – I arrived at school only to find that, yes, CBA had called off classes for the day.

And I always wondered… how did all these radio stations know that the schools were closing?  Did some disc jockey get up in the morning and call all these schools, asking, “Hello?  You open this morning?  Two hour delay?  Ichabod Crane is closed, are you closing?”

I also thought… maybe there’s a way to prank the system.  You know, get someone to impersonate a school district representative, give a call to the stations and make up a phony school name.  “And closing today, Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, and Ipeeka-Booger Middle School, all closed for today.”  Ha ha ha… that would be funny, making the radio guy say “Booger.”

I tell that story to tell this one.

From 1987 to 1988, I worked as a disc jockey at radio station 3WD in Schenectady.   During my tenure there, we had a nasty snowstorm.  You remember, don’t you?  The October 1987 storm that just snapped trees in half, knocked out power cables and plunged the Capital District into total darkness?

Well… there was at least one business that was still open.  Yep.  My radio station.  Get on the bus and get to work, Chuck.

As I worked one of the night shifts at good old “three-diddly-dee,” I received several phone calls.  Hmm… Normally I get about three calls during a six-hour radio shift.  But that night, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

“3WD, what can I play for you?”

“Hi, I’m calling from Schalmont.  We are not going to open tomorrow.  Our confirmation code is Schalmont-1.”

“Okay, thank you.”

And at that moment – inbetween playing the latest Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force song and cueing up the latest Freihofer’s commercial – I suddenly realized the school closings secret.  Each school district had an alphanumeric code word or phrase, and they would recite that phrase to the radio stations to confirm that it was indeed a true school closing and not someone pranking the station.  Then, the disc jockey would write down all the closings and recite them every 15 minutes or so – of course, working around commercials and whatever godawful crap song that the PD wanted us to play every hour on the hour…

Today, we can turn on the television and watch the school and business closings on a small digital crawl at the bottom of the screen.  We can log into websites and see in an instant that several schools and businesses are closing.

So this morning, before I finished writing this blog post, I checked one of the websites.  Well, it’s not like I could turn on WGY and have Don Weeks read me the updates… so I’ll do this instead.

Yep.  There’s Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

And Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk.

And Ichabod Crane.   All closed or delayed.

One last look… What, Ipeeka-Booger isn’t on the list?

Aw, nertz.  Since that’s not on the list… sorry, I can’t go out and play today, I gotta get to school…  😀